during may and june we look for a weather window of opportunity for a short camping trip as we are fair weather campers, bien sur! last year it was the cevennes and the year before trebes on the canal du midi. the bizarre weather of hot days alternating with storms and rain meant it was almost the end of june before we found three suitable days. i had seen a programme on french tv a few years ago about the clos luce at amboise, the last home of leonardo da vinci, courtesy of an invitation from the french king francoise 1. after some years of decline the house had been restored and a museum created dedicated to the work and creativity of da vinci. the thing that fascinated me was the idea of the recreated models both within the house and out in the grounds. we had discussed campsites and, under the impression that neither of us fancied the centre ville campsite (previous experience has taught us they can be noisy at night) i searched for somewhere just outside the town. i found a small site right next to the river about fifteen minutes away near a village called mosnes. as it was small and we were getting close to french school holidays i booked us in after checking it out on google earth and trip advisor and hoped it wasn’t a mistake.:)
first there was the task of finding everything squirrelled away in the loft and workshop. i tried to ‘lose’ some things not strictly necessary but only managed two folding stools, the washing line with pegs and a garlic press, more of that later! the cats began to get jumpy as soon as they saw the food and water hoppers being filled up. as it was summer and they virtually leave home at this time of year we decided they would be fine for a couple of nights even if ‘howler’, a cat who has adopted us, dines well on the available catfood.
a familiar journey up to chateauroux and then onto the route national to amboise ignoring the gps which tried to take us off onto little yellow roads for most of the way. the campsite was signposted by a narrow left turn in the centre of mosnes, down a country lane and a turn to the left in view of the loire and we had arrived. a cheerful welcome from the couple who run the place and a pitch with lots of shade. then the ‘fun’ of erecting the tent in the full knowledge that the couple opposite had the same one and were probably watching us surreptitiously. an hour later the tent was up and lou was looking for his ‘arrival’ beer. oops, guess who didn’t move it from the fridge to the glacier? mind you, i insisted it wasn’t my job! happily the reception of the campsite doubles as a bar with beer on tap so lou was placated.
the ‘sanitaires’ were spotless and even provided loo paper, a rare treat as campsites go. we wanderd over to the riverside and sat awhile on a bench watching two dogs frolicking in the shallows and a couple who, equipped with enormous flippers, swam away up stream pushing said flippers. rather a pointless and splashy activity we decided.
to my delight (it was a holiday after all) we discovered the campsite couple cooked fried food in the evening so chips were ordered. we ate them with a tin of spag bol washed down with glanes rose (i remembered to put that in, lou noted) and bought magnum choc ices to follow. as usual we watched with interest as various camper vans came in, noting we were all ‘of a certain age’. as hoped the site was quiet and we slept well.
next morning the showers passed muster (clean, hot and decent water pressure) but i was caught out when lou asked for some pegs to hang up his damp towel. i ended up snapping some small pegs from the tiny teatowel airer! After receiving lots of parking advice and maps from our friendly host we were off to amboise. the parking advice proved useless as we couldn’t work out which left turn to take (it was the one way before town we discovered later) so we turned into the narrow streets and luckily stumbled upon a free car park. a sign pointed us towards the clos luce and after a short walk uphill we found it.
i had bought our tickets online in advance so we wafted in and were directed to the entrance which is at the base of a tower and then you climb up a very narrow spiral staircase. you arrive on the gallery from which one trip advisor reviewer said he looked at the gardens but didn’t bother to explore them. his loss, i would suggest, given our experience of them. first there was the house to explore; two bedrooms, a chapel, leonardo’s studio, his study and the refectory. we moved fairly swiftly to avoid the school group hard on our heels
then it was downstairs to the rooms given over to the models and plans. we wandered and read and marvelled. arriving together in front of the tank, we both agreed we had not realised the breadth of his invention. swing bridges, a car (!) and a paddle steamer were wonderful and well displayed with videos available to help with visualisation.
quite thirsty by now and having noticeed a very pretty rose garden below the refectory window we went in search of coffee.
by the time we had finished our coffees we realised it was nearly midday, french lunch time. watching the crowd numbers building up we opted to stay put and have lunch. seated at a shady table in a little bay edged with red roses we enjoyed salads of the region and some cool pink wine.
it was hard to leave our little ‘coin’ but the garden beckoned. it is full of shady trees so it was very pleasant to wander up and down the paths (trying to follow the map) discovering the various enormous models.
among them there was a swing bridge, paddle boats, some sort of water lifting thingamybob and even a flying machine in the trees above our heads makng me think of a pterodactyl.
after all that gawping and retracing footsteps we were beginning to flag. we decided we had given it our best shot and learnt a lot in the process. time to move on. outside the exit we found one of those little wooden ‘trains’ so popular in tourist towns. after a chat with the driver during which i thought he said there was a stop in town we climbed on. off we rattled with an english commentary.
in town we stopped very briefly for a red light and then turned for the river. at a set of traffic lights on the bridge we jumped off before we were taken miles away. lou said maybe that was what we were meant to do at the last set of lights…
not sure where exactly we had parked the car it was a case of retracing the route we remembered from the morning. we looked up at the enormous chateau walls and lou waited while i dived into interesting shops.
the car was found and it was lovely to return to our shady site by the river. we ordered fish and chips and sat drinking aperos on the little terrace where a world cup footbal match was about to start. sadly we were not in the shade so we apologised and retired to the tent and our lovely cool corner. the fish and chips were very good when it arrived as was the bottle of local rose we had bought at the bar.
another peaceful night and then the task of packing up the tent. we had giggled watchng the neighbours with the same model of tent packing theirs away the morning before. the husband insisted on folding and refolding one of the ground sheets and the wife went round and round the outside of the tent sweeping the fabric with a small brush.
‘don’t wait for me to do that’ i told lou. although we haven’t used the tent that often we are fairly good at remembering where everything goes back into the car and top box. lou always has his melodramtic moment telling me the tent won’t fit into its bag but with some sitting on it and squishing it by me it always goes in as do the sleeping bags! 🙂
a couple of cold drinks before the ‘depart’ on the terrace and we were off.
‘it was good’ said lou. praise indeed, and true…