Stretching romantically across the Cher River, this French Renaissance chateau was the residence of queens and royal mistresses, including Catherine de’ Medici and Diane de Poitiers. Transformed over the centuries from a modest manor and water mill into a castle designed solely for pleasure, it is surrounded by elegant formal gardens and wooded grounds. The interior rooms have been restored to their original style, and a small waxwork museum illustrates the building’s history. The site also includes a stable with a miniature train ride down the lovely tree-lined drive, and several restaurants.
THE FORMAL GARDENS
As the mistress of Henri II, Diane de Poitiers wanted a surrounding fit for a king and set about creating her grand, formal gardens along the banks of the Cher River. Divided into four triangles and protected from flooding by elevated stone terraces, they were planted with an extensive selection of flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees. When Catherine de’ Medici arrived at Chenonceau, she created her own garden from a program devised by Bernard Palissy in his Drawings of a Delectable Garden (1563). Today, more than 4,000 flowers are planted in the gardens each year.
THE CREATION OF CHENONCEAU
Catherine Briconnet, wife of the royal chamberlain, was the first of many women who added her feminine touches to Chenonceau. During his reign (1547-59), King Henri gave the castle to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who went on to dramatically transform it. She redecorated its interiors, built a bridge over the Cher River and constructed a formal garden. When the king died, his wife, Catherine de’ Medici, reclaimed the chateau from Diane and set about erasing her presence. She redesigned the castle and built the Grande Galerie on the bridge above the Cher. Over the centuries, other women have shaped Chenonceau’s destiny and design, including Louise de Lorraine, who was bequeathed the castle in 1589, the enlightened Louise Dupin, friend of the writers Voltaire and Rousseau, in the 18th century, and Madame Pelouze in the 19th century.
The elegant Grande Galerie, designed by Catherine de’ Medici to hold her festivities, dominates Chenonceau. Lit by 18 windows stretching from an exposed-joists ceiling, its enamelled tiled floor leads into royal bedrooms, including Diane de Poitiers’, covered in Flemish tapestries. The small tiles in the first floor hall are stamped with fleur de lys crossed by a dagger. Marble medallions brought from Italy by Catherine de Medici hang above the doors, including those of her bedroom, which is full of 16th-century furnishings and tapestries depicting biblical scenes.
The chapel has a vaulted ceiling and pilasters sculpted with acanthus leaves and cockle shells. The stained glass, ruined by a bomb in 1944, was replaced in 1953.
The Three Graces
Painted by Charles-Andre Van Loo (1705-65), The Three Graces depicts the pretty Mailly-Nesle sisters, all royal mistresses.
Louise de Lorraine’s Room
After the assassination of her husband, King Henri III, în 1589, Queen Louise had this room painted in black and decorated with monograms, tears, and knots in white.
Tour des Marques
This tower is the only surviving part of the 15th -century castle of the Marques family.
Chenonceau’s Florentine-style Grande Galerie stretches across the Cher River from 200 ft (60m). Catherine de Medici added this elegant gallery to the bridge designed by Philibert de l’Orme in 1556-9 for Diane de Poitiers.
The walls of Catherine de Medici’s study were originally covered with green velvet.
As was the practice in the 16th -century, Chenonceau is hung with Flemish tapestries that both warm and decorate its well-furnished rooms.
THE FIRST FIREWORKS
After the death of her husband, King Henri II, in 1559, Catherine de’ Medici moved into Chenonceau and staged lavish balls in her goal to surpass his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. At a feast for her son Francois II and his wife Mary Stuart in 1560, the celebrations moved into the formal gardens, where guests were treated to the first fireworks display in France.
1521: The medieval Chenonceau is acquired by Thomas Bohier. His wife, Catherine Bric;onnet, supervises the rebuilding of the chateau.
1526: The chateau is seized from the Bohier family by King Francois I for unpaid debts to the Crown.
1547: Diane de Poitiers, King Henri II’s lifelong mistress, moves into the chateau and lays out the gardens.
1559: On the death of King Henri II, Catherine de’ Medici takes the building from Diane de Poitiers.
1789: The castle is spared in the French Revolution thanks to its liberal owner, Madame Dupin.
1913: The Menier family buys Chenonceau and still owns it today.