It took a simple wall marking to draw me into a significant moment of history. The typeface and flag symbols were hand-painted onto a small metal frame and placed on the wall of a quiet narrow alley. Inconspicuous, it wasn’t there to be seen but to mark remembrance. A secret hideout; a strategic landmark; somebody’s home perhaps. A shelter from war.
If anything, Amboise holds a lot of stories, some that simply stay within the town’s old stone walls.
You can tell Amboise boasts some level of importance from the moment you arrive. Sitting on the banks of the Loire River, it’s an architectural fairytale – built along the water with a castle fortress defense and neat rows of square and rectangular timbered housing in varying hues of caramel, chocolate and cream.
I first arrived after cycling over 30 kilometres through Château de Chenonceau and various hamlets of the Loire Valley as part of my Headwater five-day cycle holiday. As I passed through Amboise’s back streets and out on the bridge that crosses the Loire, I was all too eager to return the next day to explore more. It may be a walled town, but its stately ambience invites you in.
Amboise is a living museum, with rich historical reference. Joan of Arc passed through in 1429 on her way to Orleans to the Battle of Patay, the royal Château d’Amboise was home to Mary, Queen of Scots from the age of six and the town is most famous for its artist in residence – Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci resided at the nearby Clos Manor House (now a museum) and was a regular guest at the Amboise Château Royal, at the invitation of King Francois 1st (seen as a “Prince of the Arts”). The manor house and the grand Château, in light of this blossoming friendship, were connected by a series of underground passages.
There are two things to do here. Firstly, climb the winding Château de Amboise for the panoramic view of the now market town’s cobbled streets and a spattering of tiny rooftops, all the while surveying the manicured gardens and exhibits of the former French royal court.
Secondly, put your cycle to further use (or turn up the notch on your ramblings) and glide through the town’s long and narrow passageways.
Away from the boutique cafes and stores, you’ll mostly find a labyrinth of residential calm. Yet, it was only then that I was able to hide in tucked away side-streets, which concealed simple residences and views of the troglodyte houses – the once limestone quarries that were widened and turned into dwellings. They are said to be a symbol of the Loire Valley and found throughout the region.
It was that one sign that intrigued me most, and before long I wandered to the house in question in the hopes of being invited in. A wooden door frame, whose top half was wide open, marked the entrance to a room full floor-to-ceiling of books and what looked like an eclectic mix of memorabilia of some kind. I felt nosy, parking my bike without any delicacy in the hope of being heard.
Except no one came to the door, as I stood at the gate, peering in and wondering what secrets I could find out about this quaint little town. My bike could only bring me so far in exploration.
I never did work out what stories that specific troglodyte house held from the days of wartime shelter. Just as the underground tunnels that concealed a relationship between King and artist are not accessible, nor are all the stories of battles won and lost and of heroic actions hidden within the rocks.
Not everything is meant to be seen, even in the richly historical and tourist haven of Amboise.
This post was brought to you as a result of #30ActiveDays blog trip, created and managed by Captivate in partnership with Headwater Holidays. Borders of Adventure maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. I really am this nosy.