Just a glance at the aerial shots of this stunning Chateau, which you will find on the Chenonceau website, are enough to remind me of the grandeur of this special chateau which arches over the River Cher. With more time to give to our visit today (and why should one ever dare to rush such excursions) Georgy, Nick, Brigitte and I explored the chateau interior and I marvelled at the sumptuous furnishings and there is some stunning art including the oh-so-pleasing “Three Graces” by van Loo. There are fresh flowers everywhere and when you visit the gardens later in your visit you can see that most of the raw material for the arrangements is grown on the estate. I remember this chateau, too, for the kitchens with gleaming copper everywhere. And lots of decadent four-poster beds.
Despite the grand and noble impression, the splendour, you gain from Chenonceau, it has a notoriously autocratic and permissive past. The chateau was host to skullduggery, debauchery and its documented history is revelation that, where prominence in affairs is concerned, women aren’t necessarily a whole lot sweeter than men.
Henri II bought Chenonceau for Diane-de-Poitiers, once his governess, now his mistress and, though 20 years his senior, still bewitching. She bathed often in asses’ milk, apparently. Diane created gardens and put the bridge across the river, so that she might hunt on the other side.
On Henri’s death, his widow Catherine-de-Médicis (stout and not beautiful) evicted Diane, and took Chenonceau for herself. She added the gallery to the bridge. She also threw world-class garden-parties (transvestites, nymphs, satyrs) to showcase the monarchical power of her three sons.
The formal gardens are lovely but cannot match the structured and precise exuberance of Villandry. The box hedged area is very pleasant to walk around but the gardens at Chenonceau keep their best behind the scenes, where many of the plants that have been on show in the house, including the autumn fruits, not least the gourds, are being cultivated. Especially the Curcubitaceae: all shades of orange, yellow, green………. they are smooth, ridged, knobbly, spiny, quite otherworldly. As if they have a mind of their own and take flights of fancy and imagination in their growing. Everyone slightly different from its fellows on the same plant.
In the grounds there are massive and ancient trees and widespread carpets of autumn cyclamen form the blush of pale pink that is the ground flora of the tree-lined avenue to the chateau entrance. Over decades, centuries indeed, they multiply and are incomparable in their contribution to the autumnal flowering.
The afternoon draws on and in the end you reach saturation point. Legs are heavy and the iPad is overloaded with images. Time to retreat to our very agreeable gite and wind down. Tomorrow is another Chateau.