Lost In Limoges

From the sheep-dotted pastures of France's underpopulated Southwest, Limoges rises in all its grey glory. The city's claim to fame: fine porcelain. The half-timbered houses of the Medieval center are surrounded by strip malls and McDo. Land-hungry Brits descend with flailing pocketbooks (thanks, RyanAir). The weather is remarkably cool year-round. Sure, I live on rue de Nice, but this is NOT the Cote d'Azur. Welcome to Limoges, "the middle of nowhere"-- or as Pierre says "everywhere"-- France.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Of Hard-partying Kings and Charming Weekend Markets: Chateau of Amboise, Loire Valley

Talk about a strategic position. The rocky outcropping overlooking the Loire River has been an ideal observation post since Neolithic times. The Celts first fortified the spot and it just got grander over the epochs. Apparently Amboise was the historic meeting place in the year 503 for Clovis, King of the Franks, and Alaric, King of the Visigoths. In the 15th century the stronghold fell into the hands of the French kings, who got busy expanding the castle. Throughout the Renaissance, French royalty flocked here. Today, the majestic Chateau of Amboise looms over the river valley, visible for miles.

The history of the royal inhabitants is too complicated to divulge (I'll spare you the long-winded story of Louis who begat Charles who begat François who begat Henri), but suffice it to say that the roster of famous guests includes Leonardo da Vinci, who was invited to the court by his patron, François I, in 1516, lived at Le Clos Lucé, and then died here just a few years later on May 2, 1519. His tomb is found in the Saint-Hubert chapel on-site. (This is also the site of the brutal repression of a Huguenot uprising in 1560, when the streets reeked with the stench of some 1,200 hanging corpses.)

Apparently François I was known to have raging parties here. Hence the Chateau's tourism brochures tout his quotation (which captures the opulence of the era): "car tel est notre bon plaisir..."

"Because such is our pleasure..."

We didn't bother going inside. I was too enchanted by the perfect little town nestled beneath the fortified chateau, abloom with flowers. Strolling along the southern bank of the Loire, we stumbled upon a fantastic weekend market, where Pierre bought some flowers for the garden. Afterwards, we met some friends for an aperitif in a cozy little bar, and learned about the chateau's awesome Tour des Cavaliers-- where horsemen could actually ride to the top of the tower by means of a huge spiral ramp. (Pierre's buddy, and former roommate in Paris, Benjamin, grew up in these parts...)


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