Archives For France

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In France, I bet you could easily guess the most popular tourist attraction. You are right if you said the Eiffel Tower, Tour Eiffel. Now you may be surprised that the second most popular attraction is not a lavish cathedral or grand museum. It is Cité de Carcassonne, the medieval fortress in the city of Carcassonne in the southern region of Languedoc-Roussillon. The impressive structure sits on top of the hill as it has for centuries. In fact, the site has a history of over 2000 years and predates Roman times.

Although, I refer to Carcassonne as a city, it looks more like a large town—quaint and laid-back. It has a population of 47,000 that swells during the tourist season. Carcassonne really consists of three sections. There is the fortified city and the adjacent “new” town. Across the River Aude is the old or lower town, La Ville Basse. While I enjoyed the old town, the main attraction is the medieval Cité de Carcassonne. It was built up over many years beginning in Roman times with the fortification completed in the 14th century during the 100 Year War. By the mid 19th century, the castle had fallen into disrepair to the point that it was set to be demolished. This caused a great outcry and eventually, the government saw the importance of the castle, not only for the region, but France itself. Cité de Carcassonne was significantly remodelled starting in 1853 by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc during an extensive operation that lasted until the late 19th century.

On a beautiful Summer’s afternoon, I was so lucky to be able to visit Cité de Carcassonne. The view of the castle from a downstream bridge over the River Aude.

Carcassonne Citadel France Languedoc Roussillon

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The most surprising aspect about visiting the last home of Leonardo da Vinci, Château du Clos Lucé, at Amboise in the Loire Valley of central France, may not be the château itself, but the amazing, and very scenic park, Parc Leonardo Da Vinci. At times, it was peaceful and serene as I enjoyed an evening walk on a beautiful summer’s day. I didn’t know about the vastness of the park, and how well-presented and fun it would be. Not only can you walk the paths, enjoy the greenness and flowers, you can try and participate in the inventions of the great Leonardo.

On my last post, Finding Leonardo Da Vinci, My Visit to Château du Clos Lucé, I took you in and around Château du Clos itself. Now, let’s go for a walk around Parc Leonardo da Vinci. First, let’s look back at the Château itself. I really like this view.

1 park Château du Clos Lucé, Amboise France

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When Leonardo da Vinci arrived to Amboise in the Loire Valley of central France in 1516, he was accompanied by several of his disciples. They included his faithful servant, Battista de Villanis and Count Francesco Melzi, who would play a prominent role as executor and principal heir upon da Vini’s death. Leonardo carried three paintings to France—The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist (now displayed at the National Gallery, London), Saint Jean Baptiste (now displayed at the Louvre, Paris), and perhaps, the most famous painting ever, the Mona Lisa (also displayed at the Louvre, Paris).

In December, 1615, King Francis I had offered Leonardo da Vinci the position of “The King’s First Painter, Engineer and Architect.” Leonardo accepted and received a handsome pension and use of Manoir du Cloux, currently, Château du Clos Lucé, which is located only 500 meters from the Royal Château of Amboise. Francis I thought highly of Leonardo and immensely enjoyed listening to him during their almost daily chats. An underground passageway between the châteaux made their meetings much easier to attend. Leonardo would retire at the Manoir du Cloux, although he would remain busy on various projects including finishing his famed painting Saint Jean Baptiste.

On a glorious summer’s day, I was very lucky to visit the Loire Valley. If you missed it, please read my first post from this area of France, Finding Leonardo Da Vinci, My Visit to the Château d’Amboise. Now, let’s visit the Château du Clos Lucé. This is the view from inside the grounds but wait, we’re ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back outside and stand in line. We still have to pay admission.

park Château du Clos Lucé, Amboise France

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After France captured Milan, Italy in December of 1515, Leonardo da Vinci, who was living at the Vatican, was commissioned by King Francis I to design and develop a rather interesting, if not bizarre, prototype. It was a mechanical lion that could walk, stop, rear on its hind legs, and open its chest to present a cluster of lilies. I’m not sure how serious this was, because the design never got past one sketch by the master. However, Leonardo da Vinci accepted the job as the philosopher, architect, engineer, and painter, and moved to Amboise in the Loire Valley of central France in 1516.

By this time, Mr. da Vinci was 64 years old, and had lived a fulfilling life with the creation of many notable works of art, design, inventions, and writings. He was paid handsomely and was given the residence, Clos-Lucé, which was nearby the Royal Château of Amboise. If you haven’t seen it yet, please read my first post from this part of France, Finding Leonardo Da Vinci, My Visit to the Château d’Amboise.

 Just outside of the Chapel of Saint-Hubert on the grounds of the Château d’Amboise, and, in front of this well manicured hedge, this is the great Leonardo da Vinci.

Statue, white, hedge, manicured, blue sky Leonardo da vinci, Camino de Santiago, France

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In the beautiful Loire Valley of central France is a town rich in medieval charm and grandeur. Amboise would be enough of an attraction in most locations around the world, but the main landmarks for many tourists are the town’s two châteaus—Royal Château of Amboise and Clos-Lucé. Both are significant, not only for their importance in French history, but because of their connection to the great Leonardo da Vinci. I’ll focus on Mr. da Vinci and his former residence, Clos-Lucé, on an upcoming post, but now, let’s look at the Château d’Amboise.

On the sunny August day that I visited, the town was bustling, if not crowded, with tourists and locals enjoying themselves at shops and cafés. I had long anticipated visiting châteaus in central France but due to time restrictions, I could only see these two. Needless to say, it was a very memorable day.

From nearby Tours, I had a 20 minute train ride to Amboise. Many tourists staying in Tours prefer to take one of the buses from the train station or Gare de Tours. These excursions may include visits to one or more châteaus of the Loire Valley. Other well-known châteaus in the area include Château de Chenonceau, Château de Chambord, Château de Villandry, and Château d’Azay-le-Rideau.

From the train station in Amboise, I had a pleasant walk through the town on the north side of the Loire, and then crossed the river on two medieval stone bridges (the first may have been recently rebuilt). This is an early view of the Château d’Amboise.

Bridge, River Loire, hill, Château d'Amboise, Amboise, Camino e Santiago

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St. Jean Pied de Port literally means “St. John at the Foot of the Mountain Pass,” and I began the gentle ascent through the Pyrenees along the side of the paved road. A small, unassuming metal sign showed the “Route de Napoléon,” and I was thrilled to walk where Napoleon had long ago. There were many more pilgrims than I had expected – young, old, skinny, fat, and everywhere in between. Some carried giant backpacks resembling ones I would normally see on a multi-day wilderness backpacking trip. Others carried ones so small, I wondered where all their gear was. My forty-five liter backpack was about average size, and it was full. So full that, with embarrassment, I had to carry a shopping bag containing food. From Page 28, Camino de Santiago In 20 Days.

Now, I’ll begin my journey on the Camino de Santiago. If you have my book, I’m in the chapter, Day 1: Having Flesh Torn From My Body By A Pack of Wild Dogs. Even if you don’t have my book, you can still enjoy this post, and learn more about walking the French Way or Camino Francés (map from Wikipedia Commons). On my last post, A Walk In St. Jean Pied de Port, France, I spent an afternoon touring around the Basque town. I would recommend that you to save some time for relaxing, and even arrive two days prior to your start if possible. St. Jean Pied de Port is a lovely town, rich in history, and the start of the French Way.

On a pleasant, late April morning, I began my journey on the Camino de Santiago. Outside the Pilgrim Office on the Rue de la Citadelle, in the old town. The buildings along the narrow, cobbled street framed the Pyrenees in the distance.

St Jean Pied de Port france Camino de Santiago

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