Château du Clos Lucé is located in Amboise, France near the Loire River in the Centre Val de Loire region. The castle’s claim to fame is being the residence of Leonardo da Vinci during the last 3 years of his life. You can’t miss this fact when visiting, as Château du Clos Lucé’s entire existence is predicated on being where da Vinci lived and worked. In this post, we’ll offer a photo tour of the chateau, and offer our thoughts on visiting it.
Before we turn to our review, we’ll offer up a quick history. Built by the Amboise family in the middle of the fifteenth century, Château du Cloux (as it was known at the time) was purchased and made the French summerhouse for kings in 1490 by Charles VIII. The king transforms the fortified structure into a “pleasure castle” for his wife Queen Anne de Bretagne, who is mourning the loss of their children.
In 1516, King Francis I of France invited Leonardo da Vinci to Amboise and provided him with the Château du Clos Lucé, as a guest residence, and a retirement pension. What da Vinci did during this time is unclear–the best I can find is that he worked on “several projects for the king of France, surrounded by his students” and received “prestigious visitors like the Cardinal of Aragon, great men of the kingdom.”
During his time in Amboise, Leonardo da Vinci had personal relationships with three French Kings: Charles VIII, Louis XII, and Francis I. Leonardo da Vinci resided at the Château du Clos Lucé for the last three years of his life, and died there on May 2, 1519. He was later buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert at Château d’Amboise.
At some point, Château du Clos Lucé was recovered by the Amboise Family who save it from destruction during the French Revolution. In 1854, the Saint Bris family takes ownership of Château du Clos Lucé. Most of the detailed history–at least what’s published in English–centers around da Vinci’s time there.
The tour of the chateau likewise glosses over most things everything unrelated to da Vinci. It’s unclear to what extent further details are unknown, or if it’s just a matter of a da Vinci-centric history being more marketable.
I’ll be blunt: we weren’t as enamored with Château du Clos Lucé as many other reviewers, almost all of whom give it incredibly high marks.
It currently ranks last on our list of the Best Chateau in the Loire Valley, and it’s also the most expensive chateau that we’ve visited in the Loire Valley.
Perhaps the coolest fact about Château du Clos Lucé is that it’s located at 500 meters from Château d’Amboise, to which it is connected by an underground passageway. Casual visitors can’t use this tunnel, but it underscores how near to one another these chateaux are, and how easy it is to visit with quick succession.
While visiting both makes a lot of sense if you’re staying in Amboise, we far prefer Château d’Amboise. Not only would it be our top recommendation if you’re only visiting one castle in Amboise, but we also think it has the more credible connection to Leonardo da Vinci (it just doesn’t market that to the world).
The rooms of the residence are fine, but nothing particularly noteworthy. It’s fairly pedestrian as far as Loire Valley chateaux go, but it’s nonetheless pretty.
For us, the highlight of the whole tour was the cat above sleeping on Leonardo da Vinci’s bed. This can lead to only one conclusion: Leonardo da Vinci has been reincarnated as Leonardo meow Vinci.
On the ground floor of Château du Clos Lucé, you’ll find Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Living Workshops.” This is half children’s museum, half re-creation of the Renaissance artist’s studio.
There are a variety of hands-on exhibits, and this area offers insight into various art and inventions created by da Vinci, and it’s by far the highlight of Château du Clos Lucé.
My one quibble, and you can probably sense this by the tone of this review, is that the Living Workshops (and Château du Clos Lucé as a whole) insinuates that da Vinci spent a lot of time working here.
While I don’t know the scope of da Vinci’s work here, I do know these were the last 3 years of his life, after almost every single invention and painting on display in Château du Clos Lucé was made. In fact, I can’t find a single creation of da Vinci’s after 1516. (I believe if he had invented something at Château du Clos Lucé, it would be more prominently publicized in the Living Workshop.)
I’m probably making way bigger of a deal about this disingenuousness than most visitors would, and I realize that. Something about the way Château du Clos Lucé is presented just grinds my gears.
The good news is that the Living Workshop area is cool and well-presented. Even though the children’s museum description is apt, this area is engaging for guests of all ages.
In the library, an audiovisual production that uses an advanced version of Pepper’s Ghost is presented alongside facsimiles from the Institut de France and ancient texts.
Pretty cool technology, and definitely not something you’d find at the other chateaux in Loire Valley.
Leonardo’s Garden is also really cool, and a fun place where you can find working versions of several inventions.
I spent far too much time spinning around in the UFO-esque contraption above.
In terms of tips, our biggest would be to focus the bulk of your time on the Living Workshop and Leonardo’s Garden. This museum and the sprawling outdoor area are the highlights of Château du Clos Lucé.
That’s really about it in terms of tips. It’s a pretty straightforward place. (Oh, and don’t mess with Leonardo meow Vinci…he might be cursed.)
While the rooms upstairs are fine, they are light on history and will be easily surpassed by any other chateaux you visit in Loire Valley.
View Château du Clos Lucé as a museum and garden that pay tribute to da Vinci and happen to be located inside a former chateaux and your expectations will be far more reasonable than if you visit expecting something historical.
Expect to spend between 90 minutes and 2 hours at Château du Clos Lucé, with nearly all of that time in the workshop and gardens. Entrance varies based upon season and party size, but is among the most expensive chateaux in Loire Valley with regular season pricing of 15.50€ per adult. You can find more planning information on the official site for Château du Clos Lucé.
Ultimately, Château du Clos Lucé is a neat place, and the way it pays tribute to Leonardo da Vinci is both fascinating and well-presented. Nonetheless, I got the impression that the chateau was trying to impress a sense of inflated importance with the da Vinci connection. There’s undoubtedly a much more honest history to this residence, it just isn’t as marketable as shouting “Leonardo da Vinci lived here!” Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it’s the same sense I get when visiting places with even the most tenuous connection to Walt Disney that try to contort that into a much bigger deal than it actually was. Irrespective of how much prominence the chateau itself played in da Vinci’s life, it does work as a de facto Leonardo da Vinci mini-museum, and to that extent, it’s potentially worth a visit.
Planning your own trip to France? Check out our France posts, which cover a variety of places, from Normandy to the Loire Valley. In addition to these posts, I recommend planning with the Rick Steves France and Loire Valley Eyewitness guidebooks.
Have you visited Château du Clos Lucé? Did you think they laid it on a bit heavy with the da Vinci “connection” or is this an overblown critique in our review? What did you think of the experience? Any tips or thoughts to add? If you haven’t visited, is this a spot in France’s Loire Valley that appeals to you? Tips or thoughts to add? Any questions? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share any remarks you have in the comments!