A Visitor's Guide to the Chateau of Chenonceau, "the Ladies Castle"
Renowned for its stunning architecture and rich history, the Château de Chenonceau is located in the Loire Valley of France near the small village of Chenonceaux. It is the most visited castle in France after Versailles. Chenonceau is a manor house, built on the banks of the River Cher on the site of an old mill.
Several female figures have been influential throughout the history of the Château de Chenonceau, and for that reason it is sometimes called "the Ladies Castle". Two earlier incarnations of the chateau were destroyed, with the current manor built in 1513 by Thomas Bohier, Chamberlain for King Charles VIII of France. King Francis assumed ownership of the chateau for unpaid debts and following his death, Henry II gifted the property to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, who oversaw the establishment of magnificent gardens around the chateau as well as the construction of an arched bridge joining the manor to the opposite river bank. Following Henry II's death, his widow Catherine de Medici forced de Poitiers to exchange the manor for the Chateau Chaumont. Upon acquiring Chenonceau, Queen Catherine added further to the gardens. Wife of King Henry II, Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, inherited the chateau from her mother-in-law Queen Catherine in 1589. However, she spent much her time at Chenonceau in a deep state of depression after hearing the news of her husband's assassination. From 1624, King Henry IV's mistress Gabrielle d'Estrées took residence in the chateau. Following this though, the property was sadly left to languish under the ownership of Lousie's heirs the César and Duchess of Vendôme as well as after it was subsequently purchased from their heirs by the Duke of Bourbon.
It was eventually sold to a squire named Claude Dupin, whose wife breathed life back into the manor by hosting parties for the figureheads of The Enlightenment, namely Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, Buffon and Pierre de Marivaux. She also said to have saved the chateau from destruction during the French Revolution by asserting its strategic importance to travel and commerce, since it provided the only bridge across the river Cher in the area.
Within the walls of the chateau itself are several interesting features to look out for during your visit, including:
- The medieval style forecourt and the Renaissance-style Marques tower
- The Guard's room featuring Flemish tapestries, ancient chests, an ornately decorated ceiling and a tin-glazed earthenware floor feature.
- The Chapelle which houses fine carvings, inscriptions and decor.
- Diane di Poitiers' bedroom complete with four-poster bed, coffered ceilings, tapestries, paintings and extravagant fireplace.
- Catherine de Medici's "Green Study" containing several fine artworks.
- The Library with a magnificent coffered ceiling overlooking Diane's garden and the Cher.
- The ballroom gallery built upon the bridge.
- The Hall covered in decorative sculpting.
- Francis I's bedroom featuring a Renaissance fireplace and 15th century furniture.
- The Staircase, which was one of the first straight staircases built in France