There is something about Chenonceau that is hard to describe.
The “ladies castle” – as it has become known over the centuries – is a piece of living history in France’s Loire Valley that evokes equal measures of beauty, intrigue, misery and awe.
Second only to Versailles, it is the most visited of the thousands of former aristocratic residences open to the public in France. This one is also privately owned.
Straddling the river Cher near the small village of Chenonceaux in the Indre-et-Loire district, the former home of Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers, among many other notable women of French history, the chateau was once the centre of power during the Renaissance.
Built on a site first occupied in the 11th century, it has seen triumph and tragedy over the millennia that have been wonderfully chronicled for visitors to immerse themselves in.
As you stroll the vast halls and stately rooms with an interpretative guided tour if you so desire, you navigate a virtual museum brimming with Flemish treasures, breathtaking artworks and lavish décor.
The castle first became a royal property in 1535 when King Francis I called in unpaid debts and took ownership for the crown. Later, King Henry II gave the property to his mistress De Poitiers who added the stunning archways over the river that today house a grand collection of works by the great masters.
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When the King died, De Poitiers herself was ‘relieved’ of her magnificent property by a jilted Catherine de Medici; the widow of King Henry II decided she would forcibly “re-home” Diane to take ownership.
Catherine added significant improvements and personal touches of her own to the property that also served as a World War 1 hospital for wounded soldiers. In World War II, its place on the river made it a demarcation line between the free and German occupied territories of France.
Chenonceau is today owned by the Menier family who made their fortune selling their chocolate empire to Nestlé early in the 20th century. Simone Menier is said to be the driver behind the superb restoration of the estate that leaves such an impression on all those who see it.
Entry to the castle and its beautiful garden and maze is €12.50 (about $18.50 AUD) for adults and €9.50 (about $14 AUD) for children with an audio-visual guide option available for an additional €4 (about $6 AUD).
It is open year-round from 9:30am to 5pm and for an extra three hours during summer.
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