A Castle with Stories to Tell
Chenonceau may be the second most visited castle in France after Versailles, and it's easy to see why. Chenonceau is built on the river Cher, where the unique splendor of its late Gothic and Early Renaissance architecture reflects in the water. The châteaux is famous for its incredible gardens and art collections, including a vast ensemble of 14 th century tapestries, Renaissance furnishings and paintings by Rubens, Le Tintoret and more.
The collections are just the tip of what you'll find roaming the halls. This is a castle with stories to tell: tales of intrigue, intellectuals and lovers. (This is France, after all.)
Rebuilt after a fire in the early 1400s, the castle was sold to a Thomas Bohier, Chamberlain for King Charles VIII of France in 1513. The château was seized from Bohier's son by King Francis I for unpaid debts to the Crown. After he died, Henry II offered the château as a gift to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers who became fervently attached to the château.
She constructed the arched bridges, joining the château to its opposite bank. She then planted the extensive flower and vegetable gardens, and the flower gardens were laid out in four triangles. Diane de Poitiers was the unquestioned queen (err, mistress) of the castle, but ownership remained with the crown until 1555 when it was finally bequeathed to her. But when King Henry II died, his strong-willed widow Catherine de'Medici had Diane expelled. (You go, girl.) Queen Catherine then made Chenonceau her own favorite residence, adding a new series of gardens.
Years went by, the castle changed hands. In 1733, a Claude Dupin bought the castle from the Duke of Bourbon. His wife Louise, a daughter of a rich financier, liked to surround herself with intellectuals, and Chenonceau became an important pole in literary activity. She entertained the "Enlightened" -- Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, re-establishing court life and imbuing the estate with a happy prosperity.
Her granddaughter, Amantine Dupin, became famous worldwide, as the first French woman writer recognized worldwide. And then the halls of Chenonceau rang again with affairs of the heart -- as she counted Flaubert, Chopin and Nietzsche among her lovers. Today the castle belongs to the Menier family who made a fortune with selling chocolate - another aphrodisiac.
Chenonceaux is about 30 minutes from Tours in the Loire Valley. Called "Le Jardin de la France" thanks to several parks within the city, Tours is the perfect home base for exploring the many chateaux in the region. Another beauty is Amboise, home to Frances I and Leonardo DaVinci who as a guest of the king, came to live here in December 1515. It's also the site of the first formal French garden, which is based on the principle of imposing order over nature.
Chenonceau is just the opposite: a castle where "doing what comes natural" was the order of the day. And became a reflection not only on the River Cher, but also in France's nobility circles.