Visiting Chateau Chenonceau: Loire Valley, France
When visiting the Loire Valley of central France you will have countless options when it comes to visiting the Grand Chateaux that this region is famous for. One of the more beautiful and picturesque of these would certainly be Chateau Chenonceau.
Built directly over the River Cher about fifteen minutes outside of Amboise, Chateau Chenonceau offers visitors a unique look at over 500 years of French history. Constructed in 1513 at the site of a former mill, the chateau sits in a stunning setting as it spans the River Cher and is surrounded by acres of pristine French countryside. Additionally, the site contains beautiful gardens named for two of the women who played a critical role in preserving and expanding the chateau.
The Ladies of Chenonceau
Often referred to as “The Ladies Chateau”, the history of Chenonceau was heavily influenced by a number of notable women from French History:
Katherine Briconnet oversaw the construction of Chenonceau in 1513 and was responsible for its late Gothic and early Renaissance style. Purchased by her husband, Thomas Bohier, the former mill and castle on this site was demolished leaving only the original keep, the Marques Tower.
Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of King Henri II and whose name graces one of the gardens added the bridge over the River Cher in 1547. Chenonceau was given to de Poitiers by Henri II and in addition to adding the bridge she was responsible for bringing the gardens to the property.
Catherine de’ Medici, the wife of King Henri II and the namesake of the other garden would add the Gallery and the Grand Ballroom on the bridge in 1559. When her husband, King Henri II died, Catherine forced his mistress Diane de Poitiers from Chenonceau and made it her residence.
Louise Dupin, the widow of Claude Dupin is credited with saving the chateau from destruction during the French Revolution in the 1790s, claiming that as the only bridge over the River Cher in the area it was essential.
Chateau Chenonceau is located in the small hamlet of Chenonceau not far from Amboise. The grounds are extensive as you can see from the aerial view above and the walk from the parking lot to the chateau will take you along a beautiful tree lined path, which hides the striking display that awaits you at the end.
As you approach the chateau you will pass the gardens on both sides and come upon the forecourt with the Marques Tower, which is the oldest structure at the chateau. The garden to your right as you face the chateau is Catherine’s Garden. To your left is Diane’s Garden. And as if drawn straight out of a fairy tale you enter the chateau by having to cross the moat that separates the forecourt from the castle.
"Keep" is the term used to describe a medieval fortified tower that was part of a castle. They were common throughout England and France and were used as a last resort to “Keep” the castle occupants safe should an adversary take control of the rest of the castle.
Your tour of Chenonceau will follow the brochure, which comes in numerous languages, and each room is numbered so you can easily follow along. An audio guide is also available should you desire one.
The ground level of the chateau contains a number of interesting rooms including the Chapel, the Guard’s Room, Mistress Diane de Poiters’ Bedroom, the study, the Louis XIV Living Room and the Gallery, which is the largest room in the chateau at sixty meters in length. All of the rooms are adorned with exquisite period furniture and a wonderful assortment of artwork and some incredible tapestries. The attention to detail in each room is exceptional and it’s easy for one to imagine how life once was living in such a grand chateau.
Before heading up to the first floor be sure to head below the ground level to where the Kitchen, Pantry, and the staff Dining Room are located. This is an interesting area with the Pantry containing the chateau’s largest fireplace and the bread oven. Just off the Pantry by the River Cher is a landing platform where boats would deliver food and supplies to the servants. The Kitchen is remarkable with its large medieval stoves and shiny copper pots seemingly hanging from every available spot. And the staff Dining Room, while apparently not fit for a King, would certainly do just fine in my home today.
As you make your way up the marble staircase to the first floor you will be greeted by the Hall of Katherine Briconnet. If you recall, Katherine Briconnet was largely responsible for overseeing construction of Chenonceau in 1513.
The first floor is mainly bedrooms and contains Catherine de Medici’s (wife of King Henri II) bedroom, the Exhibition Room and the room called the Five Queen’s Bedroom. This room is named for Catherine’s two daughters and three daughters-in-law. A highlight of the first floor is certainly the balcony, which is open to visitors and magnificently looks out over the forecourt, the Marques Tower and the gardens. Spend a few minutes on the balcony and you’ll feel like the king and queen of Chenonceau looking over your kingdom.
Up to the second floor of Chenonceau we go to be greeted by another magnificent Hallway that was restored in the 19th century. The large Oudenaarde Tapestry dates to the 16th century and dominates the wall.
Here you will also find the bedroom of Louise de Lorraine. Her husband, King Henry III, was assassinated in August of 1589, and Lorraine spent much of her remaining years secluded in mourning at Chenonceau. In medieval France the mourning protocol called for the queen to dress in white, which was in stark contrast to the black walls, ceiling and dark furnishings of her bedroom. It's easy to see why Lorraine suffered bouts of depression living in such somber surroundings in her bedroom.
History has labeled Louise de Lorriane the White Queen for her white attire worn in mourning following the assassination of her husband, King Henri III.
When you have completed your tour of the chateau be sure to head outside to the gardens, which in addition to being beautiful in their own right offer some stunning views of Chateau Chenonceau.
As you know by now the two main garden areas are named after Catherine de Medici, the wife of King Henri II, and Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henri II.
In addition to the gardens there is a restaurant on the grounds, the Orangerie Café, which was built in what were once the stables. While we did not stop in it looks like a delightful spot for a quick break from touring Chenonceau. If time permits stop by the 16th century farm complete with the Donkeys of Chenonceau as well as the flower and vegetable garden.
Rick Steves Visits Chenonceau
Castle and Gardens with brochure:
- Adults: 15 euros
- Children 7 to 18 and students: 12 euros
- Under 7: Free
Castle with audio guide and Gardens:
- Adults: 19 euros
- Age 7 to 18 and students: 15.50 euros
Chateau Chenonceau Is Open Every Day
- Jan to March: 9:30 am - 4:30 pm
- April to May: 9 am - 5:30 pm
- June: 9 am - 6 pm
- July to August: 9 pm - 7 pm
- Sept: 9 am - 6:30 pm
- Oct: 9 am - 4:30 pm
- Nov to Dec: 9:30 am - 5:30 pm
This area of the Loire valley is rich with history and fascinating chateaux to visit. Just fifteen minutes away in Amboise is the stunning Chateau Amboise as well as many others in the region, all unique and worthy of a visit. Chenonceau was certainly my favorite and one of the highlights of our trip to France. It’s unique setting over the River Cher and its beautiful gardens are easy to enjoy and a photographers dream. Chateau Chenonceau is the most visited of the grand chateaux of the Loire Valley but we did not find it overly crowded during our visit (early October) and enjoyed a relaxing tour at our own pace. If you are planning a trip to the Lorie Valley of France be sure to include a stop at Chateau Chenonceau.
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© 2015 Bill De Giulio