The year is 2001 and I’m posing for a photo in front of Château de Chenonceau wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “I will not kiss the boys”. Unknown to me at the time, this shirt is strangely appropriate, since Chenonceau, also known as the Castle of the Ladies, had been the residence of many influential women over the centuries who probably had a similar motto.
Diane de Poitiers, mistress of king Henri II, was the first to call the castle home in 1547, building the bridge spanning the River Cher for which the castle is now famous. After her came Catherine de Medici, wife of Henri II, who forced her husband’s mistress out, expanded the bridge into a grand gallery and laid the foundations for the beautiful gardens that you can see in the background. Fast-forward a few years and a few women, and the castle is left unmolested by the insurgents during the French Revolution because its then owner, Louise Dupin, convinced them that it was the only bridge across the river for miles and therefore essential for travel and commerce. The castle also played an important role during World War I when it was used as a hospital ward, and was bombed by the Allies in World War II.
Of course, I knew none of this during my visit, but merely gaped at the amazing structure, unique in my experience and absolutely beautiful. We had a quick whirlwind tour of the inside and left unimpressed, but the exterior and the gardens are what make this château memorable. Apparently, it’s the second most visited castle in France, just behind the grand palace at Versailles! It’s definitely worth seeing, even if you are ignorant of its historical importance, and now also boasts a hedgerow maze – can’t ask for more than that, can you?
Have you visited Chenonceau or any of the other châteaux of the Loire valley? Which one was your favourite?