The next morning, we woke to the sound of doves cooing outside our window. Breakfast was served on the terrace. It was just sublime. There was fresh crusty bread from the local boulangerie, French butter (my favourite) and home-made jams made from fruit trees growing in the grounds of the château. Sitting out on the terrace with our morning coffees, enjoying the warm sun, revelling in the serenity and peace… this was the ultimate in French country living. We dawdled a little that morning because we were so chilled out. As a result, we only got to Château de Chenonceau late in the morning.
It is easy to see why this château is the most visited château in France after Versailles. The grounds are vast and beautiful and the château, which is surrounded by the River Cher, is most picturesque. The interior of the château is beautifully decorated, indicating a woman’s touch, as it was women who mostly oversaw the renovations of this château and protected the château.
It began with Katherine Briçonnet, who oversaw the building of the château. She entertained frequently, and the King Francis I was a guest at the château on two occasions. It was eventually seized from the family for unpaid debts.
King Henry II then gave the château to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who loved the château and embarked on massive renovations to beautify the château and its surroundings. She had an arched bridged constructed, joining the château to the opposite bank, and established beautiful gardens set along the banks of the river.
Diane de Poitiers was a shrewd woman and managed to claim legal ownership of the château. However, when King Henry II died in 1559, his jealous widow, Catherine de Medici, had Diane expelled, and forced her to exchange her beloved château for the much more inferior Château Chaumont. Catherine de Medici then made Chenonceau her own, spending a fortune on renovations and soirées.
Upon her death, ownership of the château went to her daughter-in-law Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, who decorated her bedroom in black to mourn the assassination of her husband, King Henry III.
One other notable woman of the château is Madame Louise Dupin, daughter of financier Samuel Bernard and grandmother of George Sand. She entertained leaders of The Enlightenment – Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Buffon, Montesquieu, Pierre de Mariveaux and Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle. She saved the château from destruction during the revolution. Legend has it that she changed the name of Chenonceaux to Chenonceau. The ‘x’ at the end of the château’s name was dropped to renounce its symbol of royalty. Madame Dupin saved the chapel in the château by turning it into a wood store.
There is a restaurant in the grounds of the château called L’Orangerie. We decided to stop by there for lunch. Unfortunately, there were no tables available outside so we had to make do with having lunch in the dining room. The menu was a fixed price menu, which in typical French fashion consisted of entrée, main, dessert and a selection from the cheese cart. The meal was very satisfying and good value for 30 euro each, which included a glass of house wine and a coffee each.
Photography is allowed inside the château without flash. Sadly, that did not result in great photo ops. Here are some of the ones that turned out alright. If this has piqued your interest, there are excellent photos on the official website.
Leaving Château de Chenonceau, we took a wrong turn and ended up in Tours. It was a nightmare which ended up costing us over two hours in travel time as we got stuck in traffic, and due to our poor GPS navigation, it took forever to find our way out of the town. By the time we finally found our way out, the sun was setting. So we had to ditch our planned visit to the town of Montresor and Loches. Struggling to find a place to have dinner, we pulled up at a McDonalds in the middle of nowhere. Yep, our dinner for that night was Le Filet-O-Fish, les Chicken Nuggets with les French fries and Coca. At least the fries were French… LOL
I have to say our two nights in that four poster bed was divine. I don’t know if it was because we were tired from all the driving around during the day, or if it was because the bed was so comfy, but we slept like logs. When I was a kid growing up, I dreamt of having a four poster bed. So sleeping in a four poster bed, in a real château, was like a dream come true.