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Leonardo de Vinci in Amboise, France

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Amboise France Leonardo has the best view in Amboise

Zagan the motorhome has his shoulders scrunched up to shield himself from the cold rain hitting his roof. Fortunately he’s parked in a free aire (that allows us to stay for up to 10 nights!), so we’ll probably just sit out the weather here and explore the town of Esvres-sur-Indre (N47.28260, E0.78460) later.

Motorhome Aire in Esvres-sur-Indre, FranceMotorhome Aire in Esvres-sur-Indre, France

After a great night’s sleep at the goat farm, we headed south for a few minutes to Amboise – the town where Leonardo de Vinci spent his last years, and his final resting place. A few years back we visited Vinci in Italy, Leonardo’s home town, and enjoyed the museum dedicated to the town’s famous son there. However, as we were passing, we thought it would be rude not to pop by and have a look at where he spent the end of his life.

We could tell Amboise is a bit of a touristy place, as it has three motorhome aires and a campsite. We opted for the municipal campsite (N47.41742, E0.97956) as its free WiFi enabled us to Skype our families back home and join my Dad on his birthday, albeit virtually.

Amboise campsiteWe paid €13.70 for the campsite (no electric), the folks over the hedge in the aire paid €13 inc elec.

The campsite, and the aire next to it, are both situated on Ile d’Or, the Island of Gold, which sits in the middle of the Loire – yes, we’ve finally reached the Loire-with-an-e after spending days on the Loir. Our first challenge of the day was to work out how to get into the campsite, and from what we saw later in the day we weren’t the only ones having trouble working it out. The entrance is a wall of locked gates and barriers, so we pulled into the lay-by just outside and I jumped out to see what was going on. Only then did I see that the campsite reception is about 100m before the gates, set back from the road next to the mini golf. Once this was sussed there was no stopping us, and soon we were in place, hooked up to the WiFi and with tokens ready for the laundry.

Loire bridgeI wouldn’t have fancied being on the island when the Loire got that high (see flood heights to the left)!

The WiFi and laundry could wait though, today was market day in Amboise, and we love a market. Closing the van blinds and curtains, and opening the skylights, it kept cool enough for us to leave Charlie happily munching a gravy bone – he’s not a big fan of markets. We set off over the bridge to the main town, stopping to gawp at a huge statue of a naked Leonardo and the view he has of Chateau Amboise rising above the town across the river.

Leonardo de Vinci Statue Amboise

Amboise FranceLeonardo has the best view in Amboise

We followed the crowd and were soon wedged in with the masses getting our ankles bumped with pushchairs as we squeezed between the queues lining up to buy from the stalls; the cooked chicken stall queue was epic. It was one of the biggest markets we’d seen in a while, and using our ‘cooked chicken scale’ it appeared to be more expensive than the other ones we’ve visited. We left having without purchasing, but not empty handed as I managed to get a free cloth bag from a PR wagon promoting some sort of soft cheese.

Wine wagon FranceFree tasting of local wines Asparagus French MarketAsparagus is everywhere – it must be in season Paella French MarketLooks like we were too late for the paella today! Chickens - French MarketIf you don’t want your chicken cooked, there were plenty of live ones to choose from – they were being sold as egg layers, not for dinner!

After the market we took a walk around the town. Now, if you are looking forward to reading all about our visits to Chateau Amboise; the ‘Seat of the French Renaissance Court’, home of Leonardo’s tomb, or Clos Luce, the house Leonardo spent his last years in, you may be disappointed as we didn’t go inside either of them (but I have put links to both of their websites if you want to read more about them). We enjoyed our visit to Chateau Chenonceau a few years ago, but we aren’t bothered about going into any more of the chateaux, a bit like we don’t tend to visit stately homes back in the UK. The only thing that might tempt us would be something unusual, something like Leonardo de Vinci’s tomb. But hang on a minute, what is that you say, it might not actually be his tomb?

It turns out that when he died in 1519 he was buried in the Chapel of St. Forentin within the chateau grounds, but after the French Revolution (1789~1799) the chapel was in such a state that the engineer appointed by Napoleon had it demolished. Around 330 years after Leonardo’s death the site of the chapel was excavated and it was said that a complete skeleton was found with fragments of a stone inscription containing some letters of this name. Other reports described heaps of bones and children kicking around skulls for a game. Either way a collection of bones with a large skull were said to have been reburied in a new chapel within the chateau grounds. The Chapel of St. Hubert is now the visitor’s entrance to the chateau and has a large marble stone with a portrait and Leonardo’s name on it. I guess however you look at it, he’s buried in the ground here somewhere!

Chateau Amboise Entrance to Chateau Amboise with Chapel of St Hubert perched on the top

Instead of visiting the ‘must see’ sights, we enjoyed ourselves wandering around the town which is dominated by the huge defensive walls of the chateau. We walked up to a fairly unimpressive viewpoint, then back down to explore the town a little more before heading back to the campsite for some lunch.

AmboiseThe locals have built little homes in the rock under the castle, many of which are now available for rent.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked Amboise, it had a really nice feel about it and the chateau and house are probably excellent. However I felt more excited at the prospect of watching the goats being milked yesterday than I was about walking around a chateau, so I guess that gives you an idea as to how I’m feeling at the moment.

Clos LuceClos Luce – not a bad retirement home!

After lunch, laundry was done, families Skyped and Charlie explored around our pitch (it was huge so he didn’t venture far off it). In the evening as it cooled a little, I managed an 11km jog by going around the island twice and enjoyed the view of the chateau again – probably my favourite thing here when the market isn’t on. We all slept like logs last night and this morning we woke to rain that had been forecast for yesterday afternoon. Jay still went out for a run though, he’s determined to beat that mountain into submission in July.

Then it was time for breakfast, long hot showers and gear up for the off. It took less than half an hour to get to tonight’s stop, and we’ll go out for a wander around once the rain stops. Then it’s out with the maps again to see where we are heading next.

Ju x

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France

Charlie Time, Enjoying the Free Motorhome Aires in Rural France

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Charlie getting a hug as he’s struggling with his walking these days and it stresses him out

Zagan the motorhome has been filled with all the pomp and ceremony of the Royal Wedding this morning. All this while parked up in a free motorhome aire in Saint Saturnin in the centre of France (N46.50457, E2.23573), which even provides free electricity.

motorhome aire Saint Saturnin France

Back in Loches, we realised that going to look around towns and cities isn’t happening while it’s warm. Charlie’s heart medication makes him struggle in any temperature above 22°C. We have tried taking it in turns to stay with him in shade near the van while the other explores, but it’s just not working as he likes the pack to stay together. So we have come up with another plan, which is probably Plan C. Plan A was Croatia, which was scuppered as soon as we realised Charlie’s increased aversion to warmth. Plan B was pootling around France sightseeing. Instead of finding places and things to go and see, we’re making Plan C ‘Charlie time’, and going places that are good for him instead. This has meant that for the past few nights, we’ve been in aires in tiny villages with very little happening, but lots of shade and grass for him to amble about on.

This new plan brought us to La Tranger (N46.95619, E1.23998), which is just a tiny dot on our map. The marie (mayor) has kindly put in a sign that allows motorhome parking by the river, next to a picnic area under trees – perfect for us. We parked up and headed into the shade for the day. Jay got in a half marathon training run, testing out his new ‘camel pack’ (a back pack with a water bag in it and a tube so he can get a drink while out running) which proved to be a hit after a few modifications, while Charlie and I kept our cool in the shade.

free motorhome aire in La Tranger, France

Charlie getting a hug as he’s struggling with his walking these days and it stresses him out

In the evening Jay and I went for a walk around the village – it took us less than ten minutes, including five minutes standing on the bridge watching the swollen river gush under it. In the morning we set off for what would be an hour and a half drive, the longest we’ve done in a while to get us somewhere that we could stay for a couple of nights and watch the Royal Wedding.

We stopped off in La Chatre, which is in our free guide book that we picked up at a campsite (it includes motorhome parking places in each of the towns listed), but it was too warm to leave Charlie. Instead we stopped in the Super U car park and made use of the launderette. While all our bedding, seat covers etc spun round in the huge 18kg machine, there was chance for a quick nip to the Lidl next door for a couple of bits we needed.

La Chatre Launderette with Flot Bleu Service point on the leftLa Chatre Launderette with Flot Bleu Service point on the left Whoever lives here is right between a Super U and Lidl in La Chatre, France

Once the washing was done, we drove the final half hour to St Saturnin. We chose this place because it has plenty of shade, and when we got here it turns out it has free electricity too (we can’t work out why). Yesterday evening Jay and I went for a walk around the place once the air had cooled to Charlie snoring temperature (his snores are sweetest noise in the world at the moment as it means he’s cool and happy). Once again, there isn’t much here. A marie office, of course, a war memorial, a church and a shop/bar. That was about all we could find. Yet this small community has chosen to invest money in an aire for us motorhomers, and a really nice are at that. We still can’t get our heads around it and just wish a tiny bit of whatever it is would rub off on councils in the UK.

This morning we fired up the satellite and I enjoyed the Royal Wedding on the TV (Jay half watched and read a book at the same time). Travelling in Dave we got rid of our TV after the first year as we never watched it (it only had a normal aerial on it so would only pick up terrestrial channels). When we got Zagan he had a satellite system fitted and we did think about taking it out, but then remembered how we would have loved to have seen a bit of the London Olympics, so we decided to keep it. So while we hardly watch TV, I’m glad we kept the dish and events like today make me proud to be British, as they show what we do so well – the whole pomp and ceremony thing. I loved being able to sit in a small corner of France and watch it all, especially having missed the weeks of hype beforehand.

Ju x

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France

Loches, Centre Val-de-Loire

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Zagan the motorhome’s within sight of the fairy-tale turrets which sprout like asparagus above the rooftops of Loches. We’re in a small free aire, with a little-used train line to one side, and a pleasant river-side trail to the other (N47.13339, E1.00043). The town has a few official motorhome parking spots, all limited to 24 hours and all free. The one we’re in is a short walk (10 mins) to the town, and it’s looking a very nice place to stay a night.

Our chosen free motorhome aire in LochesOur chosen free motorhome aire in LochesOur chosen free motorhome aire in Loches

“Errrm, don’t we know your face? Have we met before?” I’d been chatting with the lady from a neighbouring English van back at our previous aire at Esvres-sur-Indre when Ju walked over and a spark of recognition flew. Incredibly, given the vast network of stopovers across France, we’d found ourselves next to Mary and Stuart who we last met next to the cork oak forest at Benarrabá, in Spain’s Andalucia. How nuts is that!? Almost a year’s passed, and here we were, on exactly the same spot as each other again! Over a long chat they explained they were still happily living in their van, after three years, but had made a few forays to other continents by plane. They were on their way back to the UK for a month before slingshot-ing back out again. Quite where they were off after that to was undecided, as perhaps it should be.

We forgot to get a photo of Mary and Stuart, but they did show us these neat little gadgets which fit over your window handles and stop theives sneakily opening them from outside. There's a version for sliding windows too. Nope, they won't stop a crowbar, but are better than nothing?We forgot to get a photo of Mary and Stuart, but they did show us these neat little gadgets which fit over your window handles and stop thieves sneakily opening them from outside. There’s a version for sliding windows too. Nope, they won’t stop a crowbar, but presumably stop some more-subtle robbers? If you happen to be in Esvres-sur-Indre, we can highly recommend the lunch menu at O Bistro Quai. Friendly people, fast service, two, two course meals plus cheese for €25, pretty good eh?If you happen to be in Esvres-sur-Indre, we can highly recommend the lunch menu at O Bistro Quai. Friendly people, fast service, basic and beautiful food, a couple of two course meals plus cheese for €25, pretty good eh? Spot the odd thing out? Yep, there's a flood height indicator at the service point, as the nearby river occasionally breaks its banks!Spot the odd thing out? Yep, there’s a flood height indicator at the service point, as the nearby river occasionally breaks its banks!

After our goodbyes (or the less permanent au revoirs, hopefully) we rolled off 30 mins down the road to Super U round the corner from here, and topped up on supplies. After being caught out by a loyalty card pricing scheme at a previous shop, we were eagle-eyed this time, which took some doing. Small things are noticeably different when we shift abroad, and one of them’s the way food is priced in some supermarkets. Whether deliberate or not, it’s almost impossible to compare similar foods, or even work out what the price should be. Having many, many hours on our hands though, we rose to the challenge made sure we got the best deals!

Those signs above the milk show you the prices. All 800 of them.Those signs above the milk show you the prices. All 800 of them. None of which you can quickly tie up with the actual cartons.

With our diesel tank brimmed with gas oil (supermarket stations tend to the cheaper here, like in the UK), we drove to the aire, bagged a spot and slow-roasted a little. The sun’s quite beautiful melting down over the greenery, but wee Charlie’s less than impressed. We take him outside under a cool tree: he wants back in the van. We carry him back to the van, he pants endlessly. It’s a tad difficult, but with a wet towel and patience all’s good and he’s currently snoring at my feet.

This might explain at least partially why we’re getting fleeting tours of the towns at best, so the cream-stone-built medieval Loches has hardly got a look in. Once cool enough we managed a short wander around the place as the shops closed. Most everyone we saw was in a cafe, supping coffee or a single beer (the giant thirst of the Brits never made it over here for some reason). Into a church, we came across the tomb of a king’s mistress. A statue of Joan of Arc stood in one corner, commemorating her trip here after defeating those dastardly English. Giant stone blocks form the citadel’s keep, looking out over countryside below. It’s a lovely place, and well worth a visit.

A table and chairs kindly placed out on the street for you to rest, or write a post card.A table and chairs kindly placed out on the street for you to rest, or write a post card.

Yep, that’s about it guys! The birds are singing away outside, frogs are croaking, the sun has set and the cool slips in. Dinner of green beans, new potatoes and unidentified white fish has been enjoyed and Ju’s masterfully washing up as I type this. Perhaps I need to drag it out a little to avoid having to dry up? Yes, yes, good idea. I’ll go rummage around for one last photo to kill a few more seconds. 🙂

One thing you can't dis about a French supermarket: the wine selection is immense!One thing you can’t criticise about a French supermarket: the wine selection is immense!

Cheers, Jay

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Food & Drink

To a Goat Farm North of Amboise, Loire Valley

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Zagan the motorhome’s within a stone’s throw of the world-renown châteaux of the Loire, but first things first, we’re visiting a goat farm. Yup, we’re at Berneux Dominique’s farm at Pocé-sur-Cisse (N47.44473, E0.97048), just north of Amboise. The farm’s part of the France Passion scheme, and also listed in the park4night app, which is where we found it. Officially there is no obligation to buy produce, but we’ve always bought something at these locations, and always enjoyed it (like: an olive farm near the Pyrenees, a farm restaurant near Dax and a vineyard at Monbazzilac).

Berneux Dominique's Goat Farm Welcomes Motorhomes OvernightBerneux Dominique’s goat farm welcomes motorhomes overnight

The weather’s turned now, and we’re sat with the rain hammering down on the roof, a snoring pooch and the heating on. Just yesterday, back up the road, we were tucking into steak haché (burgers) and salade (lettuce) on a picnic table by the aire. I’ll be honest: it wasn’t as great an experience as I’d hoped, lugging all our stuff across the stream, including carrying a fed-up dog, eating in five minutes and lugging it all back again. Ho hum, we should have stretched it out with some vin blanc methinks.

I enjoyed cooking al fresco though!I enjoyed cooking al fresco though!

The drive here, in current ourtour style, took 20 minutes. The farm announced itself with a proud herb-n-wire billy at the entrance, and pointed us into place in the small yard with a sprouting of bienvenue camping cariste signs. Fessing up, our France Passion book is about 6 years out of date, and we don’t even have it with us, but the participants really don’t seem to mind. None of the hosts have ever checked us for the official card/book/sticker/tattoo, and my guess is they just want the potential business. That said, the France Passion book is by far the most comprehensive listing of participants, so well worth getting if you plan to use the scheme much.

Arriving, I got a tad excited and forgot to flip the fridge from 12V to gas. Fortunately Ju was on the ball and did the job for me as I legged it to the lady stood in a doorway in front of a pile of ice, removing a hair net and gloves to say hello. My grasp of French is probably best described as that of a small child. A small child who cannot speak much French. But I manage, and usually get the gist of things if done slowly enough: Yes, of course we’re welcome to stay tonight. If we want, we can park a little further from the goat shed, as there’ll be noise at 6am. Yes, there is a shop, just around the corner here. Yes, of course you can watch la traite des chèvres (goat milking), it’ll be at 5pm. Sure, you can go and look at the goats, but please don’t take your dog.

And with that, we’re in. With Charlie pacified with a sniff around and a treat, we headed to the shop, always a moment of tiny trepidation that our ignorance of all things might be betrayed. Thinking back that’s only happened the once, at a Champagne house which allowed motorhome stopovers and provided tastings where being the only guests in a very posh, locked room we sat wondering what we were supposed to ask for: a taste of every type they sold? How should we respond to the taste of the stuff, which neither of us much like? What are we doing here? Are we perhaps a little under-dressed for all of this? In the end we left with a €15 bottle of champers, pondering the fact we could have had an overnight stay, use of the service point, drunk two glasses of bubbly and bought a bottle of the stuff for about £12.

Back to the chèvres, I’ve managed to ascertain they have about 90 of ’em here, and no, they don’t have names. The farmer’s a friendly chap, but his rapid-fire French had me guessing the rest: it sounded like they used to have about double the number but he’s en retrait now (retired), and then something about his femme (wife) which I guessed meant she still likes making the cheese and running the shop. See what I mean about my French?

The shop turned out to be a lovely little thing, with the friendly madame running us through the arrangement of fromage in the fridges. Frais (fresh), with a coat of shallots, garlic, pepper or herbs and mustard, sec (dry) or demi-sec (dry-ish?) in various shapes and sizes. We plucked for a frais with shallots and a demi-sec, and some goat’s yoghurt, all of which are delicious, not strong, creamy and lovely, and for the princely sum of €7.

After an afternoon of reading and keeping dry, the main event kicked off: the milking! Into the barn we ambled, nonchalant as a couple of goat-illiterates can be, going all gog-eyed at the 3-month old kids, horns just sprouting, sucking on rubber teats and eager to eat our shoe-laces. The nannys were next up, legging it about on cue, out of the open door, up the makeshift ramp, faces into food and necks gently trapped in place as the teat-milking-thing was popped onto each of them in turn. A few seconds of pumping and the suckers released themselves, ready for the next goat. And that was that, enjoyable to see, especially as we knew we were eating produce milked 10 metres  to the left of Zagan, and made into cheese 10 metres to the right, smashing.

So, the rain looks to be on and off, for a few days now, so the heating’s staying on. There are a ton of places to stay to the south of us, and as usual we don’t know which we’re heading for. Job, once again, for this evening. A hard life, it is not.

Cheers, Jay

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