When in France, the first offence to commit would be to mistake Paris as France. While the French capital drives the heart beat of the country, elsewhere lies its soul. The second offence would be to neglect the appeal of the Loire valley.
Amboise serves as a very good alternative to the big city of Tours for exploring the beauty of this area. Pronounced as ‘Arm-Buahs’, this quaint village-town plays host to a decent chateau (manor), a little appetizer to some of the more glamorous ones this French region is famed for. As it is not completely ravaged by tourist activity (at least not during the early autumn season when I visited), Amboise was a welcomed respite from the intensity of the bigger cities I journeyed from- Rennes and Paris.
The town is elegantly split by the Loire River, and the bridge that serves both pedestrians and vehicles did the reverse of stopping my footsteps. It was difficult not to stop right there and admire the stunning view that greets the lucky pedestrians. I made an attempt to return to this bridge in the evening, hoping for a different sight. It did not disappoint.
What stunned me the most was how the town people would just carry on with their daily life, as if oblivious to the beauty of the Loire knocking on their doorsteps. Blending in with their surrounding, I suppose that is something urbanites such as myself can never truly understand.
The following morning I took a bus to the village of Chenonceaux (pronounced ‘Shuh-no-soh’). This sleepy village made Amboise look like a bustling metropolitan city by comparison. The crown jewel of this village is the Chateau de Chenonceau (without the ‘x’). Elegantly constructed over the Cher river, this manor feels like a real life replica of the Disney castles. Its interior is also impeccably designed.
Most people day-trip here just for the Chateau, which is a real shame. While this place offers nothing else, staying overnight in a French village is an experience I can’t forget. The excellent family-run Le Relais hotel that I stayed in offered terrific value for money (€52/ night) and my first proper meal in France was well-spent here (€17 for a 3-course). It was a treat just observing how the owners run a bustling restaurant on a Saturday night (I imagined many who dined there were regular locals).
Amboise and Chenonceaux were never on my to-go list, and was originally planned to connect me to the other French cities. Both turned out to be delights I will savour for a very long time.