Seeing the Château de Chenonceau has to rank right up there as one of the great moments we will spend in the Loire Valley.
Not only is this château beautiful, it comes with stories of love, revenge, bereavement, literary history, and renewal.
It was originally built in the early part of the 16th century on the site of a previous castle. All but the keep, which still remains in front of the current castle, was demolished. It found its way into the hands of Francois I, who used it as a hunting lodge.
When Henri II came to the throne in 1547, he gave it to his mistress, the famous Diane de Poitiers. She knew just what to do with it, molding it to her taste, and humiliating the Queen, Catherine de Médici, as often as possible in the process. Ah, but fate had her way. When Henri died, Catherine, now regent, had her revenge. She made Diana give up the home she loved, and Catherine moved right in. See how Diana had cleverly combined the H and C initials of the king and queen to form her own monogram, a “D.” Catherine was not pleased, and had most of those changed, but she seems to have missed a few.
On the bridge that Diana had built into the River Cher, Catherine added a two-story gallery and held spectacular feasts for dignitaries such as Francois II and Mary Stuart, and one for Charles IX. Notice the English graffiti Mary’s guards carved into the walls of the chapel in 1543.
While nothing original remains, the current owners are carefully refurbishing the castle in period furniture and textiles. Everything is lovely, including the fresh flowers they install every day in the main rooms. (Can I just have a few pieces of the copper in the kitchen?)
Other notable women and too many queens to recount owned the château, including Louise de Lorraine, daughter-in-law of Catherine, and Madame Dupin, who held quite the literary salon. Rousseau was her son’s tutor, and he wrote of his love for Chenonceau. Her descendants include George Sand.
The château has always been a favorite of artists. See the bridge without its galleries in early engravings.
As you leave the castle, the gardens of Diana are on the right, and those of Catherine on the left. Each has lovely view of the entire château. The galleries on the bridge are elegant outside and in, and have an interesting role in modern history.
We are traveling – and living – on the dividing line between “Free” France and Occupied France, as defined by the Germans during the last world war. As Chenonceau straddles the river which was the line of demarcation, it lived in both camps. They say that the superintendent of the house was able to sneak people through the galleries at night to exit out of the back and leave German control. The story of Vichy France is well-known, of course, and it is interesting to hear and see remnants of its effect while we travel.
Another day, another castle…