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Chenonceaux France Loire Valley Chenonceaux

Chenonceaux France

The village of Chenonceaux is famed for its glorious 16th century chateau Chenonceau (spelt without the 'x'). Approached by a striking tree lined avenue, the chateau spans the River Cher and its most famous feature is the arches across the river.

For a different approach go through the gardens created by Diane de Poitiers on the east (left as you advance) or those planted by Catherine de Médicis on the west (right). You have to pay for entry (€7.60) before you get within sight of the castle and, if you pick an early morning or late afternoon slot, it can be well worth it. Mid morning and afternoon, however, the place is swarming with tourists and can be unbearably crowded, preventing you from admiring the proportions that make the chateau so splendid.


Chenonceaux

Chenonceau's history is entwined with that of a number of important women, beginning with Katherine Briconnet, wife of Thomas Bohier, who started building work in 1515 using money her husband had embezzled from Francois I. Diane de Poitiers, Henri II's mistress, began the arches over the slow moving Cher, which are now so characteristic of Chenonceau and ideal for taking photos of the glass like reflections. After Henri II's death in 1559, Catherine de Médicis (his wife) forced Diane de Poitiers to leave Chenonceau for Chaumont (not such a bad deal, considering). She finished the arches and had wild parties in the long gallery above, with her Escadron Volant (Flying Squad of scantily clad women) present to seduce her rivals. Mary Queen of Scots spent a brief period here before the death of her husband, the young Francois II. Then in the 18th century, Mme Dupin brought it back to its former glory, inviting such luminaries as Voltaire and Rousseau there as tutors for her son. It was restored to its 16th century designs by Mme Pelouze in the 19th century.

The highlights are the vaulted kitchens in the foundations above the water; the tiled floors throughout (many of them original); the portraits of the women mentioned above, which are dotted about the place. Louis XIV took the sculptures from the long gallery to Versailles and now pot plants stand in their place. The same gallery was on the border between occupied and Vichy ruled ("free") France and served as a hospital in WWI. The family who own it now claim it was an escape route, but it would have been a risky one.

For those wishing to stay in Chenonceaux, most hotels are on the rue du Docteur Bretonneau, for example La Roseraie at number 7 (02 47 23 90 09) is a good option with gardens, good food and a pool for €60 75, or more luxury can be found next door (number 6) at Le Bon Laboureur (02 47 23 90 02) for €75 90.

The gare SNCF is nearby, in front of the chateau, with two or three trains to Tours daily.