Chenonceau, Ever After
Forget any notions of damsels in distress. In the Loire Valley, women have made the “Château des Dames” a living, breathing repository of French culture and beauty for 500 years.
Few palaces seem as gloriously out-of-a-fairytale as the Loire Valley’s Château de Chenonceau. The white, turreted castle stretches serenely across the Loire Valley’s slow-moving Cher River, its arches forming perfect O’s with their reflections in the water. With its mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles and expansive formal gardens, its restored interiors hung with tapestries and masterpieces by Rubens and Tintoretto, Chenonceau effortlessly evokes “once upon a time” fantasies.
Behind that fairest-of-them-all façade is a unique fact of history: For half a millennium, the Château de Chenonceau has been under the domain of women.
In the late 1510s, with her husband off fighting wars in Italy, noblewoman Katherine Briçonnet oversaw the château’s construction, incorporating her own designs and hosting King François I in her new home. In 1547, King Henri II gave Chenonceau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who added gardens and the bridge over the Cher. After the king’s death, his wife, Catherine de’ Medici, banished Poitiers to nearby Château Chaumont and took up residence herself. Her contributions: the dazzling Grand Gallery, with its checkered slate-and-chalk floors and crystal chandeliers; expanded gardens; and France’s first-ever fireworks display, held here to mark her son’s ascension to the throne.