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Château de Chenonceau

A jewel of the French Renaissance

Address

37150 Chenonceaux, France

GPS: 47.33143083959, 1.067240800567

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The Château de Chenonceau is located near the town of Amboise, in the French department of Indre-et-Loire, south of Paris. The chateau was built in the early 16th century on the site of a former fortified castle. Because of its architectural style, the richness of its interior rooms and the refinement of its landscaped gardens, it is considered by many to be the most romantic of the châteaux of the Loire Valley. These palace castles, like Chenonceau, represent the most beautiful masterpieces from the artistic period of the French Renaissance. It was during the reign of Louis XII (early 16th century) that the Chenonceau estate began to take shape. It was imagined as an island-castle inspired by Venetian palaces by Thomas Bohier (a politician and wealthy nobleman), accompanied by his wife Katherine Briçonnet.

The history of the Château de Chenonceau is largely associated with several important women, who have shaped and marked this famous “château des dames” (“Ladies’ Castle”). Among its famous owners, in chronological order, were: Katherine Briçonnet (who supervised its construction as architect from 1513 to 1521 on the pile foundations of a feudal castle), Diane de Poitiers (the favourite of the French king Henri II, was responsible for the development of the bridge and the creation of gardens), Catherine de Médicis (the wife of Henri II, organised banquets, balls or large royal parties in the two superimposed galleries that she arranged on Diane’s bridge), Louise de Lorraine (who lived there after the death of her murdered husband, King Henry III), Louise Dupin (who initiated major restoration work and the rescue of the château during the French Revolution), Marguerite Pelouze (who restored several of the building’s facades while creating a crypt), and Simone Menier (whose descendants still own the Château de Chenonceau)

Admired for its architectural elegance, the Château de Chenonceau has been open to visitors since 1913 (the date of its acquisition by the Menier family). It seems to be suspended on water, with its magnificent bridge spanning the Cher River, a tributary of the Loire. The discovery of the French gardens is the other highlight of the estate, as well as its fantastic collections of antique furniture, Flemish tapestries, and paintings by great masters. The floral decoration of the gardens is changed twice a year and requires the planting of tens of thousands of flowers, including roses grown on the estate. The Château de Chenonceau is second only to the Palace of Versailles as one of the most visited listed historic monuments in France, along with the neighbouring Château de Chambord.

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  • The undeniable elegance of the estate and the unequalled romanticism of the place; the architectural and historical singularity of the castle; a Renaissance jewel marked by its feminine heritage; the superb five-arched bridge linking the two banks of the Cher River
  • The 60-metre-long main gallery stretching across the tributary of the Loire and its chimneys at both ends; the Marques Tower (one of the last vestiges of the 13th century castle), the Renaissance dwelling, the bedrooms, salons and royal flats, the basement kitchens (very well equipped) and the library
  • The 16th century Flemish tapestries, French paintings, wall coverings, furniture and bouquets of flowers decorating each of the interior rooms
  • The French gardens, renowned for their geometry and refinement of Diane de Poitiers (very stylised) and Catherine de Médicis (more intimate); the floral arrangements and creations specially put in place during the Christmas holidays (the castle has had its own floral workshop for over 20 years)
  • The 16th century farmhouse (including an old collection of horse-drawn carriages), the circular labyrinth in the park (made up of 2,000 yew trees), the flower garden, the vineyard, the stables, and the chapel (dedicated to the Virgin Mary); wine tasting in the historic cellar of the château (the cellar of the domes); Catherine de Médicis’s apothecary (superb woodwork and large collection of jars)
  • The avenue of honour lined with plane trees at the entrance to the site; the four caryatids in the park (sculptures that were once part of the ornate facade of the castle); the wild and forested environment surrounding the historic monument
  • The gabarre rides (traditional, flat-bottomed boats) under the arches of the Château de Chenonceau and boat hire on the Cher (July-August); the visit to the gardens by night (illuminated night walks organised on weekends in June and every evening in July-August); the estate’s tearoom and gourmet restaurant (which uses the produce grown on the estate)
  • The quality audio guide available in more than 10 languages (a version is also available for children); the educational beehive and the donkey park (activities appreciated by young people)
  • The opening of the site every day of the year (opening hours may vary according to the season); interactions with animals during school holidays; admiring restoration operations in real time
  • Chenonceau is the only bridge castle in the world (the only construction of its kind to touch both banks of the same river). Its founder, Thomas Bohier, held the position of General of Finance while serving the King of France as Lieutenant-General during the Italian Wars. On his death and due to financial malpractice, this property (called the Bohier house) became the property of the Crown and a royal residence. King Francis I made it his hunting lodge, but soon abandoned it in favour of the Château de Chambord and the Château de Fontainebleau. It was after the death of the monarch that his son Henry II gave it as a gift to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. A botanical enthusiast, Diane transformed the site by building the famous bridge over the Cher, which took the castle out of the royal domain. She called on the talents of the landscape gardener Jacques Androuet du Cerceau to design a new type of garden based on an Italian Renaissance plan (with the appearance of the first water fountain system in France).
  • To acquire the estate, Catherine de Médicis (nicknamed the “Queen Builder”) exchanged the château of Chaumont-sur-Loire for that of Chenonceau in 1559, then owned by her great rival Diane de Poitiers (whom she called the “King’s Whore”). It was she who fitted out the galleries on the bridge to make them into sumptuous reception areas and ballrooms, taking as her model the bridge built on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence (Italy). Catherine de Médicis arranged a second garden with new plantings, created a landscape labyrinth and enriched the decorations of the interior rooms. A hidden door and staircase allowed her to enter the castle chapel discreetly from her living quarters to attend mass or pray unseen.
  • Catherine de Médicis’s daughter-in-law, Louise de Loraine, inherited the unfinished castle at the end of the 16th century. The French queen was prematurely widowed at the age of 36 following the assassination of King Henry III. To drown her sorrows, she had the walls of her room painted black where she took refuge for many years, dressed all in white (white was the royal colour of mourning). It was in this dismal context that she inherited the nickname “White Queen”.
  • At the beginning of the 17th century, a monastic community of 12 Capuchin nuns occupied a convent in the castle grounds, in accordance with the vows made by Louise de Loraine before her death. They lived there for about 20 years, totally cut off from the outside world (only a drawbridge allowed access to the convent).
  • Louise Dupin and her husband acquired the Château de Chenonceau in 1733. This feminist distinguished herself in the Age of Enlightenment by writing an encyclopaedic work on the defence of women with the help of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. During the French Revolution, she managed to save the castle from destruction by the mob by hiding all the symbols of royal power (including the fleur-de-lys).
  • The castle’s kitchens were in the bridge piers, as close as possible to the water level of the river, as they were supplied by boat using a pulley system. A small hidden staircase led to a landing quay called “Diane’s bath” (this was the place where Diane de Poitiers liked to bathe daily in the Cher to maintain her legendary beauty).
  • The former royal residence of Chenonceau served as a makeshift military hospital throughout the First World War. More than 2,250 soldiers were treated there at the expense of the castle’s owner, Gaston Menier, who was the head of a large French chocolate company founded by his family in 1816 (it was bought by the Nestlé company in 1988).
  • During the Second World War, the Château de Chenonceau was used as a place of clandestine passage by many resistance fighters. The castle site was cut in two by the demarcation line separating the Nazi-occupied zone of northern France from the free zone in the south. It was the only bridge crossing the Cher River that separated the two sections of the estate.
  • In 2019, the Château de Chenonceau celebrated 500 years of the Renaissance in the Loire Valley. This event coincided with the 500th anniversary of the birth of Catherine de Médicis (born in Florence, Italy, and who married King Henry II of France in the mid-16th century). The castle took advantage of the occasion to unveil the queen’s apothecary to the public in the Galerie des Dômes (the building facing the castle). Surrounding herself with scholars and scientists, Catherine de Médicis had a passion for medicinal plants. The management of the estate has also redesigned the garden with new colours and organised a special exhibition showcasing the Medici heiress.
  • In times of drought, the wooden foundations of the castle are threatened by the low water level of the Cher. To cope with this, a nearby needle dam (Civray dam) was raised by the authorities to increase the water level of the river and prevent the wooden piles supporting the structure of the building’s bridge from becoming brittle.
  • The historic region of Touraine has always attracted the kings of France because of the abundance of game in its forests, the presence of navigable rivers, and its geographical proximity to Paris. According to Caroline Darrasse (public relations director of the Château de Chenonceau), there are a total of 3,000 castles in this ancient province, including manor houses, hunting lodges, and stately homes.
  • The castle is visited each year by around one million people (half of whom are foreign visitors from more than 150 different countries). To avoid crowds, opt for the discovery of the interior rooms of the Château de Chenonceau between 12 noon and 2 pm. During the busiest times, it is always possible to stroll through the park and the gardens, which are well worth a visit.
  • Dogs on a leash are allowed in the grounds of the estate. It is even permitted to enter the inner rooms of the castle with your dog in your arms.
  • A pathway leading to the opposite bank of the castle offers a magnificent view across the river.
  • A wine house of the Touraine-Chenonceaux wine producers’ union is due to open soon near the château.
  • A hot air balloon ride offers a different view of the architecture of the castle and gives you an insight into the rich and historical heritage of the region.

Where to eat

  • Bistrot'Quai
    (terrine bar)
  • Lezard Vert
    (family stopover)
  • L'Orangerie
    (in the gardens of the castle)

Where to go

  • ZooParc de Beauval
    (one of the most beautiful zoos)
  • Troglo Degusto
    (wine tour)
  • Art Montgolfieres
    (flight over Chenonceau)

Where to stay

  • Clair Cottage
    (ideal location)
  • La Maison de Famille
    (charming bed and breakfast)
  • Auberge du Bon Laboureur
    (historical stopover)

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