One of the last places we visited before heading back to Paris was the Château de Chenonceau. Which was AMAZING! Truly a fairy-tale castle.
Built across the River Cher in the Loire Valley, Chenonceau is the châteaux de femmes (ladies). The original Château was rebuilt after the 100 years war (one Tower from the original Chateau still remains). Henry II gave it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers in 1547, who designed the extension of the new Château to include the extension across the bridge but didn’t get it built. Diane also insisted on purchasing the Château legally, so it was undisputedly hers. After Henri II died, his widow Catherine de Medici through machinations and manipulations, forced the return of Chenonceau and fled there with the young king, Francois II and his Queen, Marie Stuart (1559). (Marie Stuart was better known in England as Mary Stewart – Mary, Queen of the Scots.)
Fast forward thirty years and following the murder of Henri III (they turned over pretty quickly in those days), his widow Louise de Lorraine remained at Chenconceau (which was where she had received news of his death and his final words asking her not to “leave this place”) (1589). One of the upper floor bedrooms has been restored to reflect Louise’s mourning room.
The next grand madame was Madame Louise Dupin who, despite her advanced age of 83 years old at the outbreak of the French Revolution, managed to protect both the Château and her family from the destructive forces. With the assistance of Abbe Lecomte, the priest of Chenonceau, the revolutionary forces were convinced of the strategic importance of maintaining the bridge across the River Cher (and hence the Château itself). Unfortunately a large number of paintings of the royal family over the centuries were destroyed at this time in the effort to prove the loyalties of the château did not lie with the royal family.
In more recent history, Chenonceau was a military hospital in WWI, where apparently soldiers recovering in beds in the long gallery which crosses the river, would hang fishing lines out the window. In WWII Chenonceau literally straddled the line of demarcation and served as a river crossing for refugees fleeing south away from Nazi-occupied France.
Today Chenonceau is spectacular, set in stunning gardens. The tree-lined driveway beautifully frames the shining white Chateau. The maze off in the forests to the left, and further up the formal gardens, visible from the balconies of the Château. The rooms have been restored to show both the luxury and grandeur and the original fittings. The worn and faded floor tiles remain so that you can step in the paths of history, but also see the original bright patterning around the edges. The kitchen is amazing – gleaming and spacious with copper pots and a huge wood-fired oven and stove.
The historical information in this posting comes from memory, from “Château de Chenonceau: History, Architecture and Gardens” (Beaux Arts Edition) and from the Chenonceau website.
If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe