I'm not sure this qualifies as "off the beaten path" since these are also famous chateaus. However, Amboise is a good base for exploring the area since it's easy to drive and to get in and out of town. There are many wonderful chateaus within an easy drive so take advantage of it and visit:
Chaumont, east of Amboise on the Loire, is a gorgeous chateau with magnificent river views and magical gardens. Check Chaumont on VT to see photos of the gardens. There is a garden competition every year with a different theme and it is fun to visit: My VT Chaumont garden site is at Garden Festival at Chateau Chaumont by Beausoleil
A bit further up the Loire river is Blois, a busy city with a magnificent chateau. Here's a link to my Blois site on VT. Blois, City and Chateau by Beausoleil and I encourage you to type Blois into the VT Search Window and check as many pages as you can. There are some wonderful Tips and Reviews on VT and it's lots of fun to read them and look at the photos.
Continue on to Chambord, not on the river but the largest Loire chateau and very impressive. There is also a very nice equestrian show at Chambord. There are other activities too and it's a great place to take children. Chateau Chambord by Beausoleil
Moving inland there is Cheverny, a beautifully furnished chateau, and you can watch the feeding of the hounds. The grounds are lovely too and there is a wonderful vegetable garden. Chateau Cheverny by Beausoleil
We enjoyed the medieval chateau at Fougeres-sur-Bievre. It is set up as an educational chateau so there are exhibits both inside and out. It is a very impressive building in a tiny, very neat little village. There are animals in the garden the kids (or you) might enjoy. Chateau Fougeres-sur-Bievre by Beausoleil
Headed south but still near Amboise is Montrichard with a small chateau and a wonderful raptor show. If you enjoy birds and falconing, this is a must-see. Chateau de Montrichard by Beausoleil
Back in the direction of Amboise, visit Chenonceau on the river Cher. This is the magical white chateau that is built across the river. It is nicely furnished and has two magnificent gardens. There is also a small farm area where you can view (and pet) animals and walk through the potager garden. Chateau Chenonceau by Beausoleil
And you are now nearly back to Amboise for a lovely dinner in town and a walk along the Loire before bedtime.
On another day you can head west and visit Tours, Villandry, Luynes, Langeais, Usse, Chinon and Azay-le-Rideau, my personal favorite chateau.
Go to Loire Chateau Travelogues and Photos by Beausoleil and scroll down to the Travelogues. I have photos of 16 different Loire Valley chateaus. These are all famous ones but be aware that you can visit nearly any town in France and find a chateau, often open to visits. They vary from medieval to classic and are in varying states of repair but all are interesting and most have wonderful views from the towers. This was to keep an eye out for the enemy in times gone by but it gives tourists today great views!
I knew that Leonardo DaVinci had lived his last few years in Amboise and was burried somewhere in the area. I intended to try to find out where sometime during our 3 days in Amboise. It turned out that I didn't have to. On the way out after going through Chateau Amboise I noticed a little white building sitting off by itself and decided to walk over and check it out. Bingo !! It's a beautiful little chappel as well.
We were looking to just take a drive and explore the area around Amboise. We saw Montresor mentioned in one of the books as one of the most beautiful villages in the area so we decided to check it out. It is.
While the town is beautiful, the highlight of this little side trip was the Chateau. It is unlike any of the other Chateaus that we had been through in the past couple of days. We were greeted by the caretaker and after a little chit chat and brief history of the chateau he handed us a 3 ring binder as a guide, showed us the entrance and then told us that he had to go run some errands. "Just leave the binder on the counter when you leave". No kidding. The chateau was still occupied until quite recently and it looks as if the owners have just stepped out to run some errands, like the caretaker. There are no ropes or barriers. You free to explore every nook and cranny at your whim. According the the caretaker Mick Jagger owns a Chateau near here and likes to bring visiors here. Yes, it is a bit shabby by Chateau standards, but that's beside the point. It was great to just be able to wander around. Eventually the caretaker came back and found us. He took us down to show us the treasure room and explained the history of this really cool wooden staircase. Then he was off to do something else and we were on our own again. On the way out we stopped by the entrance to drop off the guidebook. Not surprisingly no one was there. We rummaged around behind the counter and found a few post cards, put a few euros on the counter as payment and left.
This is well signposted and advertised by the Tourisme de France. For the price, it was really not worth it. A small aquarium, some good exhibits but generally disappointing. If you read the tourist borchures you would expect more than it actually is. Overpriced canteen. You could not call it a restaurant.
“To the Duke of Choiseul a diamond, the color of a blue stone, a black, pierced casket and a cup.”
— from the will of Jeanne-Antoinette, Marchioness de Pompadour, Versailles, 15.April.1764
THE KINDNESS OF FRIENDS Étienne François, Duke of Choiseul, had more to thank Madame de Pompadour for than a few bequeathed trinkets. The mistress of Louis XV took up the cause of the advancement of the duke’s political and military career after he bought potentially damaging letters written by the king.
Later, the duke would be laid low by the king’s next mistress, Madame du Barry. She acted as a messenger for the duke’s enemies, carrying criticisms and complaints to the king until Louis exiled the duke to his Loire Valley château, far from the glitter and glamor of the court at Versailles and Paris.
Just outside Amboise we found an unusual sight, la pagode de Chanteloup. This 144-foot tall pagoda is all that remains of the Duke of Choiseul’s Château de Chanteloup. It was begun in 1775 and completed in three years. La Pagoda is seven levels high, and the spiral staircase narrows as it reaches the top, making for an oh-so-tight squeeze to reach the uppermost observation deck.
As sweet as it is, la pagode is in desperate need of a good paint job and much TLC!
Some may think visiting this chinoiserie folly is a folly in itself. The 7 euros admission fee (more than $12 at the July 2008 exchange rate!) was a steep charge just to climb a tower and look at a lake and the surrounding fields. Please keep in mind, no one ever said that you travel to save money! It was really great fun and a welcome relief from the crowds of the more popular sights in the area. It is a workout to walk from the parking lot to the sight and then to climb la pagode; so some exercise can be had!
La pagode stands within its own 34.5 acre park. There is a café on the grounds for lunch, or bring your own picnic; there are picnic tables. Row boats can be rented for a spin around la grande pièce d’eau at the rate of
4 euros for half an hour and 6 euros for an hour. There are 18th century children’s games and toys on the grounds; there is no charge to play with these games.
Look at the web site, which is in French only, for seasonal opening times; the sight is not open year round.
We happened on this statue along the route to da Vinci's home. I frequently see statues and wonder who they are and why they are memorialised at all and in the specific location. I learned that Jean Fouquet was born in Tours and was a significant artist in te court of Charles VII and Louis XI. He did several large portraits, including Charles VII as well as several religious paintings. He was particularly adept at minatures used for illustrations in books. Some of his work is in Clos-Luce, hence his placement on the way to it. I have labeled this an obscure figure because he was totally unknown to me - which may just betray my artistic ignorance.