Amboise (pop. 11,000) is guarded by the parapets of the 15th-century chateau that six security-minded French kings called home. In the Logis de Roi, the main part of the chateau, intricate 16th-century Gothic chairs stand over 2m tall to prevent any attacks from behind. The jewel of the grounds is the 15th-century Chapelle St-Hubert, the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci, (a 02 47 57 00 98. Open Apr.-Nov. daily 9am-6pm; Dec.-Mar. reduced hours. ‚7, students ‚6.) Four hundred meters away is Clos Luce manor, where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life. Inside are his bedroom, library, drawing room, and chapel, but the main attraction is a collection of 40 machines created from da Vinci’s visionary designs and built with materials contemporaneous to da Vinci’s lifetime, (a 02 47 57 62 88. Open Mar.-Oct. daily 9am-7pm; Nov.-Feb. reduced hours. ‚11, students ‚9.)
Trains leave bd. Gambetta for: Blois (20min. 20 per day, ‚5.40); Orleans (lhr. 6 per day, ‚13); Paris (2V6hr. 7 per day, ‚24); and Tours (20min. 11 per day, ‚4.30). To reach the tourist office on quai du General de Gaulle, take a left once outside the train station, following r. Jules-Ferry and cross both bridges past the residential Ile d’Or. (a 02 47 57 09 28; fax 02 47 57 14 35. Open July-Aug. M-Sa 9am-8pm, Su 10am-6pm; Sept.-June reduced hours.) The Centre International de Sejour Charles Peguy (HI) , on Ile d’Or, sits on an island in the middle of the Loire. Some rooms have a view of the chateau. (a02 47 30 60 90; fax 02 47 30 60 91. Breakfast ‚2.60. Sheets ‚3.10. Reception M-F 3-7pm. Dorms ‚8.60.) Postal Code: 35400.
Tours (pop. 253,000) works best as a base for nearby Loire chateaux, but its fabulous nightlife and collection of sights should not be missed. The Cathedrale St-Gatien, on r. Jules Simon, has dazzling stained glass and an intricate facade. (Cathedral open daily 9am-7pm. Free. Cloister open Easter-Sept. 9:30am-12:30pm and 2-6pm; Oct.-Mar. Su, W-Sa 9:30am-12:30pm and 2-5pm. ‚2.50.) At the Musee du Gemmail, 7 r. du Murier, works of gemmail (a fusion of enameled shards of brightiy colored glass) glow in rooms of dark velvet. (Open Apr.-Nov. Su and Tu-Sa lOam-noon and 2-6:30pm. ‚4.60, students ‚3.) At night, place Plumereau (or just plain pi. Plum) is the place to be, with cheerful students sipping drinks and chatting at cafes and bars.
Trains leave pi. du General Leclerc for Bordeaux (2V6hr. 4 per day, ‚34) and Paris (2y4hr. 7 per day, ‚25). To reach the tourist office, 78-82 r. Bernard Palissy, from the station, walk through pi. du General Leclerc, cross bd. Heurteloup and take a right. (02 47 70 37 37; www.Ugeris.com. Open mid-Apr. to mid-Oct. M-Sa 8:30am-7pm, Su 10am-12:30pm and 2:30-5pm; mid-Oct. to mid-Apr. reduced hours.) Access the Internet at Cyber Gate, 11 r. de President Merville. (02 47 05 95 94. ‚1 per 15min. ‚5 for lhr. of access, a sandwich, and a beverage. Open M 1-10pm, Tu-Sa 1 lam-midnight, Su 2-10pm.) The owners of llHotei Regina , 2 r. Pim-bert, make you feel like family. It’s close to beautiful river strolls and good restaurants. (02 47 05 25 36; fax 02 47 66 08 72. Breakfast ‚4.30. Singles and doubles ‚20-24; triples ‚23-36. MCA?.) Foyer des Jeunes Travailleurs , 16 r. Bernard Palissy, is centrally located. ( 02 47 60 51 51. Singles ‚17; doubles ‚31.) Try place Plumer-eau and rue Colbert for great restaurants, cafes, and bars. La Souris Gourmande , 100 r. Colbert, is a friendly restaurant specializing in regional cheese dishes and fondues. (Open Tu-Sa noon-2pm and 7-10:30pm.) Postal Code: 37000.
DAYTRIPS FROM TOURS: CHEN0NCEAU AND L0CHES
Perhaps the most exquisite chateau in France, Chenonceau arches gracefully over the Cher river. A series of women created the beauty that is the chateau: first Catherine, the wife of a tax collector; then Diane de Poitiers, the lover of Henri II; and then Henri’s widowed wife, Catherine de Medici. The part of the chateau bridging the Cher marked the border between occupied and Vichy France during WWII. ( 02 47 23 90 07. Open mid-Mar. to mid-Sept. daily 9am-7pm; off-season reduced hours. ‚8, students ‚6.50.) Trains from Tours roll into the station in front of the castle. (30min. 6 per day, ‚5.10). Fil Vert buses also leave from Tours (U4hr, 2 per day, ‚2.10) and Amboise (20 min. 2 per day, ‚1).
Surrounded by a walled medieval town that merits a visit in itself, the chateau of Loches consists of two structures at opposite ends of a hill. To the north, the 11th-century keep and watchtowers changed roles from keeping enemies out to keeping them in when Charles VII made it a state prison, complete with suspended cages. While the floors in the three-story tower to the south have fallen out, the walls and stairs remain; you can climb the staircase and take in a view of the village below. The Logis Royal (Royal Lodge) honors the famous ladies who held court here, including Charles VII’s lover Agnes Sorel, the first officially declared Mistress of the King of France. ( 02 47 59 01 32. Open Apr.-Sept. daily 9am-7pm; Oct.-Mar. 9:30am-5pm. Logis Royal ‚3.80, students ‚2.70.) Trains and buses run from Tours to Loches (50 min. 13 per day, ‚7).
From illustrious aristocratic origins, Angers (pop. 160,000) has grown into a sophisticated modem city. Behind the massive stone walls of the Chateau d’Angers, on pi. Kennedy, the medieval Dukes of Anjou ruled the surrounding area and a certain island across the Channel. The 13th-century chateau remains a well-preserved haven of medieval charm in a city filled with shops and sights. Inside the chateau is the 14th-century Tapisserie de I’Apocalypse, the world’s largest tapestry. (Open May to mid-Sept. daily 9:30am-7pm; mid-Sept. to Apr. 10am-5:30pm. ‚5.50, students ‚3.50.) Angers’s other woven masterpiece is the 1930 Chant du Monde (Song of the World), in the Musee Jean Lur§at, 4 bd. Arago. (02 41 24 18 45. Open mid-June to mid-Sept. daily 9:30am-6:30pm; mid-Sept. to mid-June Su and Tu-Sa 10am-noon and 2-6pm. ‚3.50.) The Musee Cointreau offers tours of the factory where it makes the famous liqueur, a native of Angers since its creation in 1849, followed by a free tasting. Take bus #7 from the train station to Cointreau. (Open July-Aug. daily 10:30am-6:30pm; Sept.-June reduced hours. ‚5.50)
From r. de la Gare, trains leave for Paris (2-4hr. 3 per day, ‚44) and Tours (lhr. 12 per day, ‚14).
Buses run from pi. de la Republique to Rennes (3hr. 2 per day, ‚16). To get from the station to the tourist office, at pi. du President Kennedy, exit straight onto r. de la Gare, turn right at pi. de la Visitation on r.
Talot, and turn left on bd. du Roi-Rene; it’s on the right, across from the chateau. (02 41 23 50 00; www.angers-tourisme.com. Open June-Sept. M-Sa 9am-6:30pm, Su 10am-5pm; Oct.-May reduced hours.)
Access the Internet at Cyber Espace, 25 r. de la Roe.( 02 4124 92 71. ‚3.85 per hr. Open M-Th 9am-10pm, F-Sa 9am-midnight, Su 2-8pm.) HStel de I’Univers 2, pi. de la Gare, near the train station, has comfortable rooms. (02 41 88 43 58; fax 02 4186 97 28. Breakfast ‚5.60. Singles and doubles ‚25-50.) Walk further down r. de la Gare for the spacious Royal HStel , 8 bis pi. de la Visitation. ( 02 41 88 30 25; fax 02 41 81 Cheap food is abundant along rue St-Laud and rue St-Aubin. Grab groceries in Galeries Lafayette, at r. d’Alsace and pi. du Ralliement. (Open M-Sa 9:30am-7:30pm.) Postal Code: 49052.