The wheel thing be­side the Loire River

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - HE­LEN FRANCES

As we teeter be­side the first pedes­trian cross­ing on our two-wheeled, gy­ro­scopic Seg­ways, Nico, our tour guide through me­dieval Am­boise, a mar­ket town in France’s Loire Val­ley, is­sues the first of sev­eral warn­ings aimed at amus­ing, rather than re­as­sur­ing, we two-wheeler novices.

“I usu­ally lose a few peo­ple here,” he tells us. “If you can’t cross the road, the tour ends here for you.” But lean­ing out into the traf­fic he ush­ers us safely to­wards the first his­toric spot of our 45-minute Seg­way ride. Be­neath the stone pavings runs La Masse, a trib­u­tary of the Loire River, which used to divide the ri­val towns of Am­boise and St De­nis L’Or un­til they were joined in 1947. In the Mid­dle Ages, a swamp di­vided the two towns and, says Nico, who’s prov­ing adept at em­broi­der­ing the truth, “the young bloods from both sides used to skir­mish in the mud, which cre­ated so much wash­ing for their moth­ers that the women went on strike, putting an end to the bat­tles”.

Then Nico gives us a choice be­tween a straight and “safe” route or a more ad­ven­tur­ous path­way. We opt for the lat­ter and roll along wind­ing cob­bled streets, flanked by crooked lit­tle build­ings con­structed with colom­bage, which is hand-cut ex­ter­nal tim­ber fram­ing, filled in with brick and plas­ter walls. Roofs shaped like witches’ hats and cov­ered with slate tiles lean and buckle at in­ter­est­ing an­gles.

We fol­low La Masse, which flows be­neath the paving stones and pull up at a weir where the river’s wa­ter laps the ground floor of a restau­rant. You could reach out the win­dow and wash your hands. “The cooks sit on the roof and catch ‘fish of the day’,” says Nico, with a mis­chievous twin­kle in his eye.

I’m get­ting the hang of this Seg­way lark and lean for­ward a few more de­grees. Nico warns us that pre­ma­ture con­fi­dence and con­se­quent speed­ing can cause a tum­ble. He sails on with one hand on the cross­bars, rolling along as if he were born with two wheels on his feet, but he stops traf­fic for us and turns fre­quently to check we are still be­hind him.

Am­boise was once home to the French royal court and we hold up a few cars as we nav­i­gate past Chateau Am­boise where the fu­ture King Fran­cois I was raised and other mon­archs resided oc­ca­sion­ally and sent their chil­dren to be ed­u­cated; Am­boise was once known as a royal poupon­niere, or creche. He moves us on up a steep street, lean­ing for­ward to go faster and lean­ing back to brake. What a great way to get around, even if we seem to be a bit of a sideshow for pedes­tri­ans. Next to Clos Luce, set in a wooded park; this is where Fran­cois I housed Leonardo da Vinci from 1515 for the last three years of his life. We con­tinue up the hill to a panoramic view of Am­boise and sur­round­ing coun­try­side. The Loire River flows deep and green, flanked by trees in new leaf; there are cen­turies of his­tory dreaming in the spring sun.

On our way down­hill (it gets pretty steep so there’s lots of lean­ing back) we pass the old­est house in Am­boise, now owned by a poet who Nico says hates Seg­ways, and down to the river where a toue, or old-fash­ioned flat-bot­tomed boat, sits mid­stream, a bar­rage of nets spread to catch pike, carp, bream, cat­fish and eels. We’ve seen more of Am­boise than we would have on foot and heard many tales, both tall and short. I’d do it again … maybe the twohour ver­sion, which takes in a wine cave. • • chateau-am­

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