Located on the River Cher east of Tours between Blere and Montrichard the Château de Chenonceau is the 2nd most visited château in France. This is the chateau most easily visited from our Loire Valley Cottages in Vrigny, Franceuil and Bourre being within walking/ cycling distance from Franceuil, cycling or 4 minutes drive from Vrigny and 10 minutes from Bourre. Walk along the river bank on the south side (left bank) of the river Cher right past the chateau.
The chateau itself is open daily except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, from 9am in the morning until dusk / 8pm in summer. In July / August it open again 9.30-11.30pm for ‘Son et Lumiere, the gardens are lit and there is music from Arcangelo Corelli. In July / August it is possible to hire a coracle on the river from the chateau so you can go through the arches.
The “Chateau des Dames” has been influenced by three great women – Katherine Bigonnet who built the chateau you see today; Diane de Poitiers who built the bridge across the river, and Catherine de Medici who added the Grand Gallery (on the bridge), the Library and the Chapel. Today you can visit the chateau and see these lovely rooms, which also house period furniture, paintings by great masters such as Reubens and Tintorretto and 16th century Flemish tapestries. The chateau is always full of the most wonderful flower displays from the gardens.
The gardens include 70 hectares of woodland where you will find a maze; the smaller garden of Catherine de Medici (on the right of the chateau) and the large Diane de Poitiers comprising 8 triangles with flowers and rose bushes with the original central fountain, a retaining wall and a raised walkway. The potager or vegetable garden is well worth a visit, this is where the flowers are grown, there are 12 sections surrounded by 240 layered apple trees and 220 Queen Elizabeth roses. As well as flowers you will see all sorts of vegetables.
The Orangerie Restaurant serve some of the best cuisine in the Loire Valley with views of the chateau. It open for lunch all the year except winter from mid November reopening in March; there is also a self service restaurant (also closed in winter).
The chateau and mill at Chenonceau was originally owned by the fiefdom of the Marques family; the original chateau burnt down in 1412 and the new Chateau and mill built in te 1430s were bought from Pierre Marques by Thomas Beher, Chamberlain t Charles VII. He demolished the chateau leaving the keep (Tour de Marques) and built a new residence in 1515-1521. His wife Katherine Briconnet (one of the dames in ‘Chateau des Dames’) was overseer of the works, and hosted Francois I twice. After the death of Francois I his son, Henri II seized the Chateau for unpaid debts. In 1547 Henri II gave the Chateau to his mistress Diane de Poitiers; she built the arched bridge across the river and the gardens. When Henri died in 1559 his wife Catherine de Medici seized the chateau, she added the Grand Gallery and the Library and Chapel.
When Catherine died in 1589 the chateau passed to Louise, wife of Henri III, however he was assassinated and Louise became very depressed and forever wandered the chateau painting the walls black with skull and crossbones. Henri IV paid off Catherine’s debts and took the chateau for his mistress Gabrielle d’Estres; their 6 year old daughter was betrothed to the 4 year old César de Bourbon, Duc de Vendome. The Duc de Bourbon bought the chateau in 1720, but he sold off the contents, some of which are in Versailles. The chateau was sold again in 1733 to Claude Dupin, he was a widower and married for the second time, to Louise the daughter of an actress. She ran a literary salon, visitors included Voltaire; she saved the chateau during the Revolution. The Meunier (chocolate) family acquired the chateau in 1913,; during the first World War it was used as a hospital. They still own the chateau it and restored it in the 1950s after the great River Cher flood of May 7th, 1940 and its use for Les Passeurs during the second World War.