The wheel thing beside the Loire River
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. • freemove.fr • chateau-amboise.com