Since we're leading a cycling vacation through the Loire Valley this summer, we made a quick day trip to check out some of the Châteaux that were on our itinerary. And among them, we absolutely fell in love with Châteaux de Chenonceau.
The château is really well-preserved and can be somewhat crowded, but it's simply gorgeous, and it's got some really interesting history, which is explained quite well in the exhibition that's set up in the gallery. That'd be the gallery that extends out over the River Cher (not named after the iconic diva, unfortunately).
All of the rooms are furnished, and you're encouraged to tour them in a particular order so that you can follow along with your audioguide (and it's a really good audioguide, at that). If you're not on an audioguide, make certain that you don't miss the kitchen, which is downstairs. It was a highlight of the tour, I thought, but our private guide mentioned that frequently, people miss the lower level entirely.
As for the history of Chenonceau, I don't want to give everything away, because you should really experience the place to learn for yourself, but I thought it was fascinating that King Henri II gave the Châteaux to his favorite mistress, Diane de Poitiers, because it was so awesome. Then, after Henri II died, his widow, Catherine de' Medici evicted Diane, sent her to a less-spectacular Châteaux, and moved into Chenonceau, her own self! It's kinda like a 15th Century "Real Housewives of the Loire Valley."
Catherine de' Medici, once she was ensconced in the Château, re-did the gardens, which, I have to say, are really, really lovely. Don't spend so much time inside that you miss the grounds because they're gorgeous.
The history continues into the 20th Century, though. For example, during the first World War, the gallery was used as a military hospital. And, in World War II, since the River Cher was the Line of Demarcation between Nazi-occupied France (the Zone occupée), and the Zone libre, the gallery that spanned the river was used to allow people to escape the Nazis.
Of the châteaux we saw on our trip, each was different, and they were all really stunning. But Chenonceau is extra special if you ask us. That's why we're really excited that it's one of the stops on our upcoming cycling trip through the Loire. If you're interested in joining us, space is extremely limited, since it's a small group trip), but the cycling is not especially arduous (each day is broken up by visits to Châteaux, vineyards, small villages, and wineries), and we'll take care of making certain that your luggage is transported from hotel to hotel. If you might be interested in joining us, let us know!