As soon as you reach Blois, driving down the A10 motorway, signs by the side of the road indicate the nearest Château: Blois, Beauregard, Beaugency, Cheverny, Chambord …
In 1999, we decided to leave the motorway at the Amboise/Château-Renault exit, instead of driving straight on to our destination, Tours. After our horrifying and stressful thunderstorm experience earlier that morning, we felt that a relaxed drive through the country would be beneficial to our nerves. Happily chatting and marvelling over the many interesting sites we would be visiting over the next few days, we leisurely made our way towards Amboise.
Suddenly my friend said: "Look there is yet another Château!" I studied the map that I was holding in my lap. (I’m the co-pilot, by the way. And although I am a woman, I CAN read roadmaps!). It turned out to be Amboise. The spears of the castle towers proudly stood out against the now clear blue sky.
In the background Amboise castle, the way you see it when driving into Amboise over the Bridge Général Leclerc.
As we got closer, we could easily distinguish the many windows. The reflecting sunlight made the castle sparkle like a delicately cut diamond. I think it must have been at that precise moment that I fell in love with the Loire Valley and its ‘darling little girl’, the town of Amboise.
Ever since then, we always start our annual journey in Amboise, where we visit the weekly market to stock up on picnic supplies. Next stop is the sidewalk terrace of the bar ‘Le Château’ for a refreshing pre-luncheon drink after our long drive. We complete this yearly ritual with a quick visit to the ‘cave coopérative’, a troglodyte tasting room carved out in the rock underneath the castle. We always pop in on our first day to see if our friend F. is there. We met her in 1999 when we went to try some of the Amboise wines that are being promoted in this ‘cave’ by the local wine-growers. By now, F. has become used seeing us every year in June. She always gives us a big smile when we walk in. "Je me demandais justement quand mes petits belges allaient arriver." (Just now, I was asking myself when my little Belgians* would arrive!)’, is her standard greeting.
This year was slightly different as F. wasn’t there to greet us! However, the two ladies behind the bar reassured us immediately. F. was alright, but exceptionally not working that day as she was looking after her grandchildren. She would be in tomorrow, though. So we left a little note for her saying that we would be back the following day!
(*) The French often call us ‘les petits belges’. Most of the time it is meant affectionately, but it can also be used as a mockery. It all depends on who’s saying it and the context it is being used in. With F., it’s clearly a sign of affection.