Chateau Amboise: Death and Intrigue in the Loire Valley

There are so many beautiful castles to visit in the Loire Valley but some have more presence, more history, and more well, intrigue than others! The UNESCO World Heritage Royal Château of Amboise deserves several days exploring not just the Château, but also Château Clos Du Luce, Château Gillard, and beautiful Amboise on the Loire River. Read about the history of death, intrigue, conspiracy, and decline of the seat of the Valois Kings and find out how to get here, what not to miss, where to stay, and the best tours of the Chateau and the charming town of Amboise.

Find out the top things to do and see at the Château, and the best places to stay in Amboise.

Trip Anthropologist

Chateau Chenonceau is just down the road from Amboise – read a comprehensive guide on visiting Castle Chenonceau: Loire Chateau of Powerful Women.

The Loire Valley

Although the Seine and the Rhone might be better known, the River Loire is the longest river in France.

Trip Anthropologist
The Loire Valley

Gathering deep in the Massif Central it meanders in a crescent down past famous towns and cities like Saint-Etienne and then Vichy right in the center of the country before running west to the coast, past Orléans, Tours, and Nantes to drain into the Bay of Biscay at the port of Saint Nazaire. 

The river’s fertile valley has sometimes been called the Garden of France and is a major winemaking region.

It’s also home to thousands of châteaux, the fairy-tale castles of the Loire Valley, which hearken back to a time when the area was a strategic frontier between the north and south of France.


Situated just to the east of Tours along the Loire is a town and a commune known as Amboise.

Trip Anthropologist

Its name probably originates from two old Gallic words, ambi and isara, which together mean something like “fast around both sides” or less literally “between two waters”, as the town was founded on a place of many islands, where the Loire meets its tributary the Amasse.

As you approach the town, the Chateau d’Amboise is clearly visible. Atop its hill, towering over the small town with which it shares its name, Chateau d’Amboise looks like something in between a Disney castle and Colditz Castle. A brief peek at the chateau’s history will show that sometimes appearances are not deceiving.

History of Château d’Amboise

Château d’Amboise was built upon a strategic hill over the Loire which had been a strong point for centuries. Before even Caesar wandered into Gaul with his legions, a Gallic oppidum had been built there. 

History of Château d'Amboise
History of Château d’Amboise

A castle was built there in the early Medieval period as the Franks were becoming the French. The area became one of the first key possessions of the original House of Anjou, the ancestors of the Plantagenet kings of England. 

The castle at Amboise was even important enough to have a long chronicle written about it in Latin during the 12th Century, which traces the area’s history all the way back to Caesar himself.

The Château Royal

Louis d’Amboise, the Viscount of Thors, was found guilty of plotting against the French King Louis XI, in 1431 and was sentenced to execution. On second thoughts, Louis XI decided to pardon him but to take his Château.

The Château Royal
The Château Royal

But as the bloodthirsty austerity of the Middle Ages transitioned into the more opulent and sophisticated Renaissance, the French Kings decided that their seat needed some reservation.

An unsuccessful plot against the king saw the castle seized by Charles VII of France (known as the Well-Served) and passed on to his son King Charles VIII (or the Affable).

The Affable king decided to redesign the castle, turning it from a primarily defensive building into a stately royal residence. In 1492 he began renovations in the late Gothic Flamboyant style popular in France.

Then in 1495 he hired Italian architects and artisans and constructed the first Italianate palace in France, pioneering Renaissance architecture and interior design within the country.  Amboise Castle had become a true Royal Castle.

Leonardo Da Vinci

But the Château Royal d’Amboise’s Renaissance connection didn’t end with its construction. In 1515 King Francis the First, who had grown up at the chateau invited none other than Leonardo Da Vinci to stay there.

Trip Anthropologist
Chapel Saint-Hubert, the burial place of Leonardo da Vinci

From the end of 1515 until his death four years later, Da Vinci lived and worked at the nearby Château du Clos Lucé (which was connected to Chateau d’Amboise via an underground tunnel). 

During this time Da Vinci drew up plans for a huge castle town that Francis wanted to be constructed to the east of Amboise at Romorantin.

Though his work was eventually hampered by his infirmity, Da Vinci was known to have constructed an elaborate and complex mechanical lion while staying at Clos Lucé.

The lion was capable of walking on its own accord and was presented to Francis during one of his pageants. Upon striking the lion with a cane, its chest opened, presenting the astonished king with a bouquet of lilies. 

Leonardo Da Vinci would die at Clos Lucé, probably from a stroke in 1519. Da Vinci was buried by a heartbroken king who held the mastermind to be a close friend at his very own Chapel of Saint Florentin. (His bones were supposedly later moved to Chapel Saint-Hubert.

The Amboise Conspiracy

But the chateau’s history does not end here. Throughout France’s troublesome 16th Century, the castle was the home of King Henry II and his wife, Catherine de Medici (along with her once prospective daughter-in-law Mary Stuart,  Queen of Scots).

The Amboise Conspiracy
The Amboise Conspiracy

Ruling through her three successive sons, Medici desperately attempted to keep the Valois monarchy alive throughout a period of violent religious turmoil, and she has been dubbed by many historians as the most powerful woman of the century for her efforts.

You can read about the rest of her history in the Loire Valley at nearby Chateau Chenonceau.

It was during that time that the infamous Amboise conspiracy occurred, which saw an attempt by members of the Huguenot House of Bourbon (who were Protestants) to kidnap De Medici’s young son and rule through him.

The influential Catholic House of Guise responded mercilessly, executing over 1200 local Protestants and hanging their decomposing corpses from hooks on the façade of the château, forcing the Royal Court to leave Amboise.

Decline and Imprisonment

As the French Wars of Religion ended and the House of Valois fell Chateau d’Amboise became gradually less important.

Decline and Emprisonment
Decline and Imprisonment

By the time of the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, much of the chateau and its surrounding buildings were in a dilapidated state and had to be demolished.

Tourists came and went, and various attempts were made by subsequent Kings of France such as the liberal Louis-Philippe to restore what was declared a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture. 

In one final historical cameo, Chateau d’Amboise was the prison of the widely respected Algerian resistance figure the Emir Abd el-Kader (Abd Al-Qadir) between 1848 and 1852.

Visiting the Chateau Amboise 

Today the Chateau d’Amboise is maintained by Jean, the Comte de Paris via the Fondation Saint-Louis, and has been restored to an excellent condition for the benefit of the French people and visitors from across the world. 

Trip Anthropologist
Visiting the Chateau Amboise 

Once you’ve arrived your experience begins with an interactive video tour of the castle’s premises detailing an overview of its illustrious history.

After that, there’s an hour-long guided tour of the site (though it’s currently only available in French and Italian), through some of the chateau’s most stately rooms. 

Of course, the chateau we see today is only a fifth of the size that it was in its prime, leaving many visitors a little underwhelmed that this storied place is not really a second Versailles.

To compensate for this, Fondation Saint-Louis has created the Histopad, a “tablet-based visitor experience” that with the aid of modern technology, brings to virtual life the opulent Chateau d’Amboise of the Renaissance.

There is a gift shop that sells a good selection of Loire Valley AOC wines.

What to See

In addition to the small Chapel of Saint-Hubert and its underground passages, make sure you see these Amboise Castle highlights:

Trip Anthropologist
Royal bedroom apartment, Chateau d’Amboise France

The Royal Lodge

Home to the chateau guards, including the three musketeers, and a visit from the well know French musketeer, D’Artagnan.

Drummers Room

A high and vaulted ceiling with large windows, dances were held here.

Oratory of Anne de Bretagne 

This looks very much like a small chapel, but masses were not said here, it was instead designed to reflect the piety of Anne de Bretagne. The ceiling is beautifully painted.

Council Chamber

Another large vaulted room where the King received envoys and where he held celebrations.

Gothic Wing

This is the wing of the chateau that faces the Loire River. 

Orléans Apartments 

These royal apartments are lavishly decorated and furnished with Empire-style furniture. You can’t miss them because they are a rich red color.

Henri II’s Bedroom

The King’s chamber has a four-poster bed, a common sight in the royal apartments of the castles of the Loire Valley.

Tour des Minimes and Heurtault Tower

My favorite part of the Chateau – is the tower of the horsemen which is the chateau’s original entrance. It is a circular ramp (a bridle ramp), allowing riders to enter the castle without having to dismount.

Don’t miss the Gargoyles on the Tower, and the rooftop offers wonderful views over the castle grounds, the town, and the Loire.

Garden of Naples

A beautiful part of the chateau, the smell of lavender is intense on hot summer days in this Renaissance garden. The Italian style of landscape architecture brings a sense of grandeur to what is now quite a small castle on a dramatic site.

Festivals and On-site Experiences

In addition to the main tour, there are a few others that occur upon special occasions.

Trip Anthropologist

A tour commemorating the fifth centenary of Leonardo da Vinci has been operating recently, with a special look at the Chapel of Saint-Hubert. The Château Chapel is where da Vinci was reinterred following the destruction of his original burial place by Napoleon’s engineers. 

There’s also a Christmas-themed tour that runs throughout the festive season focusing on how Christmas was celebrated throughout French history. Grand (though entirely French) shows are also put on in the evenings during peak times, but make sure to check out the website if you want to know what’s on offer. 

Finally, a relatively new tour has been added to the repertoire that runs through the less glamorous side of the chateau and is well worth the money.

Through underground passageways, tall ramparts, and high towers we are reminded that although Chateau d’Amboise was designed as a place of luxury, it was still a nexus of power to be defended, with its fair share of intrigue and foreboding.

How to Get to Amboise

Since modern times, France has been known as a centralized country, but its population is far more spread out than you might think.

Map of Amboise
Map of Amboise

As a consequence, it’s lucky enough to have a good regional infrastructure, meaning your trip to rural Amboise can be undertaken in a variety of different ways. 

First of all, there’s the two-hour and forty-minute train ride from Paris Austerlitz to Gare Amboise. The station in Amboise is across the Loire from the chateau and is either a brisk twenty-minute walk or a seven-minute taxi ride away. 

A bus from Paris to Amboise takes an impractically long time and is only a little cheaper than the train, but if you’ve got a hire car, you can cut the trip down by at least half an hour.  Simply take the A-10 Paris-Bordeaux Autoroute out of the city and flick on the cruise control. Zoom through the outskirts of Orléans, past Blois before exiting left on to the D31 just past the little village of Morand.

From here you’ll cross the Loire near Les Fougerets and approach the Chateau d’Amboise from the east via the D751 running down the river’s south bank.

Chateau Chenonceau is just down the road from Amboise – read a comprehensive guide on visiting Castle Chenonceau: Loire Chateau of Powerful Women.

Where to Stay in Amboise

This is a tough one – a manor house, a chateau, or a 17th-century mansion? Accommodation in Amboise is fantastic – it’s just so hard to choose – a few of my favorites are below.

Le Manoir Les Minimes

Charming Residence in the heart of the Loire Valley Castles, “LE MANOIR LES MINIMES” is located in an exceptional setting with a view of the Royal “Château d’Amboise” overlooking the river.

Built on the foundations of the former medieval monastery of the Minimes Monks, the hotel has 13 unique rooms and 2 suites spread over 2 buildings (Le Manoir and L’Annexe called Le Pavillon des Roses, located 40 m in front of the Manor).

Trip Anthropologist
Le Manoir Les Minimes

It now offers a new atypical catering “LES MINIMES GOURMETS” in the form of a “Grocery-Bistro” allowing you to eat on-site in your room, the dining room or on the sunny terrace overlooking the Château Royal d’Amboise.

Le Clos d’Amboise

Housed in a mansion dating from the 17th century, Le Clos d’Amboise is surrounded by a large landscaped garden in the heart of Amboise. Guests have free access to the heated outdoor pool open in summer and there is also a sauna.

Trip Anthropologist
Le Clos d’Ambois

Clos Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci’s last residence, is now a museum that is only 1 km from this hotel. Free private parking is provided at Le Clos d’Amboise, making it easy to explore the nearby towns and their castles. Chaumont Castle is a 20-minute drive away.

Hôtel le Pavillon Des Lys

Pavillon des Lys is in the center of Amboise a 5-minute walk from the Amboise Chateau among the castles of the Loire Valley.

Trip Anthropologist
Hôtel le Pavillon Des Lys

Golf de Fleuray is a 20-minute drive away. The terrace offers views over the park and free Wi-Fi access is available.

Keep Planning Your Trip to France

🧳 Chateau Amboise: Death and Intrigue in the Loire Valley

🧳 Castle Chenonceau: Loire Chateau of Powerful Women

🧳 Strasbourg Cathedral: A Gothic Masterpiece

🧳 The Ultimate Parisian Landmark list: best 45 to visit in 2024

🧳 Incroyable! 61 France Landmarks to visit in 2024

🧳 France

Leave a Comment