Wednesday, December 26, 2012


{This group of posts pertains to my Christmas vacation in which my family came to visit me. The posts are based on notes I took during the trip and then wrote up after returning. They are post-dated to reflect the proper sequence of events. This is Part 7.}

For this day, we once again had a guide to drive us around and give us tours, but today was all about castles. Castles come in variety of shapes and sizes in France. You have your fortress castles from the early middle ages, you have your palace castles of the fantastically rich and/or royal built during more peaceful eras, and you have Versailles. Yeah, Versailles is its own category. Don't worry, we'll get there.

As we drove along that morning, a new sight greeted me: cave homes. Caves were carved into the rock walls as the stone was quarried to build castles but also normal houses. Then people started integrating the caves into their homes, either living in them entirely or building a front part of the house that connected to the caves. You can see little windows in the rock wall, stable doors at the's really extraordinary.

Our morning was devoted to Chenonceau, a classic and a favorite. The last time I was here it was June and the place was swarming with people. This time we almost had the place to ourselves which made it much more enjoyable. The weather may be nicer in summer, but there are advantages to the off season.

Once a fortress to protect the river ford, it was later given to a merchant who after amassing wealth in trade became a money lender to the nobles. The king gave him the domaine to tax rather than paying off his debts. He wanted the land as visible "proof" of his noble status. Towards that end he tore down all but one tower of the old fortress castle. He left it as a reminder of his "ancient" right to nobility. Then he built a new renaissance-inspired chateau on the foundations of the old water mill. He however ran into accounting issues with the new king following the old king's death (apparently he'd taken more than was his due in taxes and the new king wanted his money back), and fled the country. His sons had to sell the castle and domaine to the king to get out of trouble.

The old castle tower and the 'new' castle

Henry II (the new king) ended up giving it as a gift to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. Diane de Poitiers was a beautiful woman, but she was also very clever and resourceful. She knew her situation was precarious and quickly filed legal work to assure her possession of Chenonceau in case of a falling out. Then Henry died and his jealous (and unfortunate-looking) widow Catherine de Medici took revenge. Fortunately, Diane's legal steps did their job and limited Catherine to trading for Chenonceau rather than simply confiscating it. Diane actually got a more lucrative property out of the deal. During Diane's time, she had built a bridge connecting the chateau to the other side of the river to have easier access to the hunting grounds. When Catherine took possession, as Queen Regent to her young sons, she needed more space for banquets and such so she had the halls built on top of the bridge.

The expansion over the water

It is still owned privately, which is very unusual these days. It's a beautiful location too, over the river and in the middle of very pretty woods. The inside are pretty nice too.

I'm a sucker for a cool bed

The grand hallway
Chenonceau is really a special chateau. Lots of places have expensive furnishings and all that, but as they say in real estate it's Location, Location, Location. 

The approach

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