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Chenonceau Castle Travel Guide
Chenonceau Castle, Centre (© pascalpro - iStockphoto.com)
Château de Chenonceau.

Introduction

Built over a bridge spanning the Cher River, Chenonceau Castle is like no other in France, and probably like no other in the world. This exquisite Renaissance château is the most visited heritage site in France still in private hands, and the most visited château besides the Palace of Versailles.

Chenonceau's history was marked by the women who built or expanded the castle in the 16th century. It earned it the nickname of "château des Dames" (castle of the Ladies). Its architectural style is a mixture of late Gothic and early Renaissance.

Note that Chenonceau Castle is located in the village of Chenonceaux (with an 'x' at the end to distinguish the two).


History

Chenonceau Castle, Indre-et-Loire (© SOMATUSCANI | iStockphoto.com)

Chenonceau was built on the site of an old mill. The domain was acquired in 1513 by Thomas Bohier, Chamberlain of King Charles VIII of France. He and his wife, Katherine Briçonnet, decided to tear down the existing manor and built the keep of the present castle between 1515 and 1521.

In 1535, their son indebted to the Crown is forced to relinquish the castle to King Francis I. After Francis' death in 1547, Henry II presented the château to his favourite mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who immediately feel in love with the place.

Diane commissioned Philibert de l'Orme, who had worked on Fontainebleau and Saint-Germain-en-Laye, to built an arched bridge joining the castle keep to its opposite bank. The purpose of the bridge was to access the new flower and vegetable gardens planned by Diane on the left bank.

In 1559, King Henry II is mortally wounded by Gabriel, comte de Montgomery, during a jousting tournament. The jealous widow queen, Catherine de' Medici, forces Diane to exchange Chennonceau for Chaumont Castle. The Queen Mother made Chenonceau her favorite residence and as regent spent a fortune on lavish parties. She added a new series of gardens and constructed a two-storey gallery over the bridge, giving the castle its present appearance.

In 1560, the first ever fireworks display in France took place during the celebrations marking the ascension to the throne of Catherine's son Francis II.

A few months after Catherine's death in April 1589, her son King Henry III is assassinated at the age of 37. His wife, Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, learns of her husband's death at Chenonceau and falls into a deep depression. She would spend the rest of her life wandering aimlessly along the château's vast corridors, surrounded by nuns and dressed in mourning clothes. Her bedroom was redecorated with black tapestries stitched with skulls and crossbones, as well as silver tears, widows' cordons, and crowns of thorns symbolising her grief.

After that, the castle passed to César de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme, and his heirs. In 1720, the Duke of Bourbon acquired the castle and proceeded selling most of the castle's furniture, while the refined statues ended up at Versailles.

In 1733 the castle was sold to Claude Dupin, a rich fermier général (tax collector). His second wife, Louise Dupin (who was the grandmother of George Sand), held literary salon at Chenonceau, where she invited figureheads of the Enlightenment such as Voltaire, Marivaux, Montesquieu, Buffon and Rousseau.

In 1864, Daniel Wilson, a Scotsman who had made a fortune installing gaslights throughout Paris, bought the château for his daughter. She spent a fortune on parties, depleted her finances, and in 1891 sold the castle to José-Emilio Terry, a Cuban millionaire. In 1913, the Menier family, famous chocolatiers, bought the château and still own it to this day.

Description

The castle is lavishly decorated with rare tapestries and old paintings.

The floral arrangement of its bountiful gardens change in spring and in summer and require a staggering 130,000 bedding plants, all grown on the estate. The gardens are laid out in four triangles and buttressed from flooding by stone terraces.

Opening Hours & Admission

Please visit the official website for information on the opening hours and admission fees.

Access Map


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