It’s spring break season, which means flying any place warm and beachy will cost a small fortune at the moment. Still, I can’t help but reminisce of hot, sun-drenched days and my toes in the sand, or rocks, as the case may be. Heck no, I never went to Nice on spring break (more like Negril, Jamaica or South Padre Island, Texas!), but Nice is what comes to mind when I think of my favorite beach experiences.
During the cold, wintry months in Chicago, I daydream about being on a beach somewhere — anywhere — probably once a day. It’s not that I hate winter, it’s just that it lasts so long here. In fact, I vividly remember visiting Chicago over Memorial Day weekend before the summer that we moved here, and it was so cold — albeit, not quite winter-like — that we needed pants and jackets.
So, it’s a little unusual, then, that my husband and I chose to go someplace else relatively cold at the end of December. We headed to beautiful Amboise, France in the dead of winter.
Rewind to August of that same year when we got married, and debated about where to honeymoon. I wanted to go to a beach. My husband wanted to go to Europe. So we compromised. Aww, just like a newlywed couple would… We decided to go to the beach for our honeymoon and then take a second “mini honeymoon” later in the year, somewhere in Europe. We landed on France because we wanted to be in Paris for New Year’s Eve.
But we’d both been to Paris before, so we wanted to go somewhere new, too. We chose Amboise because it was only about an hour and a half by train from Paris, and it’s a significantly smaller city then Paris with just enough things to do for a day or two.
Le Manoir Les Minimes
We stayed at Le Manoir Les Minimes, which sits right on the Loire River.
Our guest room on the second floor had exposed beams which, while (here I go again) charming, were a bit of a safety hazard; I kept waiting for my 6’2″ husband to decapitate himself. Luckily he survived.
Le Manoir Les Minimes’ location makes it easy to explore Amboise. We didn’t have a car and I can’t imagine why you’d need one even if you visit in the middle of winter, like we did. We had to take a taxi from the train station to Le Manoir, but once there, there are plenty of restaurants along the river within walking distance, as well as tourist destinations.
Amboise Day One
Our first day in Amboise was spent getting acquainted and doing a bit of sightseeing. Perhaps one of the more popular sights to see in Amboise is the Chateau d’Amboise, which is registered as a World Heritage site by Unesco. One of the chateau’s most famous guests was Leonardo da Vinci (more on his last residence in Amboise in a bit). Chateau d’Amboise is just a short walk from Le Manoir Les Minimes.
The grounds and gardens of the chateau are pristine. And I can’t imagine where you could get a better view of Amboise.
The Chapel of Saint-Hubert on the grounds of the chateau is where Leonardo da Vinci is buried.
After touring the chateau, we walked to the main part of the town for lunch and shopping. There are loads of restaurants, gift shops and of course, patisseries. Pâtisserie Bigot is a sweet spot worth a visit. Skip the chocolates and go right for the macarons. Most of the shops offer exactly what you’d expect to find in France — specialty foods, artwork, all things lavender, pillows and other decorative items emblazoned with fleur de lis.
That evening, we had one of our better dinners of our trip at Le Lion d’Or. The servers were so friendly and it seemed like there were some regulars which is usually a good thing. It’s hard to go wrong finding good food in Amboise, though.
Even though it was relatively quiet and seemingly desolate at nighttime, we didn’t think twice about walking everywhere and wandering the streets. Amboise seems like a safe place, even for semi-clueless, non-French-speaking tourists like us.
After our continental breakfast at Le Manoir Les Minimes, we set out for our second day of exploring Amboise. This time, we walked to Château du Clos Lucé, the last residence of Leonardo da Vinci. Confession: prior to arriving in Amboise, I had no idea that da Vinci had so many ties to the area. Who knew?
Château du Clos Lucé is less than a mile from Le Manoir Les Minimes, and an easy walk, so that’s what we did.
When we visited, much of the chateau was closed off for renovations, but several of da Vinci’s inventions were on display in the basement, which was still open to visitors. Confession #2: I didn’t realize that da Vinci was such a jack of all trades. I knew he was an artist, but as it turns out, he created plenty of inventions around engineering and hydraulics, too.
Da Vinci aside, the grounds of Clos Lucé are just so peaceful and beautiful, even in winter. I can only imagine how pretty it is in spring or summer when things aren’t quite so drab.
If you’re visiting Paris and want to take a one or two-day trip outside of the city, Amboise is a good option. It isn’t too far by train, and there are just enough sights to see in a matter of days. Then you can pack it up and head back into the City of Light or continue onward to explore more of the Loire Valley.
Like most other places, Chicago is all dressed up for Christmas–already. And while it looks beautiful, it’s over the top which seems to be par for the course in most cities in the U.S. at this time of year. I still vividly remember the gaudy gold garland that hung across the streets in the town where I grew up.
I wish we did it more like Europe. Something about Christmas decor in Europe is simpler but prettier. A few years ago, we spent time in France right after Christmas and luckily in time to still see their Christmas decorations. Lots of lights and simple, festive touches like this dressed up most streets.
In honor (or honour, more appropriately) of Bastille Day, I’m taking a trip down memory lane… to Paris.
New Year’s Eve in Paris
My first trip to Paris was in 2007. It was a stop on my European Christmas/New Year’s Eve extravaganza which began and ended in Germany. I met a friend in Paris for New Year’s Eve; we actually arrived on New Year’s Eve day. Oh, to be young and stupid again…
The thing to do in Paris on New Year’s Eve — if you’re not going to some tre magnifique party, I suppose — is really to go park yourself someplace where the Eiffel Tower is visible and wait for it to shimmer and sparkle. (Again, low-cut dresses and heels are optional.) Oh, and take a bottle (or two) of champagne with you. Everyone does. Then clink your bottles and say “chin chin” and “happy new year” at the stroke of midnight.
The other great thing about New Year’s Eve in Paris? The Metro is free for the night.
Aside from trolling the streets like hussies in inappropriate footwear, we did quite a bit of sight-seeing, even a — say it with me, it’s one of my favorite things — hop-on/hop-off bus tour. I’m telling you, it’s seriously one of the best ways to get accustomed to a city for the first time.
Cliche though it may be, I fell in love with Paris on that very first trip. I loved the energy, the style, the accents (the cheese, the bread, the chocolate!).
Most of all, though, I loved the wide, tree-lined boulevards. That first trip was spent being a tourist, though. I didn’t leisurely stroll the beautiful boulevards without a care in the world until a few trips in. Rather, I went to the Louvre (which I hated), Musee d’Orsay (which I loved), window-shopped on the Champs Elysees (which I also hated), saw the Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower and the Tuileries.
A colleague tipped me off to Rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement and though it took a little work, I eventually found it. I suppose it can be a bit touristy, but I enjoyed browsing the eclectic shops and popping in for a crepe here and there. Lining the streets are countless cafes but I preferred the walk-up panini shops.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been to Paris now. I thought I’d go more often when I lived in London since it’s so easily accessible via Eurostar, but I think I only made it there twice then.
My most recent trip was on New Year’s Eve again, in 2010. Unlike my first New Year’s Eve in Paris, this one was a bit more civilized. My husband and I had a romantic picnic dinner in our hotel room and then ventured out for the night.
By this last visit, I was a natural, for all intents and purposes. I didn’t need to wait in line to see the Notre Dame, didn’t need to hike up the Eiffel Tower and certainly didn’t need to traipse down the Champs Elysees (although we did do that). This time, I got to leisurely stroll those glorious boulevards. Finally.
I loved how deserted the streets became at night and it felt like we had that little pocket of Paris all to ourselves.