Of all the beautiful chateaux along the Loire, Chenonceau, built in 1513, is the one I have visited and loved the most. Which is why I can always go back again to walk that grand gallery over the Cher river, delight in the exquisite floral arrangements in each room, and read about the rivalry of Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers and visit their competing gardens.Their iron, but very feminine, fists in their velvet gloves always preserved Chenonceau in times of conflict and war.
This year with my six-year-old granddaughter as my tour guide, I visited places in the 70 hectares that I had never seen before–the Maze, the extensive greenhouses and gardens where the flowers for those beautiful displays are grown and arranged (did I think they call 1-800-FLOWERS ??), the stables, the XVI century farm, and the historic display of the chateau’s use as a military hospital during World War I.
Very often it’s not the grand vistas but the intricate details that are most remembered from our travels. Enjoy this array of exquisite bits of flotsam and jetsam from my travels in England and France.
From the flower market on Île de la Cité to Le Tour Eiffel peaking through the trees to the irises at a bed and breakfast in Amboise to pink tulips in the garden at Chenonceau and its wisteria covered cottage to a colorful array of tulips behind Notre Dame to touches of color at Villandry to the spring green of the cloisters at Mont Saint-Michel and, finally, to the sacred grounds of Normandy.
I have visited Chenonceau three times. The first time with my daughter in the dead of winter. I was doing my motherly “duty” and visiting her during her first year of living abroad in France. The program that was to help her find a job didn’t work out and she was on her own, finding both friends and employment. We spent over a week staying in three different chateaux and visiting many of the rest.
But Chenonceau always stuck in my mind with its graceful arched bridge spanning the River Cher. It was commissioned by Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of Henry II in 1555 who also oversaw the planting of extensive flower and vegetable gardens. Set along the banks of the river, but buttressed from flooding by stone terraces, the exquisite gardens were laid out in four triangles.
After King Henry II died in 1559, his strong-willed widow Catherine de’Medici and forced Diane to exchange it for the Château Chaumont and made Chenonceau her own favorite residence, adding a new series of gardens. Only is France will women complete over the same man with dueling gardens!