When I was walking along the Loire River from Orléans toward Tours, the weather was exceptionally cold and the famed vineyards shrouded in low frozen fog. The multitude of castles loomed in the grayness of the sky, very prettily. I enjoyed the landscape and the villages, and witnessed why the Loire Valley is a UNESCO cultural heritage region. Not bad walking, even in the cold lock of winter.
On the grounds is an ornate little chapel named for Saint Hubert, the patron of hunters. Consequently, the animal and forest motif is strongly carved in the white stone. I studied the exterior a bit and read that it’s King Charles VIII and his wife, Anne of Bretagne, carved in worship over the entrance. I did a painting of King Chuck because I noticed that he sports a string of scallop shells around his collar – a sign that he at least supported, if not actually made, a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Rock on, 15th-century dude.
The exceptional cold sent me inside the chapel. Frozen water makes watercolor painting challenging. A grand surprise was seeing the unassuming tomb of none other than Leonardo da Vinci. I didn’t read ahead in the little site plan of the chateau grounds. What luck. In all my travels to Florence and other places where Leo did his thing, I never picked up on where he spent his final days. Here at Amboise, it turns out. In a fine chapel. Behind the chateau, his accommodation as a paid guest of the King, contains scores of his design inventions and writings. It explained why Mona Lisa ended up in France.
I saw a lot of tombs – the whole of the Basilica of Saint Denis north of Paris is a giant graveyard of all the kings and queens of France except Charlemagne. The Church of Saint Eutrope is similarly something of a giant tomb of the Saint, and San Juan de Ortega has a pretty whooey resting place, and all happy surprises to guidebook-less me. If I were to pick a favorite, it would be Leonardo’s, that fellow engineer.