If I Had to Choose a French Chateau: Chenonceau

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Rumbling up the drive in a carriage, here is what the long-ago aristocratic visitor would have seen.  I suppose a line of nicely-turned-out servants would have stood at the ready, to haul in trunks. From this angle, Chenonceau  looks like a hundred other chateaux all across France.

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But wait, there’s more! Chenonceau is the only chateau I know of that was actually built spanning an entire river. It stops just a short hop from the opposite bank. (During World War II, the River Cher was the border between Nazi-occupied and Vichy France. Prisoner exchanges and who knows what else took place here).  Back in 1514-1522 when the present chateau was built, I don’t know why everyone else didn’t run out and build one like it. I guess not everyone owned access to a river, or had the means to accomplish this feat of engineering.

The visitor enters Chenonceau the same way royalty did in days long gone: through a supremely French-looking courtyard and facade. As always, I find the details of Chenonceau every bit as enchanting as the overall dreamy effect of this pleasure palace built over a serene river.

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The grand entry door has a person-sized smaller door within it, for visitors who don’t need to make a grand entrance. I didn’t have a sweeping ball gown, so the small door worked for me.

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Fresh flowers from the gardens outside decorate all the rooms.  This was a study, overlooking the gently flowing river.  I’m not sure I’d get much work done here.

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This stairway was reportedly one of the first that was not a cramped spiral.  Guests must have enjoyed sweeping grandly up and down this staircase.

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The entire chateau is wonderfully light and airy.  And outside, gardens await, just as they did when Diane de Poitiers reigned here.

Diane de Poitiers, portrait by unknown artist, Public Domain

Diane de Poitiers, portrait by unknown artist, Public Domain

Chenonceau’s most illustrious occupant was Diane de Poitiers, a beautiful and cultured noblewoman who was the longtime mistress of King Henri II of France.  In the portrait above, she is pictured as Diana, goddess of the hunt.

 

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

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