No visit to the Loire Valley is complete without a visit to the 16th century Chateau de Chenonceau, the Chateau of the Ladies.
Diane de Poitiers, the favourite mistress of King Henri II, was gifted the chateau by the king. However, she gave it back to the Queen Regent, Catherine de Medici, after Henri was killed in a tournament.
Catherine became Regent for her three sons after Henri’s death. Both Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici have left the legacy of two beautiful gardens. Diane had a 60 metre long bridge built at the chateau, upon which Catherine had a gallery built, with with 18 large windows and a slate and tile floor. This gallery served as a magnificent ballroom.
Louise of Lorraine was the wife of Henri III, and after his assassination she retired to Chenonceau to meditate and pray, living as if in a convent surrounded by nuns in white. Hence she had the name of “The White Queen”. However, her bedchamber in the chateau was totally draped in black – wall hangings, bed curtains, carpets, ceilings …
Louise Dupin owned the chateau at the time of the French Revolution, and saved the chapel by turning it into a wood store, thus camouflaging it’s religious character! She was the grandmother by marriage to George Sand, and welcomed Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Diderot, D’Alembert, Fontenelle and Bernadin de Saint-Pierre to the chateau. Her kindness, generosity and intelligence saved Chenonceau during the French Revolution.
In 1864 Marguerite Pelouze, a rich heiress, acquired the chateau and restored it, but spent so much money that eventually the chateau was seized and sold.
In 1913 it was bought by Gaston and Simone Meunier. During the First World War Mr Meunier paid for the setting up of a hospital, whose different services occupied all the rooms of the chateau, including the Gallery. Throughout the Second World War the river Cher corresponded to the line of demarcation. The entrance to the chateau was therefore in the occupied zone on the right bank. The gallery where the south door gave access to the left bank made it possible for the Resistance to pass large numbers of people through to the free zone. During the war a German artillery unit was kept at the ready to destroy Chenonceau. The original stained glass windows in the Chapel were destroyed by bombs in 1944, and were replaced in 1954.
One could really spend a whole day at Chenonceau! The magnificence of the rooms, the wonderful gallery, the chapel, the Renaissance furniture, the paintings and tapestries, the remarkable staircase, the beautiful ceilings, and of course the gardens. Apart from the two flower gardens there is also a vegetable garden bordered with apple trees, and more than 400 rose bushes covering more than a hectare. The flowers from the gardens and farm provide the chateau with it’s daily magnificent floral arrangements.
We have visited the chateau several times, and have particularly enjoyed the night time visit, when the gardens are lit up and music fills the air.