France ~ Chateau de Chenonceau: Tour of the Ladies Chateau
August 25, 2009 by Debi Lander
The Loire Valley, just two hours from Paris, abounds with a wealth of historic chateaux. The former French royals discovered this enchanting area made a perfect getaway and I was ready to join them, even if that meant taking a group bus tour.
My daughter Laura and I were in Paris so we hopped aboard the comfortable vehicle at 7:15 am, which included about 20 other tourists. We were blessed with two knowledgeable guides who fortunately understood the need to nap.
First stop was Chateau de Chenonceau which sits not just on the banks– but directly over the River Cher. Chenonceau is often referred to as the ladies chateau as its designers and owners were women.
Upon entering the grounds, we strolled down a long, sun-dappled tree covered pathway. Two lion statues acted as sentinels at the gates. Then, we passed the Marques Tower, the oldest standing building remaining from the original fortress built in 1432. The turrets are exactly what I imagine Rapunzel’s tower in fairy tales.
Our guide led us into the stone castle through the main entry with the original wooden doors. This section, built in 1513, was sold to King Francois I, in 1535, to pay back taxes and debts. In 1547, Henri II presented it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Diane loved the chateau and lavished her feminine touches on the property.
However, when Henri died, the queen (Catherine de Medici) took revenge and forced Diane out. Diane took Chaumont (another chateau) in exchange. In the end, the rival between these two women created the galleried bridge, the chateau’s most famous feature. Diane designed and installed a small lower bridge. Catherine then redesigned a large extension above and thus, the chateau grew over the river.
Paintings, tapestries, original furniture and other Renaissance period pieces are scattered throughout the rooms. Visitors see the guardroom, chapel, bedroom of Diane de Poitiers, and another used by Catherine de Medici. I found it easy to imagine royalty dancing in the spacious gallery ballroom over the water. The view from the room’s windows, however, bespoke tranquility.
In addition, we saw Henri II’s bedroom with a portrait of Diane and the five queens’ bedroom- used by Catherine de Medici’s two daughters and three daughters-in-law. Louise of Lorraine’s bedroom was decorated in somber black and white after her husband, King Henri III,died. She then became known as the White Queen for joining the reclusive nuns who always wore white.
I took this photo of Laura in the upper window balcony because I thought she looked like a princess smiling down on her subjects.
The gardens burst with vibrant pink blossoms: one is a copy of Diane’s garden, the other is Catherine’s. These flowers are used to create the gorgeous arrangements that decorate each room in the chateau.
Chenonceau gets a thumbs up. I would definitely return to this elegant chateau and spend an entire day. We didn’t have time to explore the maze, take a boat ride on the Cher, which would have offered a terrific photo-op or see the wax figures displayed in period costuming. The lunch area seemed lovely, and goodness, more time to stroll the grounds would have been appreciated. I suspect the grand illumination of the grounds during summer months is spectacular.