I knew I wanted to see the “Ladies Chateau” aka Chateau Chenonceau. I’d read tips that visiting early in the morning was best as none of the tours have arrived yet, so after grabbing my vending machine coffee (not so bad really) and pain au chocolat, I was on my way! One of Chenonceau’s claims to fame involves the infamous rivalry between Diane de Poitiers, great love of Henri II, and Catherine de Medici, his wife and queen. Chenonceau had the best interiors with 15 well-furnished rooms and fresh flowers from the gardens in each!
Chateau de ChenonceauThe chateau was conveniently located about 15 minutes from my hotel and I arrived right as they opened at 9 AM. Due to the early arrival, I was able to get some great photos with very few people! Here is a view from the long entry drive – fair warning, you will walk and walk and walk some more at the chateaus!
Upon approaching the chateau, you can see the last part remaining from the 1230 structure first built by Guillaume de Marques. In 1411, the Marques family was accused of sedition and the manor was destroyed. It was rebuilt and destroyed again in 1420 for treason. The family was again forgiven (wow) and built it again in 1432. When Thomas Bohier bought it in 1512, it was in ruins and he demolished everything, except the 1230 “donjon,” although it was renovated to make it appear more like the rest of the building (note the pretty top it has!) Though Thomas bought it, his wife, Katherine was responsible for most of the design.
In 1535, King François I became the owner due to financial issues in the family. His second son, Henri, was the one who really took an interest in Chenonceau though – François was too busy building Chambord! One of the first areas you enter is the chapel and, let’s face it, by this point the chapels were all starting to look basically the same (well, not Anne’s chapel) – soaring roofs, similar style, lots of white stone, etc. I took a couple of quick pics here for two reasons – the stained glass is actually fairly new because the original glass was all destroyed in 1944 by WWII bombs 😦 and inscriptions carved into the walls by the Scottish guards of Mary Stuart (later Queen of Scots) in 1543.
Next, it was off to the infamous Diane de Poitiers’ bedroom. One interesting thing to note is that people didn’t really have last names at the time – “da Vinci” simply means he was from “Vinci” and in this case, “Diane of Poitiers” . . . and Poitiers is the bigger city near where I’m staying! Henri was married to Catherine at 14 and took the 35-year-old Diane as his mistress at 15. The fireplace in her room has the “H” of Henry and the interlocking “C”s of Catherine . . . which, when combined, form a “D” and are on the ceiling like this. The painting is a depiction of Diane, who was a huntress, and who was known for her great beauty. After Henri gifted her Chenonceau, she turned it into a quite profitable chateau though, so she clearly had more than beauty going for her!
Once Diane officially owned the chateau in 1555, she was the one who added the bridge over the river Cher; however, its current appearance is due to Catherine de Medici, who built the galleries on top of the bridge in 1577. My favorite story about the gallery is the river Cher was the line of demarcation between occupied France and the free zone during WWII, so people would sneak through this gallery to freedom on the South bank. A German tank was positioned to destroy Chenonceau at any time, but fortunately that never happened!
After Henri’s death, Catherine took Chenonceau back and gave Diane Chateau de Chaumont instead, which removed her from court. Catherine was one of the most powerful women in French royal history while her sons were young and she governed France, in part, from the Green Study in Chenonceau. The below tapestry is remarkable because it shows animals and fauna from the newly discovered American continent. The ceiling is also very rare in France (Italian style) and dates from 1525. This chateau became a favorite of Catherine’s. Her son, François II, and Mary, Queen of Scots, were also married here in 1560.
A tour of the kitchens was up next and I was finally able to get a shot of an old bread oven. I love these old brick ovens, especially because you can see very similar ovens still in use in France! In fact, the second photo below shows that there appears to have been an old oven setup in the cottage I’m staying in, which has since been bricked up.
There were two lovely drawing rooms, then the Five Queens’ Bedroom in memory of Catherine’s two daughters (Margot & Elisabeth) and three daughters-in-law (Mary Stuart, Elisabeth of Austria and Louise of Lorraine). They were similar enough in appearance to other rooms that I didn’t photograph them – same with Catherine de Medici’s bedroom. While not in order in the tour, chronologically the next room of interest belonged to Henri III’s wife, Louise of Lorraine. After Henri III was assassinated (with no heirs), his queen went into mourning in white gowns and painted her room black; she remained in mourning for the rest of her life. The original ceiling is still in place and was used to restore the rest of the room. During a time of arranged marriages, this display of mourning was fascinating to see.
Moving on to the next era of French rulers (Bourbons), Catherine’s sons all died without an heir, so King Henri IV became king and there are rooms here for his great love (and mistress) Gabrielle d’Estrees and her son, Cesar of Vendôme. Gold and Pink were apparently a big thing with French royalty of both genders!
One of the other famous women of Chenonceau is Louise Dupin, who saved the chateau from being destroyed in the Revolution by proving with documents that it was legitimately privately owned and converting the chapel into a wood store! Other famous ladies were Marguerite Pelouze, who restored Chenonceau to how it looked in Diane’s era, and Simone Menier, who worked in the WWI hospital in the galleries.
While the interiors were incredibly well-done, the exterior is too! Below is a painting of Chenonceau “then” and Chenonceau now:
The gardens represent the Diane vs. Catherine rivalry as well. Diane’s gardens are to the left of the chateau and shown below with the view from that side:
To the right of the chateau are Catherine’s gardens, with both gardens still patterned after their initial designs. Catherine’s garden was much smaller, but I personally enjoyed the design more.
A quick pic of me at the chateau (which my phone *really* washed out) and it was time to head to Chambord! I should mention that by the time I was leaving (3 hours later with a quick lunch), it was CRAWLING with people – do go early if you want to avoid the crowds!
Of course, on my way to Chambord, I came across this! France strikes again with a random chateau, Chateau de Chissay, which appears to be a privately-owned restaurant! Oh well, at least it’s open to the public, unlike some of them.
I’ve fallen quite a bit behind on my posts due to the “special close” at work to facilitate our company being purchased and taken private, but here are the pros & cons for Chenonceau:
PROS: a ghost town early in the day, huge number of fully decorated rooms, *really* colorful history, unique river-crossing design, stunningly pretty exterior, nicely detailed free English visit guide, free parking, several gardens, MAZE!
CONS: I really tried to think of one and failed to come up with anything – Chenonceau should be on absolutely everyone’s Loire Valley chateau list