da Vinci’s Château du Clos Lucé

During our epic road trip through the château-dense Loire Valley, Leonardo da Vinci’s residence made the short list, and was the very first stop once we had settled in Amboise. The walk from the small parking lot at the base of hill up to the chateau’s gate was very charming, its homes topped with gabled roofs, iron fences surrounding their small gardens, and ivy growing on the sides of each structure.

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Upon entering the gate of Château du Clos Lucé at the top of the hill on the left, take another left to the small entry office if you’ve pre-purchased tickets. (If you haven’t bought tickets yet, you should – click here) Once the clerk gives you the guide to the château and grounds, head up the rounded stone stairs behind the clerk’s desk to start the tour. Our clerk didn’t mention this, so we ended up in the courtyard wandering aimlessly until we realized our mistake! 😛

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The Chateau is really more of a manor, but impressive all the same. The brick work and charming doors have a way of bringing you back to the 16th century. Leonardo da Vinci was invited by King Francis I and named “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King” – quite the endorsement to such a deserving and creative soul. Leonardo da Vinci arrived with three paintings: the Mona Lisa, St. John the Baptist, and the Virgin and the Child.

Leondardo spent his last remaining three years at Clos Lucé, and died in his bed on May 2, 1519. It is now a da Vinci museum, celebrating the original Renaissance man, including examples of his many ingenious inventions and gorgeous gardens which he designed.

The interior itself is bright and engaging. The woodwork might otherwise seem dark and foreboding, but windows sashes are left open to let in the fresh air and light.

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Multiple Renaissance style paintings can be found in the small chapel, all painted by da Vinci’s treasured pupils.

A corner work room flooded with light displays replicas of da Vinci’s drawings, sketches, and journal entries. The papers are scattered about, making it seem like Leonardo will return at any moment to finish up his current works of art.

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A copy of “St John the Baptist” is on display (on the right). Some say this might have been his last painting. He worked on it from 1513-1516 using one of his pupils as the model. The original is currently on display at the Louvre.

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On the lower level, da Vinci’s engineering inventions are on display. The collection includes around 40 models, complete with 3D animations and video production so that us laymen might understand how they work! IBM created the amazing replicas and impressively highlight da Vinci’s diverse range of genius in engineering: models of airplanes, automobiles, helicopters, tanks, and much more.

Take a bit of time to admire the copy of Mona Lisa in the Great Room. One can imagine Leonardo visiting with his students in this room, or even meeting with some of his Royal friends. The large windows look out onto views of the exceptional gardens in the “Renaissance Terrace” below.

The gardens within the courtyard are truly peaceful, with many places to sit and rest. A wonderful opportunity to “stop and smell the roses” ~ in particular, the “Mona Lisa” rose:

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On the opposite side of the garden are a gift shop and créperie. The gift shop has many lovely items, and a friendly and helpful staff. My mother purchased a number of items and paid to have them shipped home, and the clerk was very accomodating. This was wonderful – as some of our preconcieved notions about French hospitality had not been overly positive. To have one of our first experiences be so easy with a kind-hearted sales lady really set the tone, putting our minds at ease for the rest of the trip.

Make your way down the wide stone staircase to the vegetable and botanical gardens below. Artichoke plants abound, along with trellises full of roses.

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We initially thought the small cottage in the corner was for the gardner’s tools, but upon further inspection we found that the door was ajar and a gentleman was inside painting the scene outside his window. How many other of da Vinci’s followers have been inspired in this very spot?

Stroll away from the trellises and wander towards the pond surrounded by old growth trees. Small brooks of trickling water add to the peace and beauty.

Continue along the path to admire the many plants and flowers. Eventually you’ll come upon an impressive two-story bridge, an astonishing design of da Vinci’s.

The mist coming up from the water gives an ethereal quality to the scene.

The tranquility gives way to an area of lifesize invention replicas for the château visitors to have a little fun!

Stay in touch with your inner child, and get hands on! Leonardo’s water screw is fascinating to patrons of all ages, and demonstates da Vinci’s improvements upon the original Archimedes’ screw.

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…and be mesmerized by the paddle wheel:

Leonardo’s lovely paddle boats gathered at the pond’s dock, ready for an adventurous soul.

Once you’ve used all your energy exploring and playing, fortify yourselves at the cafe at the base of the hill. The staff were very helpful with our varying levels of French, and there are friendly cats roaming about that add to the charm.

What a memorable first stop while in France. Truly unforgettable.