Amboise in the Loire Valley is a historic town and well worth a visit. It’s dominated by a grand chateau, the turrets reach high into the sky, its windows look over the town and country. It holds a lofty place in French history and was lived in by the Kings of France from the 15th to the 19th centuries. It’s also where you’ll find the tomb of the great Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci…
A few minutes’ walk away from the royal Chateau d’Amboise is a much smaller chateau, far less grand. It was the home of an artist who changed the world with his art and his designs – Leonardo da Vinci.
The 15th-century Chateau du Clos Lucé where Leonardo lived, has been wonderfully restored. It looks just as it did when he arrived, aged 63, in 1516 at the invitation of King Francis I of France.
In his homeland Italy, he was considered old, past it, with the much younger Michelangelo taking centre stage. Francis I offered him his dream job “First Painter, Engineer, and Architect to the King” plus a home for life and a huge pension.
Leonardo had always been a bit of a nomad, he had no home to call his own and moved from town to city – wherever the work was. He wasn’t rich and jumped at the offer from the French King. He made his way from Italy to France, crossing the Alps, on a donkey. Among the belongings, he carried with him were his precious manuscripts and an almost finished painting of a woman he called La Giaconda or Mona Lisa. It was to become one of the most famous paintings of all time.
Leonardo’s genius extended to several areas and the opportunity to do as he wished was just what he wanted. It was an innovative prospect at the time when a painter was a painter and an engineer was an engineer. Leonardo was an accomplished musician, wrote poetry, and was, in fact, a sort of Medieval rapper. He was an architect, botanist, and engineer – a man of many skills.
Leonardo moved into the Chateau du Clos Lucé and here he stayed until his death on 2 May 1519. The miniature castle has a homely feel to it and a definite feeling of the past. The rooms have been restored with the help of specialist historians and it’s easy to imagine Leonardo in his long gown moving through the castle.
This bijou chateau (at least by the standards of Amboise) is light and airy – perfect for an artist. In the former studio, there are paintings in progress and a desk which looks as though the great man is still at work but popped out for a break. It’s quite astounding to know that he worked on the Mona Lisa in this room.
His cabinet of curiosities was filled with oddities and is somewhat macabre. But, you don’t get to draw the insides of bodies of humans and animals by looking at the outside so it’s not a surprise to discover such bits and pieces.
His notebooks record the minutiae of his day and his thoughts. Some notes are poignant, everyday things like what he had for dinner. He wrote about his feelings on life advising that older people shouldn’t drink more than one glass of wine a day and should become vegetarian for better health. The last entry in his diary reads “I have to go now my soup will get cold”…
In the basement, dozens of Leonardo’s designs have been brought to life with models and film.
There are magnificent gardens at the chateau. They’re filled with designs by Leonardo, such as his tank and paddle boat. There is a lovely café and restaurant where you can take a break and enjoy the scenery. You can even do wine tasting in the underground passages of the Chateau, it gives you goosebumps to know that the great artist and the great King once traveled along this route to meet each other in secret.
The Chateau du Clos Lucé is one of the most atmospheric da Vinci sites in the world and makes for a truly fascinating visit.
The Chateau du Clos Lucé is open year-round (except 25 December and 1 January). See the website for details: www.vinci-closluce.com
French Connections has lots of gorgeous holiday rentals close by including chateaux – pop on over to our search pages to find the home from home of your dreams in the Loire Valley…
Image Copyright: Imogen Windsor
Batz-sur-Mer is a typically French village on the south-west coast of the Loire-Atlantique region, close to the bigger and more stylish harbour town of Le Croisic. The region boasts lovely beaches, historic towns and extensive, very flat, salt marshes, the produce of which is a huge source of regional pride.
After an easy 75-minute flight from Bristol to Nantes, followed by a 90-minute drive, we arrived in Batz. We were charmed straight away by its quietness and lack of pretension. Cheerful bunting was stretched across narrow streets lined with rows of colourful houses, their traditional shutters flung proudly open.
In the village centre is the Church of Saint-Guénolé, with impressive views from the top of its imposing tower, over the village to the picturesque harbour at Le Croisic, across the salt marshes, and far beyond out to sea.
Image Copyright: Imogen Windsor
Batz also has a chapel ruin, two museums (one devoted entirely to salt farming!), and some lovely beaches. We spent time at the gorgeous Valentin beach, then scrambled over rocks to reach some much smaller bays, though fortunately there’s a coastal path for those less keen to clamber. The village is well served by shops, boulangers, restaurants, and markets, but everything seemed very expensive thanks to Brexit and the poor exchange rate.
In the region, English isn’t widely spoken, except in the bigger towns, which forced my husband and I to practice our limited French. Our children, aged 10 and seven, were delighted, giggling uncontrollably when I actually spoke French to a policeman at airport immigration. He managed a smile!
With patchy weather limiting our beach days, we took the opportunity to explore the area. The historic town of Guérande, with its medieval ramparts, has an attractive centre with good shops, restaurants, and a lovely church.
To keep the children happy, we took them to Pornic Adventure forest, where mixed-ability zip wire challenges were brilliantly rigged between trees and over lakes. The children absolutely loved it; my husband, scared of heights, bravely participated. I just watched.
Image Copyright: Imogen Windsor
Determined to see some French castles, we visited the impressive Château des Ducs de Bretagne in Nantes, where you can walk around the fortifications for free. The ruin of Château de Ranrouët in Herbignac was interesting, but the privately-owned Château de Pornic you can only admire from the outside. Pornic itself was pleasant to wander around, with galleries, art studios, shops, and cafés aplenty.
In need of some glamour, we spent a day at La Baule, a chic and affluent resort with just a whiff of Côte d’Azur about it. With a beautiful beach stretching for miles, and clear - though chilly - water, it was great for a spot of people-watching!
The region has much to offer. It’s accessible from the UK, and people were generally very friendly. It’s easy to understand why it’s a popular holiday destination for the French.
There’s a little pocket of France which remains one of its hidden gems – Charente-Maritime. It hovers across four departments - Vendée, the Deux Sevres, the Charente and the Vienne, right on the cusp of where north meets south.
It’s a place where shops shut for lunch and where one minute there are rolling green hills and thick, lush woodland and then in the blink of an eye, you’re driving across burnt orange planes dodging the melon stalls. Sunflowers morph into vineyards, and huge lazy rivers transform into a vast network of orderly canals making up one of the largest marshlands in France.
A holiday here offers something for everyone…
The mesmerising maritime town of La Rochelle is the capital of Charente-Maritime. It has beautiful buildings and streets, a picturesque port and plenty for visitors to see and do, not to mention the best seafood in France.
The channel leading into the old port is guarded by twin sixteenth century round towers that you can climb and enjoy fabulous views out to sea and over the town. At the foot of the towers is the brasserie of the Bar André, whose seafood menu has been pleasing the punters for more than 80 years.
Behind the ornate medieval Gate of the Grosse Horloge (big clock), colonnaded streets of grey-white mansions and shops and polished flagstone pavements are a legacy of the wealth generated by a millennium of ship-building, banking, and trading.
Visit the Musee Maritime to learn more about La Rochelle, spend a fun few hours in the city’s aquarium, lounge on the beach, take a boat ride, cycle the paths and enjoy the old town – there are loads to do here.
La Marais Poitevin
The Marais Poitevin consists of 18,553 hectares of waterway network. It is entirely man-made, close to the Atlantic coast, a little south of the Loire estuary in the Vendée. It is popularly known as ‘La Venise Verte’ (‘The Venice of the North’) thanks to its multitude of canals and the bright green duckweed that cloaks many of its waterways. The 970 sq km expanse of the Marais Poitevin ranks after the Camargue as France’s second largest wetland.
With more than 850-km of safe, way-marked and well-maintained dedicated routes, bicycle touring is popular here. Hiking, canoeing, bird-watching, and angling are also on offer as are boat rides on the canal. It’s the perfect holiday spot for nature lovers.
Theme Parks Galore
Credit @ Puy du Fou
Dotted amongst the cornfields, valleys, and rivers of the area, all sorts of interesting things are going on. The world-famous, award-winning Puy du Fou theme park is to the north. Here you’ll find historical enactments on a dramatic scale: Viking boats rise out of the waters, fires stream out of a moving chateau and huge birds of prey swoop so close their feet almost scratch your cheek. You know it’s not an ordinary theme park when you’re warned that dangerous animals are in amongst the audience and not to eat while you’re watching the show. And that’s before you get to the gladiators (photo above)!
Further south there’s the Indian Forest of Adventures (tree top adventures taken to the next level) and in a similar vein half an hour north of Fontenay there’s the Parc D’Adventure; high octane Go Ape at half the price. There’s also a zoo at Mervent where you can walk with some of the animals.
In Nantes, Les Machines de l’île is a fascinating park in the old dockyards. Here you can ride on a 12-metre-high mechanical elephant or a 4-metre ant. The concept is described “as visualising a travel-through-time world at the crossroads of the “imaginary worlds” of Jules Verne and the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci” and that definitely captures the spirit of this place.
At the other end of the spectrum and just a couple of hour’s drive to the east, is Futuroscope, with all that is modern and high tech.
French Connections has hundreds of rental properties in this area – why not take a look and choose your dream holiday home from home for a fabulous break in Charente-Maritime…
Sunny Nimes is one of those cities you just fall in love with. Deep blue skies, wonderful restaurants, Roman architecture, beautiful green spaces and a laid-back lifestyle make this one of the most fascinating places to visit.
The famous Roman arena is the beating heart of Nimes. Built at the end of the first century, in its heyday, this place would have seated all 24,000 inhabitants of what was even then a vibrant city. Today it seats 17,000 and there’s plenty of entertainment from festivals, concerts, opera, theatre, bullfights and more.
One of the most famous annual events held here is the Roman Games held each spring. Rent a toga for a few Euros, do up your sandals and channel your inner Roman as you enjoy the spectacle – gladiator fights, chariot races, and parades.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the arena you’ll find the magnificent temple called Maison Carrée a white stone building that was once a part of the Roman forum, now an art gallery.
In the gorgeous Jardin des Fontaines are the ruins of a Roman library. As well as of Roman baths. Today the park is perfect for relaxing under the shade of the beautiful lime trees or enjoying a game of boules.
Tour Magne is the last of 80 towers that were once embedded in the city walls. You can get a fabulous view of the city from here.
Tip: Buy a combined ticket with entry to the Nimes Arena, Maison Carrée, Tour Magne and the Roman theatre at Orange, it’s valid for a month and saves you money and queuing.
In the summer people here eat dinner late at night when the air has cooled down – it gets very hot during the daytime. Try the Brasserie Le Napoleon which opened in 1813 and is an institution in Nimes. Fabulous interior, cool pavement tables, and a fabulous menu.
For lunch, locals love the shaded terrace restaurant of the Carré d’Art Museum which offers spectacular views of the city and a great, seasonal menu.
2018 sees the opening of the brand new Musée de la Romanité. It’s one of the largest contemporary architectural projects in France and will reveal the history of Arles from the 7th century BC through the Romans to the Middle ages – it promises to be one of the coolest cultural visits in Provence.
Nimes Tourist Office website for more details
French Connections has hundreds of wonderful holiday homes in the south of France – pop on over to our search pages to find the holiday home of your dreams.
At last, spring is here and soon too is the Easter break – it’s the perfect time to take a trip to France.
With so many places to explore and so many things to do we thought we’d share a few inspiring ideas for the perfect French spring break and where to get a scrumptious chocolate fix!
By spring, the sun is warm, the sky is blue and coats can be put away during the daytime, though you might need a jacket for al fresco dining in the evening.
The old town is not too busy this time of the year and you’ll be able to stroll the famous Cours Saleya market without crowds. Treat yourself to lunch at the fabulous La Rotonde bistro at the iconic pink domed Negresco hotel. Decked out like an 18th-century carousel complete with horses that rise and fall the restaurant is kitsch, fun and gorgeous and it’s a surprisingly affordable menu for such an iconic establishment.
Nip to the tourist office to find out what’s on during the spring season, concerts, Easter Egg Hunts and loads more await. Don’t miss a visit to Maison Auer for your sweet treat. This beautifully decorated shop with its painted ceiling and mirrored walls opened in 1820. A 5th generation sweet shop where Queen Victoria used to shop when she was on holiday on the French Riviera. Utterly lush chocolate covered almonds and crystallised fruit deliver memorable sugar hits.
CREDIT: © Penn Graphics, Office de Tourisme Sarlat Perigord Noir
The countryside of Dordogne bursts into colour in spring. The grass is emerald green, the forests of walnuts and oaks sprout leaves, there are bluebells and meadow flowers and for nature lovers, it’s a great time to visit. The towns of Dordogne also burst into life and in Sarlat, a pickled in the past gem of a town, there’s loads going on during the spring season. If you’re there at Easter with kids, join in a giant Easter Egg Hunt in the streets. Head to the Bovetti Chocolate Museum nearby to try the most delicious tasting of specialty chocolate and learn more about the sweet stuff.
We can’t mention chocolate in France and not talk about this lovely little village in Burgundy where the film ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris was filmed. Flavigny sits high on a rock and is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. The origin of the town goes back centuries when it spread out around a Benedictine Abbey founded in 719. The Abbey is still present but part of it is used now as a factory producing Anise pastilles based on a recipe created by the monks' many hundreds of years ago. You can buy them in beautifully printed tins exclusively featuring the village.
There are wiggly, hilly roads lined with medieval houses, walk the castle ramparts and enjoy magnificent views and indulge in the local wines. Surprisingly perhaps, there’s no chocolate shop in the town but the anise pastilles make up for that. And, not far away in the town of Montbard which is also well worth a visit, you’ll find several chocolate shops including Tentation (Temptation) which makes simply irresistible chocolates.
French Connections has hundreds of wonderful holiday rentals in these areas, nip over to our home page to start your search.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a keen cyclist who likes a challenge, a cyclist who like to pootle about enjoying the scenery at a leisurely pace or a family where everyone is at a different level of ability – France is perfect for cycling, for everyone.
The back roads are quiet, the weather is usually pleasant, fuel for hungry cyclists is delicious from French brioche, camembert and red wine to baguettes, scrumptious cakes, and cider, and you’ll always find a fabulous picnic spot. Whether you decide to visit vineyards or battlefields, châteaux or cathedrals, the country that is home to the Tour de France is the perfect cycling destination.
We’ve put together some top tips to help you make the most of cycling in France
1 Comfortable clothes and shoes
The weather is generally pleasant in France from Spring to Autumn but it’s not always predictable and rain and cycling are not a pleasant combo. Take waterproof clothing that won’t get too heavy while you’re cycling.
Whatever time of year, you’ll need comfortable footwear, and if possible take a spare pair to give your feet a rest and in case of rain.
Finally, bright coloured clothes will increase your visibility but if you don’t fancy lurid shades, you could hang a brightly coloured scarf or flag from your rear basket.
2 Take a helmet
While it’s not the law to wear a cycling helmet in France, accidents do happen and in fact, it’s exactly because you’re in a foreign place with roads you don’t know that accidents are more likely – wearing a helmet is recommended.
3 Map and compass
Yes we know Google has the answer to everything but in rural areas its common that you won’t get a signal. Take a map with you. It may be old-fashioned but it’s the best way to ensure you’re never lost and that you have something to point to if your French is less than perfect. A compass is the simplest tool around, its lightweight and needs no power.
4 Health Insurance and Important Documents
While cycling is beneficial to your health, don’t forget that accidents can happen and travel insurance vital in case of emergencies.
A French phrasebook is also handy to have as well as a few key phrases to hand such as “I am lost, can you please tell me the way to XX “. It happens!
While France is not known for high levels of crime, it’s still advisable to secure your bike when it’s out of sight, especially in cities. Make sure you take a good lock with you and don’t let someone spoil your holiday.
For loads of inspiration about cycle routes all over France - by the coast, rivers, and vineyards, taking in the countryside, culture, and chateaux, and lots helpful tips check out the France Velo Tourisme website: en.francevelotourisme.com
Wherever you choose to cycle in France, French Connections has thousands of wonderful holiday rentals – just pop over to our search pages and find your dream home from home…
There is a little town in Provence that is famous for its antique shops and weekly flea market. No ordinary flea market venue this, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has oodles of charm, an ancient history, gorgeous good looks and for bric-a-brac lovers, it’s a little bit of paradise.
But there’s more to it than antiques…
It’s an easy going, tranquil, even sleepy sort of a place most of the time except on Sunday when the flea market stalls line the streets and the crowds flock to ogle the goods or haggle for a bargain.
Long ago Isle-sur-la-Sorgue was a hive of production, known for its silk, wool and paper production. These industries were enabled due to the Sorgue river which runs through the town from its origins at the nearby Fontaine de la Vaucluse.
To this day you can admire the 14 waterwheels which remain, and which once helped to produce the goods. Now covered in moss, they are charismatic magnets for tourists looking for the ultimate selfie spot.
It’s an easy town to wander and makes for a great base for visiting the local area, it’s close to Avignon, the capital of the department. There are loads of fabulous cafés and restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques in the most picturesque of surroundings. Sitting outside the Café de France, opposite a beautiful ancient church, watching the world go by and sipping something chilled in the sun is one of life’s true pleasures.
Well worth going to for its pretty and lazy charm, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue also attracts an international audience thanks to its antique fame. It’s the third largest antique centre in Europe, and the most enchanting.
There are over 300 permanent antique dealers in the town with shops ranging from tiny to warehouse size. Specialists abound and whether you’re after aircraft memorabilia or a Louis XIV armoire – you’re likely to find it here, and then some. Art deco, furniture, Renaissance art, high-end objets d’art, linens and just about every antique you could ever dream of with a mainly French theme can be found here. Most of the goods are not cheap but on Sundays when the street flea market takes place, you’re bound to find something a bit more affordable and the perfect souvenir of your time in Provence.
The Sunday flea market spills from one road to another from 08h – 18h
On the last Sunday each month, there is additionally a second-hand book market
Two major international antique fairs take place each year: Easter and mid-Summer (August) Details of dates on Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Tourist Office website.
French Connections has more than hundred rental properties close to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, head on over to our search pages to find your dream temporary home in Provence…