Chateau de Chenonceau

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Chenonceau is a beautiful fairytale château built across the River Cher. Knowing it gets very busy we planned to be there for opening time. We were first through the gateway and hot footed it down the long tree lined drive to the château. We were first in the château and had the first two rooms and long gallery to ourselves before the hordes arrived. It wasn’t as busy as we feared. Most people move through quickly so we managed to get photos minus people without too many problems, as long as we were patient.

We were given a very informative English guide and this review has turned out a lot longer than intended. I have decided to break it up into two parts to make it more manageable. Part 1 covers the history of the Château. This is a description of the château.

Chenonceau is a beautiful building of white tufa with a dark slate roof with turrets and pinnacles above the dormer windows. The main building has a symmetrical layout with two rooms on either side of the central hallway with the staircase. This was one of the first straight staircases to be built in France. It has a vaulted ceiling with large hanging bosses.

The tour starts with the Guards’ Room, on the left of the main door. The coat of arms of Thomas Bohier are carved above the fireplace. The floor is covered with beautiful 16thC majolica tiles in shades of blue, beige and yellows. There are intricately carved chests around the walls and 16thC tapestries of domestic life in the château. The ceiling beams are blue and pink panels with intertwined Cs and are surrounded by gilt borders.

The Chapel is off the Guard’s Room. There is an elaborate carved portico round the doorway with a statue of the Virgin. Inside there is a beautiful bas relief of the Virgin and Child. The stained glass windows are modern replacing those destroyed by bombing during World War Two.

Next to the Guard’s Room is Diane de Poitier’s bedroom. Everywhere is engraved with the initials of Henri II and Catherine de Medici, which make them look like Ds…. The bed stands on a dais which is a symbol of its importance but also serves a more mundane purpose of protecting it from damp. The bed is covered in blue brocade with beige tassels and there are 16thC tapestries on the walls. The fireplace has a large carved stone over mantle. In the centre is a portrait of Catherine de Medici (who looks like a woman not to be argued with) surrounded by winged figures.

Off this are two small rooms, the Green Study and the Library. These were used by Catherine as her study from where she ran the estate. The ceiling of the Green Study is covered with layers of pewter which have been painted green. The library has a carved wood ceiling with panels and small hanging bosses. The walls in each are covered with paintings and there are some nice carved wood cabinets. There are good views across Diane de Poitiers garden and the river from the windows.

The Long Gallery has a tufa and slate floor and wooden beamed ceiling. There are tall, recessed round topped windows on both sides. The medallions of famous people on the walls were added in the 18thC. In spite of comments in some of the guide books, there is no exit from the door at the far end of the long gallery.

At the corner of the Long Gallery, is the staircase down to the kitchens. These are located in the two massive piers built into the bed of the River Cher. On the ‘bridge’ between the two piers is the platform used by boats bringing produce to the kitchens. The butchery has a massive chopping block with knives above and copper pans on the walls. Game would have been hung on the hooks in the ceiling. In the corner is a well. Next to it is a larder.

The kitchen has a long dresser along one wall with cupboards and shelves with earthenware jugs and storage jars. There is a large bread oven in the wall next to the fireplace. The servants quarters and dining room have a huge open fireplace across the end wall with metal cauldrons. There is a long table with chairs and smaller dressers on the walls. The kitchen has a massive iron range in the centre with a selection of copper utensils. There is a smaller fireplace with a turnspit and log store.

Back on the ground floor, the next room is François I’s Drawing room. This was reserved for the use of the king and is furnished with 15thC Italian furniture inlaid with ivory and mother of pearl. There is a splendid carved stone over mantle with the motto of Thomas Bohier. His coat of arms are over the door surrounded by two mermaids. There is a painting of Diane the Huntress which is one of the few portraits there is of Diane de Poitiers.

Opposite the Guards’ Room is Louis XIV’s Drawing Room, named in memory of the visit he made here on 14th July 1650. This is an elegant room with gilt furniture and paintings. There is a splendid fireplace with stone over mantle with a carved gilt salamander (crest of François I) and ermine (Anne of Brittany). The decorative cornice round the ceiling has the initials of Thomas Bohier. There are 17th & 18thC portraits on the walls.

Catherine Briconnet's Hall on the first floor is tiled with small clay tiles stamped with a fleur de lis and pierced by a dagger. The walls are covered with tapestries. Above the doors are marble medallions with the faces of Roman emperors which were brought back from Italy by Catherine de Medici. Doors at the far end open out onto a small balcony above the main doorway.

Above the Guards’ Room is the Five Queens’ Bedroom, named in memory of Catherine de' Medici's two daughters, Queen Margot (wife of Henry IV) and Elisabeth of Valois (wife of Philip II of Spain) and her three daughters-in-law, Mary, Queen of Scots (wife of Francis II), Elisabeth of Austria (wife of Charles IX) and Louise of Lorraine (wife of Henry III). The wooden ceiling has their coat of arms. The walls are covered with 16thC Flemish tapestries. The four poster bed has deep plum hangings decorated by gold.

This leads into Catherine of Medici’s bedroom with a painted and gilded ceiling. The four poster bed on a raised dais has a beautifully carved base and head board. The 16thC tapestries show scenes from the life of Sampson. Beyond are two small rooms with drawings and engravings of Chenonceau.

Across the hall is César de Vendômes bedroom. He was the son of Henri IV and Gabrielle d’Estrées who became the owner of Chenonceau in 1624. This is a sumptuously furnished room with deep red walls, red upholstered chairs and red and gold bed hangings. The fireplace was coated with gold and painted in the 19thC with the coat of arms of Thomas Bohier. The window is surrounded by a large wooden frame with carved caryatids.

Next is Gabrielle d’Estrée bedroom. She was the mistress of Henri IV. The four poster bed has red brocade hangings and the chairs are covered in similar material. The walls are covered with 16th & 17thC tapestries. There is a decorative red and gold cornice round the base of the ceiling.

The second floor hall is very stylish with deep pink walls and white ribs leading up to ceiling arches. These have blue motifs as does the ceiling. Along the walls are some carved wooden cabinets. One has a series of beautiful paintings round the top.

The only room open on this floor is Louise de Lorraine’s bedroom. Following the assassination of her husband Henri III, Louise retired to Chenonceau in a state of permanent mourning. The room has been reconstructed around the original ceiling and the black walls are decorated with mourning objects; silver tears, widows' cordons, crowns of thorns and the Greek lambda, Louise's initial, intertwined with the H of Henry. His portrait is in a turret in the corner of the room.

The château is surrounded by beautifully maintained grounds with grass and specimen tree. The entrance to Diane de Poitier’s garden is by the Steward’s house and is protected from flooding by elevated terraces. It has eight triangular lawns separated by paths and has its original fountain in the centre. These were originally planted with fruit trees, rustic shrubs, hawthorns and hazel trees, whilst the borders of the paths were sown with strawberry plants and violets. When we visited, they had been planted out with a mixture of yellow and white bedding plants.

Catherine Medici’s Garden is smaller and more intimate. It is designed around a central pool with lawns lined with narrow flower beds. These had been planted out with pink begonias and purple coleus round pink standard roses and looked stunning.

The stable block houses a self service restaurant and a wax museum featuring the women who created Chenonceau, dressed in meticulously created clothes, in a series of historical scenes. Beyond are the toilets which can’t cope with the level of visitors. The 16thC farm buildings have been restored. The farmhouse is now used to store and prepare cut flowers for the château as there are huge flower displays in all the rooms. Beyond is the kitchen gardens with a mix of vegetables and flowers. Beds are surrounded by grass paths and french marigolds are grown among the vegetables to keep down insect pests.

There is a small shop in the ticket office/exit selling mainly tourist gifts.

I fell in love with Chenonceau when I visited France in 1960. I am always hesitant about going back to places as they can so often be a disappointment. Not Chenonceau, it is still as magical as ever, in spite of the crowds and is still my favourite chateau.

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