France, Loire
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Chenonceau

Last weekend we drove up the valley to visit another Château (when in Loire…) – this time the beautiful Château Chenonceau, which spans the river Cher. I had seen many photos of this château and was entranced by the way it reflects on the water, and knew that I wanted to go there. The photo above is the best I could do with the reflection of the west façade, there was a definite current in the river that day, so the water wasn’t as glassy as I would’ve liked. I also managed to forget my dslr in Loches, so I did my best and managed with my iPhone.

The tree-lined pathway leading up to the Château Chenonceau.

The tree-lined pathway leading up to the Château Chenonceau.

Kiddos in front of the lawns (which of course you can't walk on) on the pathway to Chenonceau

Kiddos in front of the lawns (which of course you can’t walk on) on the pathway to Chenonceau

In typical Lesley fashion, I was swayed by it’s looks, and learned nothing of it’s history before going. Lucky for me I married a history buff, so Derek takes care of reading any pamphlets, websites, plaques etc. On our sight-seeing days, the kids (and myself, I admit) can often be heard saying “where’s dad? Oh, he’s reading another plaque.” Anyhow, it serves us well, as we all come out of there knowing a little more history, and it really does make our visits more special.

a side-view of the front of the Château, love the intricate details.

a side-view of the front of the Château, love the intricate details.

The Marques tower, seen below on the right, is the keep of the former fortified castle and mill, which was demolished in order to build Chenonceau. The tower was restored in Renaissance style, you can see about midway up where the stonework changes.

Derek and the kids in the forecourt of the château, with the Marques Tower on the right.

Derek and the kids in the forecourt of the château, with the Marques Tower on the right.

In 1547, Chenonceau was donated to Diane de Poitiers by King Henry II – she was his favourite “lady” 🙂 While living there, de Poitiers created the beautiful east gardens, very modern for the time. She also built the bridge spanning the river Cher, which would later be expanded into a ballroom by Catherine de’ Medici.

View of Diane de Poitiers' garden from the front steps of the Château.

View of Diane de Poitiers’ garden from the front steps of the Château.

The east façade of the château, over the river Cher.

The east façade of the château, over the river Cher.

Inside Chenonceau, the château is just as beautiful. There was intricate stonework detail on the vaulted ceilings in the hallways and staircases, and wooden coffered ceilings in the bedrooms adorned with medallions and carved initials throughout.

staircase ceiling detail

Ceiling details in the second staircase.

Stonework in the entrance hall, and a peek of the intricately carved front doors with stained glass.

Stonework in the entrance hall, and a peek of the intricately carved front doors with stained glass.

The bedrooms were furnished with antiques sourced from the same era of the château. Chenonceau changed ownership several times, and was in use as a residence until the 1970s, so much of the original furniture was sold over the years and replaced. The walls throughout the entire château are draped with amazing large XVI century tapestries. The detail in these pieces is incredible.

Diane de Poitiers' bedroom, adorned with two very large XVI century Flanders tapestries.

Diane de Poitiers’ bedroom, adorned with two very large XVI century Flanders tapestries.

The Five Queens' bedroom, named for Catherine de' Medici's two daughters and three daughters-in-law.

The Five Queens’ bedroom, named for Catherine de’ Medici’s two daughters and three daughters-in-law.

When King Henry II died, Catherine de’ Medici removed de Poitiers from Chenonceau, taking it for her own. She moved in, and in 1576 had the bridge over the river expanded into a beautiful two-story reception ballroom. I loved the black and white original tile on the lower floor – can’t you imagine the exquisite balls that must have been held there? During WWI, this room was actually used as a military hospital. There is a little memorial in another building on the grounds, and it’s quite incredible to see photos of this room lined with hospital beds and nurses buzzing around.

Catherine de' Medici had this gallery built in 1576/77 on the existing bridge, to host grand balls and parties. It was used as a military hospital during WWI.

Catherine de’ Medici had this gallery built in 1576/77 on the existing bridge, to host grand balls and parties.

I have two favourite details from inside Chenonceau that stand out in my mind. The tiles in the Guards’ Room just off the entry – when you come in the room, you don’t really notice them, as the entire centre of the room the tiles have been worn down to plain beige stone. But when you go to the edge of the room, you can see where the tiles are still as they once were – XVI century majolica tiles. I was also amazed by the floral arrangements through the entire château. Every room and hallway was adorned by these incredible, large, single-flower arrangements which were each between 3 and 4 feet in diameter! Different coloured lilies, roses, and more. The scent drifted down the hallways, amazing!

Remains of the XVI century majolica tiles - absolutely gorgeous!

Remains of the XVI century majolica tiles – absolutely gorgeous!

roses

Incredible massive floral arrangements were all over the château, lilies and roses and more, all between 3-4' in diameter!

Incredible massive floral arrangements were all over the château, lilies and roses and more, all between 3-4′ in diameter!

On our way to leave the château, we made one final stop on the grounds, nestled in the forest, at Catherine de’ Medici’s Italian Maze. She insisted that Chenonceau should have a maze, and our kiddos are glad she did – what fun to run through it and try to get a little lost!

Borrowed a picture of the maze from here - I couldn't get one at such a nice angle :)

Borrowed a picture of the maze from here – I couldn’t get one at such a nice angle 🙂

The Italian maze. Danica especially loved it!

The Italian maze. Danica especially loved it!

We are heading out on the road again this weekend – a quick long weekend trip, this time to upper Normandy where we’ll stay in Rouen for three nights. Besides exploring Rouen, we will visit Monet’s gardens at Giverny (where we are so lucky to be meeting up with good friends for a quick visit!!) and also head to the coast to see the famed white cliffs at Etretat. Should be fun!

We are trying to soak up our last few days of summer vacation, as the kids will head to school on Sept 1 for “la rentrée” as they call it here. As always, a bittersweet feeling sending them off to school for another year.

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