It was time for a road trip. Early one morning, I left Paris for the Loire valley, to explore three of the great châteaux.
My first stop, the Château de Chenonceau is, famously, the “Château des Dames”— “The Women’s Castle”—because of the role women played in its creation, design, and defense.
In the 15th century, when the architect of the château was called away to war, his wife, Katherine Briçonnet, took over construction.
The château was seized for unpaid debts by King François I. After his death, his son, Henri II, gave Chenonceau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who added the bridge across the river Cher and developed the gardens. When Henri died, his wife, Catherine de Médicis, evicted Diane de Poitiers, who got another château in exchange, and made Chenonceau her own.
After the assassination of her husband, King Henri III, the widowed Louise de Lorraine lived out her sad last years at Chenonceau, and, later, Louise Dupin saved it from destruction during the French Revolution.
The Chenonceau web site has a wonderful series of 360 degrees images showing most of the rooms in the château.
Here are a few of the photos I took during my visit:
Breathtaking, isn’t it?
Chenonceau has been modified, looted, remodeled, and restored countless times over the centuries. The Château itself was bombed twice during WWII–by the Germans in 1940 and by the Allies in 1944. Before its 1951 restoration, it was described as “dilapidated.”
Clearly, the upholstery and the wallpaper and the scuff-free flooring and some of the pristine furniture haven’t survived intact since the 1500s. It’s a re-creation, closer to a magnificent decorator showhouse than a museum.
But really, does is matter that Diane de Poitiers or Catherine de’ Medici might not recognize anything in a given room?
In a way, Chenonceau is and has always been a fantasy.
Note: I didn’t take the photo of Chenonceau at the top of this post. Wish I had. All the others were mine.