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"Spanning the languid Cher River via a series of supremely graceful arches, and encircled by formal gardens and landscaped parkland, Chenonceau, not to be confused with the village spelled Chenonceaux, is one of the most elegant and unusual of the Loire Valley chateaux. In stark contrast to the ostentatious drama of Chambord and Blois, or the martial posturing of Chaumont and Loches, Chenonceau feels curiously serene and superior, delighting purely in the aesthetic quality of its architecture and its glorious surroundings.
"So it’s perhaps unsurprising to find that this architectural fantasy land is largely the work of several remarkable women (hence its alternative name, Le Chateau des Dames ‘Ladies’ Chateau’). The initial phase of construction started in 1515 on the orders of Thomas Bohier, a court minister of King Charles VIII, although much of the work and design was actually overseen by his wife, Katherine Briconnet. The chateau’s distinctive arches and one of the formal gardens were added by Diane de Poitiers, mistress of King Henri II. Following Henri’s death, Diane was forced to exchange Chenonceau for the rather less grand chateau of Chaumont by the king’s scheming widow, Catherine de Medicis, who completed the construction and added the huge yew-tree labyrinthe (maze) and the western rose garden. But Chenonceau’s heyday was under the aristocratic Madame Dupin, who made the chateau a centre of fashionable 18th-century society and attracted guests including Voltaire and Rousseau (the latter tutored the Madame's son). Legend also has it that it was she who single-handedly saved the chateau from destruction during the Revolution, thanks to her popularity with the local populace.
"The chateau’s interior is crammed with wonderful furniture, tapestries and paintings, as well as several stunning original tiled floors; the piece de la resistance is the black-and-white chessboard floor of the 60m-long Grande Gallerie spanning the Cher, scene of many a wild party under the auspices of Catherine de Medicis and Madame Dupin. During WWII, the Cher apparently marked the boundary between free and occupied France; local legend has it that the Grand Gallery was used as the escape route for many refugees fleeing the Nazi occupation." [Lonely Planet France, —Aug 2010]
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