Castles and picnics are two things that I very much enjoy. So, since today was picnic day, I’d been keeping my eyes glued to the weather forecast for the Loire Valley for the past week. Even though the report had consistently been calling for rain, I was cautiously optimistic that it would turn out to be wrong—unfortunately, it wasn’t.
This morning, we woke up to chilly temperatures, gray skies and growing puddles—due to these less-than-desirable conditions, we had to cancel our château-side meal. But, just because we weren’t able enjoy lunch in front of a castle didn’t mean that we couldn’t pay a visit to one! So this morning, we packed our umbrellas, put on our rain jackets and made our way to the Château de Chenonceau.
Built across the River Cher in the Loire Valley, Chenonceau is known as one of the most beautiful châteaux in France. With its mix of Gothic and early Renaissance architecture, stunning gardens and illustrious history, it’s no wonder why it is the second-most visited royal residence in the country, behind the Palace of Versailles.
If there’s anything you need to know before making a trip here, it’s this: Go as early in the day as your itinerary allows. We arrived at around 10:30 am and made it through the tour before the crowds really had a chance to impact our visit. Our local guide expertly led us through the ornately decorated rooms, providing interesting commentary along the way.
From being given as a gift by King Henry II to his mistress Diane de Poitiers (she would later be thrown out by the jealous queen Catherine de Medici upon Henry’s death); to surviving the French Revolution unscathed thanks to the kindness of its owner, Louise Dupin; to serving as a means of escape from the Nazi-occupied zone on one bank of the river to the free zone on the other side during World War II, Chenonceau has seen its fair share of history.
Another interesting piece of information I learned is that the only original furnishings that remain in the castle today are the tapestries. The reason for this is because when kings and their courts traveled, they would bring all of the furniture with them. Larger pieces would be disassembled before departure from one palace and then reassembled upon arrival at the next. So, due to excessive wear and tear, very few have survived to see the present day.
The last stop I made before returning to the bus was at the gardens, where you can get some striking views of the castle. For me, the colorful flower beds, sculpted hedges and perfect pathways were the cherry on top of our memorable rainy-day visit.
Have you ever visited a château in France? What was your favorite one and why?