Our journey along the River Loire continued. We left the elegant city of Saumur and followed the wide fast-flowing river to the little village of Chouzé-sur-Loire, where we stayed the night in an Aire close to the local Church.
We arrived early enough to go for a lovely walk by the river where we saw some traditional working craft of the area.
Until the end of the 19th Century and the advent of the railways, the waterfront was a hive of activity with a bustling port and boats being loaded with goods such as wine, slate and cereal crops. From here water boatmen transported goods along the length and breadth of the River Loire and joining other rivers and canals to move the goods to the sea and more far flung places.
There was a small mariners museum which we would have loved to visit but unfortunately it was closed due to Covid.
Walking back along the river bank we were lucky enough to see a lovely sunset which lit up the Loire in layers of reds and golds.
On the road again the next day we stopped in Langeais — attracted by the promise of another château.
The town was gracefully laid out with rows of three storey terraced town houses in wide avenues that reminded us slightly of the English spa town of Bath.
We walked through a narrow alley where we gazed longingly at the pre-Covid menus, wishing we could go into a gorgeous restaurant with crisp table linen, attentive (and handsome) French waiters and eat some wonderful food. Alas! It was not meant to be.
At the end of the alleyway stood the commanding Château de Langeais which has a manual drawbridge – one of the last in existence. The château was built around the middle of the 15th century and is famous for being the location for the marriage between Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany in 1491.
That afternoon we arrived in Amboise which also boasts a stunning château, once home to the French Court. Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots also spent her early life there.
Part of the town is on an island (called Or Island) in the middle of the River Loire. This is where we stayed!
On the island there were also a few small cottages, a restaurant, a large park (next to our camper van site) and an ancient chapel – Chapelle Saint Jean.
This lonely rather stark chapel was once part of a large monastery built by Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in the 12th Century.
Amboise itself was a delight to wander around – there were many half timbered houses, interesting architectural features and cobbled streets but of course the Château dominates the town.
We climbed up a long flight of steps at the side of the Château and ended up on the same level as the top of the tower. The view was amazing!
Rather than take the stairs down again we walked down a lane where we discovered a long row of houses carved into the rock face. These cave dwellings, known as “troglodyte homes” were the result of widespread quarrying of the building material called tuffeau which began in the 11th century.
Some of the caves are now empty or used for storage but many of them are still cute (but dark we imagined) little homes.
Further down we came to another small 15th Century château called Château Clos Lucé where Leonardo da Vinci lived his last years until his death in 1519.
We were very sad that we were unable to go round the Château and even more disappointed that we couldn’t see the models of some of Leonardo da Vinci’s most impressive and inspiring machines in the château grounds.
We walked back through the town to the old centre where we bought some delicious bread and really wonderfully fresh baked apple tarts to eat back in the van.