Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Loire River’s darling little girl

'La petite fille chérie’, that is how the website of the local tourist board describes the town of Amboise. Over the years the town of Amboise has become our favourite too. I still remember the first glimpse we got from the town’s Château.

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.


Ken Broadhurst said...

Martine, when Walt and I first came to the Loire Valley for a vacation in 2000, we loved Amboise. In June 2001 we came back -- you were probably here then too -- and we had a very nice lunch at the restaurant called L'Epicerie, right across the street, I believe, from the cave you mention. It would have been nice to know you and C. back then. Anyway, our first idea was to try to find a house in Amboise when we started thinking about relocating to France. But we ended up in Saint-Aignan instead. That's now a good thing, as far as we are concerned. K.

ladybird said...

Hi Ken, On June 5th 2003 we had lunch at L'épicerie. I agree with you, it's a very nice restaurant. It was recommended to us by French friends who live in Francueil near Chenonceau! Our friend F.'s cave is right across the street indeed. Martine

Laura said...

Hello Ladybird!
My name is Laura and as you suggested in an earlier post, I am reading, clicking on links and clicking on more links in preparation for my three night trip to the Loire Valley at the end of October. Which is what brought me to your site!

I thought I'd go ahead and ask your opinion on a couple things if you have time to answer. I realize every person's opinion is subjective to their tastes!

My friend and I will be there for three nights, arriving by train into Tours. We will rent a car.

1. My biggest debate is whether to stay in Amboise or Loches!

Amboise is more central to the main chateaux (Chambord, Chenonceau, Cheverny, etc) as well as Clos Luce and being closer for in and out of Tours. We also hope to visit Azay-de-Rideau, Villandry and at least a peek at Usse. (We will do a combo of going in or looking at the outside of these.)

But Loches sounds so charming and I like the idea of staying there, I just wonder if it might be a little too far off the beaten path as a home base when we're already trying to do a lot. Would we end up spending too much time driving other places to make it worth it?

Do you have any thoughts as to where you'd stay given our short time frame? (since you call Amboise one of your favorites, I think I can guess your response but wonder if you have thoughts on Loches?)

2. We are on a serious budget! When I see people's comments of dining at a restaurant "relatively inexpensive at 50 euros each" I gasp! 10-15 euros is fine with me! I know that might sound ridiculous but, that's about the budget. Do you have any recommendations for inexpensive places to eat? Also, if we "splurged" on one meal for around 25-30 euros, would you have an idea?

3. Regarding the markets, they sound wonderful to me! I especially want to visit the Loches market on Wednesday. But, it has occurred to me, is it all just food for home preparation? Because we won't be self-catering. So I'm wondering how much I ought to organize my time around a particular market.

4. I loved your post on the soap being made!! I would love to visit a cheese farm and perhaps that soap shop or another one. Perhaps there are goat farms that make cheese and soap? I love things like that but don't think I can devote my trip to finding the off the beaten path places. Do you have suggestions of a couple special places that are rather near (or on the road) to the chateaux I mentioned above?

5. Any other crafts/products particular to that region? The area between Bloise and Saumur I should keep my open for?

6. I realize all these questions are a tall order! Essentially, it comes down to asking your opinion on what you'd do/ where you'd go if, knowing what you know, you were taking a first-timer for three nights???

If you have any time to answer any of it, I will appreciate it! Meanwhile I will continue perusing your fun blog! I like cooking and kitchens too, I've found they are my favorite part of visiting any castle so I'm glad you mention those!

Blessings, Laura

ladybird said...

Hello Laura,

How nice to read you! I'll gladly give you some tips for your upcoming trip to the Loire Valley. But I suggest your send me an e-mail ( (direct link on the homepage of my blog). I'll answer you by e-mail then, as it would be too long to explain everything in this comment section.

Looking forward to finding your e-mail in my inbox.

Kind regards,

Ladybird M.

P.S. In view of your plans, I honestly recommend Amboise as the place to stay. You can easily visit Loches from there, but Loches is too far out of the way if you want to see Saumur etc. ;)