Exploring Chenonceau, the castle of the ladies
January 3, 2012 9 Comments
Behind the beauty of this castle in such a splendid setting lies the story of a king, his long-suffering wife and his favored mistress which would make a perfect basis for a soap opera in today’s time and age.
Chenonceau Castle is known as the “Chateau of the Ladies” in obvious reference to Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II and Diane de Poitiers, his favorite mistress. The king who was so attached to this woman who was 20 years his senior, showered her with gifts from jewelries to properties and the most known of course was Chenonceau, the castle she so coveted. Built in 1513 by Katherine Briconnet, Diane lavishly had the castle embellished and had the arched bridge constructed, joining the chateau to its opposite bank. She then oversaw the planting of extensive flower and vegetable gardens along with a variety of fruit trees. Set along the banks of the river, but buttressed from flooding by stone terraces, the exquisite gardens were laid out in four triangles.
Diane de Poitiers was the unquestioned mistress of the castle , but ownership remained with the crown until 1555, when years of delicate legal maneuvers finally yielded possession to her. King Henry II would die in a jousting accident in 1559 and his strong-willed widow and regent Catherine de Medici had Diane expelled. It was her time to exact revenge on the woman who had the king’s affection for which she could never be first place despite bearing him 10 children. Because the estate no longer belonged to the crown, she could not seize it outright but forced Diane to exchange it for the Chateau Chaumont. Catherine de Medici then made Chenonceau her own favorite residence, adding a new series of gardens.
Of all the castles which I’ve visited in the Loire Valley which I can say is the castle mecca in the world (castles were at a close distance of few kilometers from each other), Chenonceau was my favorite. The 2 gardens were simply astounding, competing with each other just like the two ladies who vied for the affection of the king.
We explored the gardens and the castle’s interior. I was pretty curious of Diane’s bedroom, thinking of her and the king We also saw Catherine’s bedroom but she was already a lonely widow when she went to live in this castle.
I was curious as well of the arched bridge spanning the river Cher. Catherine de Medici actually had a magnificent ballroom gallery built upon the bridge of Diane de Poitiers. It is 60 meters long, 6 meters wide, lit by 18 windows, with a sandy chalk tiled and slate floor and exposed joist ceiling.
We also went to see the kitchen which I found very interesting. I loved those copper pots and pans and I can’t help but imagine how food must have been prepared in those days.
We had lunch at the castle’s restaurant L’Orangerie which had amazing haute cuisine. Too bad that I couldn’t do wine tasting in their cellar because of my condition. I’d love to someday come back again and camp in the same camping site along the banks of river Cher which is a tributary of the Loire River.
Summer is a great time to be there. The gardens are just at their gorgeous best and on weekends, there is a music festival at the chateau which we could listen to from the comforts of our tent.