Saturday, August 27, 2016

Visiting Chateau Chenonceau in the Loire Valley

       Spanning across the river Cher, this elegant chateau bears an extraordinary destiny: to be loved, managed, and protected by women throughout war and conflict. Thus, it is also known as the Ladies' Chateau.  

       On a fine July morning, I was given a chance to visit this extraordinary chateau with my friend, Jeanne. Chateau of Chenonceau is located near to the small town of Chenonceaux in the department of Indre-et-Loire. In 1840, it had been registered under Monument Historique by the French Ministry of Culture. Today, Château de Chenonceau is the 2nd most visited chateau in France, surpassed by none other than the Royal Palace of Versailles. 

       After exchanging our tickets at the entrance, we walked down the long avenue lined by towering trees, but instead of going straight ahead, we stopped by the circular Maze of Yew and the Caryatids (marble Greek female statues) at the end of the Maze.

       We were impressed by the splendor of the renaissance castle at the end of the tree-lined avenue. On another side of the chateau, the original keep covered with vines first caught our attention. 

       The first part of the castle we visited was the small chapel right next to the iPod-guide counter. This modest chapel decorated by beautiful stained glass was saved from ravage during the French Revolution, all thanks to Madame Dupin's brilliant idea of disguising it as a timber storehouse!
Note: Remember to have a photo ID with you to hire their iPod guide.

       Strolling from room to room with the guide, I was fascinated by the story behind the ladies' chateau. The first lady that helped build the Chateau was Katherine Briconnet, wife of Bohier, who took over the construction of Chenonceau after her husband's death. Because of this, the design of the building stressed on grace and convenience, possessing more feminine touch if compare with other chateaus in the Loire Valley. 

        After the chateau was held over to the monarchy, it was offered to Diane de Poitiers as a gift of affection from Henry II. In 1547, French Renaissance architect Philibert de I’Orme was summoned to build an arched bridge over Cher, connecting Chateau Chenonceau to the opposite bank. However, After King Henry II’s death in 1559, Diane was demanded to hand over the Chateau to Queen Catherine de' Medici although she was the legitimate owner. A lavish 60 meters long gallery and grand ballroom designed by Jean Bullant were built on the bridge within the same year. The chequerboard slate-tiled floor makes the place look so elegant and classy. 

       The castle showcases the architectural mixture of late Gothic and early Renaissance. The hallways are framed by characteristic triangular ribbed vaults. The interior is completed with beautifully carved furniture, pearl and ivory encrusted cabinets, magnificent Renaissance fireplaces, exquisite tapestries and impressive floral arrangements.  

       The kitchens, which occupy the bases of the bridge piers are spacious and airy. Food deliveries were made through a window by boats. They had knives of various size, pegs and a head of a wild boar hanging on the walls. 

       From the second floor, we were greeted by the enchanted view of the chateau ground with the sight of Marques tower, which is slightly separate from the main building. 

       We continue to ascend the wide staircase, exploring all the sumptuous rooms. On the top floor, we encountered an interesting room bearing such contrast to the other rooms of the chateau (despite all rooms possessing distinct look and feel). This dark, eerie room, with all four walls painted in black ornamented with feathers, thorns and crossbones, was the room of Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, wife of King Henry III. This is where she prayed and meditated all day and night after being told that the king was assassinated in 1589. 

       After visiting the castle, one simply must make time for both formal gardens: Diane's Garden and Catherine’s garden. On the left side of the chateau, Diane de Poitier’s garden impressed us with its eight triangular lawns, with "Le Jardin de Diane", the garden's original fountain standing in the heart of the garden. Although less impressive in my opinion, Catherine's garden has 5 lawns where they had flowers, fruits and exotic vegetables such as melons and artichokes. Here, we took a break by sitting on the river bank admiring the west facade of the gallery. 
You can walk through the illuminated gardens at night accompanied by the music of virtuoso Arcangelo Corelli. only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in June and every evening from July 1 to August 31.

       Before leaving the castle ground, we decided to have a simple meal in the self-service cafeteria. 

If you have time, go roam around the rest of the chateau ground, where you'll find a 16th-century vegetable farm, a wine cellar, a stable, a donkey park and so much more. 
I suggest you to schedule at least 3 hours to fully enjoy the sites. 

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Thank You for Reading! 
Miss Happy Feet was a guest of Loire Valley and Touraine Tourism Board. However, all photos and opinion are as always, my own. 
Are you inspired to visit Chateau Chenonceau? Feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below!

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