part 3: Château de Chenonceau
All in all we did pretty good waking up at a reasonable time the next day. A six hour time difference can be pretty crushing when you’re on the wrong side of it. After eating a hot breakfast (By now you know of my love for the hot European breakfast) we packed up the car for the roughly 3.5 hour drive to our rental in Marignac. But first we were off to see the enchanting Château de Chenonceau.
This impeccably kept castle situated in the small village of Chenonceaux in the Loire Valley is also known as, “The Castle of the Ladies,” because the majority of the ownership, design and building of the castle, with the exception of the original fortress like keep, was done by women.
Starting in 1512 with Katherine Briçonnet, the wife of the new owner, Thomas Bohier, Chamberlain of the king of France. It was left to Katherine to oversee the renovation of the orginal mill and fortress while her husband was away at war. She was responsible for changing the existing buildings into a Renaissance style château.
Unfortunately, in 1535, their son and heir was forced to sell the castle to King Francois I to pay off debts to the crown. The King later bequeathed the château to his son Henry II, and Henry II deeded the property to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.
Diane de Poitiers was charmed by her new residence and set about to make improvements. In 1547 she proposed building the arched bridge over the river Cher as well as the extensive castle gardens. However, in 1559 Diane de Poitiers would be forced out of the home she owned (Ownership by a woman was a rare thing in that day) by the now widowed wife of Henry II, Catherine de Medici, who wanted the impressive château for herself.
Catherine too fell under the charm of Château de Chenonceau and embarked on a building project of her own, adding the two-story gallery, known as the Bâtiment-des-Dômes, over Diane’s bridge, as if to prove that she would always be over the favored mistress.
This final major renovation is the current incarnation of the castle that we see today. There would continue to be a long line of women who owned the castle, including Madame Louise Dupin who saved it during the French Revolution by emphasizing its strategic military importance as a crossing over the river Cher.
It is a short stroll from the ample parking lot along a pebbled path under a canopy of trees. We had pre-purchased our tickets so we proceeded straight to the security checkpoint for a bag check. Limited in our time we bypassed the formal gardens and went straight into the château.
CROSS TIP: It is always advisable to pre-purchase tickets online prior to arriving at most destination in Europe, especially during the height of tourist season.
The château is furnished with centuries-old furniture and lavishly decorated with remarkable tapestries from the 16th and 17th centuries. There is also a collection of priceless paintings by Rigaud, Rubens, Le Tintoret, Le Primatice, and many other famous painters, lining the walls within the main keep.
The most sumptuously decorated rooms are the bedrooms where the madamnes of the castle, and their famous friends of philosophy, art, and politics dwelt.
There is also a beautifully preserved kitchen complex running under a portion of the bridge, with shining copper pots, an enormous elaborate fireplace for cooking, as well as, multitudes of smaller rooms for the various bakers, cooks and butchers that worked in the vaulted space.
Be sure to snap a few pictures of the stunning chapel. The chapel’s original windows were destroyed by bombs in WWII, however in 1954 they would be restored to glory by the incredible hands of master glass maker, Max Ingrand.
There were too many rooms and too many tourist for us to take pictures of everything in the short span of time that we had allotted for our visit, so if you are interested in learning more, I have found a wonderful blog that highlights many of the more important places within the château that we did not see.
We walked the length of the gallery bridge and found ourselves outside on the opposite bank of the river. Finding an advantageous spot I snapped a few photos of the iconic castle and was about to move on when I noticed a body boarder “surfing” the current on the river Cher. He swept out from under the arches and with the help of a few well placed kicks guided his way to the opposite shore.
It was a little strange and out of place, but c’est la vie-no?
It was hard to leave such a magnificent place only half explored but the road ahead was long and we had to meet the property manager of our rental home in Marignac at a specified time, so as hard as it was, especially since the Loire Valley region was phenomenally rich in both history and views, we had to forge on.