What’s the Most Photographed Chateau in the Loire Valley?

Chateau de Chenonceau

Quite the distinction to say Chateau de Chenonceau is the most visited and the most photographed chateau in the Loire Valley in France. It’s also been called the ladies chateau, as ladies have been the most influential in its design…from early on to the stunning structure we see today. Wives, mistresses, widows…all had their hand in the way Chateau de Chenonceau looks.

In the 16th century, Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briconnet demolished an old castle and mill, which were standing on the site. Supposedly wanting to control the River Cher, the chateau sits all the way across it. Soon after completion, the chateau was seized by King Francois I, because Bohier couldn’t pay his debts. His successor, Henry II, gave the chateau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who spent time and money redesigning the expansive gardens.

When Henry II died, his wife Catherine de Medici removed Diane and redid the gardens to her liking. More ladies and more renovations. When walking through the chateau, around every turn, in every room, on every staircase…there is a trace of one of the queens and mistresses who lived here.

Renaissance furniture, massive tapestries, paintings, and a small chapel are in fantastic condition. You can almost see how kings, their queens, and their mistresses lived here. The kitchen is its own special place. Or, should I say kitchens? There is one for baking breads, one for cutting meat, one for pastry work, one for bringing in the vegetables….and more. The copperware collection alone is worth looking at, and be sure to check out the 16th Century chimney in the pantry.

Chenonceau played an important part in more modern history as well. During WWI, the owner allowed the chateau to be used as a hospital, and during WWII one end of the castle was in the Occupied Zone and the other end in French Free Territory.

Definitely one of the prettiest chateau in the Loire Valley…in my opinion. Worth the visit.

For a special treat, have lunch at L’Orangerie, located on the grounds. Take your time…it’s worth it.

 

 

 

Chateau de Chambord…Not Your Typical Hunting Lodge

Chateau de Chambord is the largest of the Loire Valley Chateau, even though it was originally built as a hunting lodge for King Francois I. His main palaces were located at Chateau d’Amboise and Chateau de Blois.

Keep in mind…not what you might expect as a hunting lodge.

It’s grand…grand enough that the Loire River had to be diverted to make some more space for its construction. In fact, the grounds cover 50 square kilometers. As a hunting lodge, Francois I apparently only spent seven weeks here when he was hunting. That’s because his hunting party included around 2,000 people. Difficult, at best, to get that many people all here at the same time!

When walking through, you can see much of the unfinished work in rooms where the moldings are not quite complete or the tapestries are only partially hung. After Francois I died in 1547, the castle remained in a state of abandon for almost 100 years. Several different kings or brothers of kings worked on it and owned it over the next century. That explains the different architectural lines, towers, staircases, rooms, turrets, moats, and roof lines…all with their own variation from side to side and front to back.

Since no records or plans exist on how the original chateau would look, it’s not easy to imagine what the first architect had in mind. Da Vinci’s sketches and influence is easy to spot here. After all, he lived here for a while and was invaluable to the king at that time.

Nothing along the roof line, archways, or skyline looks quite the same from one section to the next. It’s not your typical chateau…yet it’s impressive from a distance and from close up.

You’ll see distinct French Renaissance architecture with traditional medieval defensive structures, classical Italian aspects adapted from Milan and Toscane, a Greek cross-shaped center plan design, intricate sculpted ceiling medallions, countless chimneys, and stairway turrets which seem to go nowhere.

Be sure to look at the central staircase, as it is the architectural highlight of this enormous chateau. The stone staircase rises the entire height of the castle, and is a double helix. This means that two independent staircases are wound around each other. People going up and people coming down the staircase will not meet. Not a narrow staircase, each step is several meters across.

Check out the second floor where this cross-shaped room is unique. Each wing consists of a huge vault adorned with the emblems of Francois I…monogrammed “F” salamanders spitting out water. Supposedly, the spitting water was to extinguish the bad fire and the salamanders swallowing the good fire assisted. You’ll see salamanders all over the chateau…sculpted, not real.

Definitely one of the most notable chateau in Europe, especially since it consists of over 440 rooms. Did I mention it was built as a hunting lodge? Could that be why there are 365 fireplaces throughout? Check for yourself and start counting.