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Chenonceau is the most-visited château of the Loire Valley, and is the only one built across a river.

The former Royal palace gets over one million annual visitors, making this one of the most popular attractions in the Loire Valley. The building has been classified as a Historic Monument ever since 1840 by the French Ministry of Culture, and is part of the UNESCO Loire Valley World Heritage Site. 

Chenanceau is most famous for its setting across the river. It’s as if the building formed a sort of island or ship moored in the rapidly running Cher River, which joins with the Loire River a few miles away. The current château was built in 1514 - 1522 on the site of two earlier palaces, but it took another 60 years to expand and complete the château wing on the bridge across the river, all built with an architectural mixture of late Gothic and early Renaissance.

About a decade after it was built, in 1535, the château was seized by King Francis I of France for unpaid debts to the Crown, and after Francis' death in 1547, his son, King Henry II offered the château as a gift, not to his wife, Catherine de’ Medici, but to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who became fervently attached to the château along the river.  Henry also gave his girlfriend Diane much more political power while generally ignoring his young wife Catherine for the next decade.

Diane extended the château across the river and oversaw the planting of extensive flower and vegetable gardens along with a variety of fruit trees, giving large attention for the next decade. 

King Henry II died in 1559, and his strong-willed widow Catherine de' Medici took her revenge and forced Diane out of the château, making Chenonceau her own favorite residence.

As ruler of France, Catherine spent a fortune on the château, eager to outdo the work of her rival, Diane.  Catherine expanded the grand gallery crossing river, added many more rooms, and a new series of gardens, and she staged spectacular nighttime parties, including fireworks.

Catherine's son-in-law then became King Henri IV and gave Chenonceau to his mistress. By 1650, King Louis XIV was the last Royal to visit, bringing to an end the crown possession. in 1720 The château was purchased by the Duke of Bourbon who eventually sold off all of the castle's contents, with many of the fine statues ending up at Versailles.

In the 1700s it became a gathering place for leaders of the Enlightenment such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Then during the French Revolution it was spared from destruction, because it was the only bridge across the river for many miles.

The château was sold several more times and finally purchased in 1913 by the Menier family, which still owns it today,  and welcomes visitors every day of the year.

During those many years of development the château changed ownership in a very complicated series of royal events that seem like an exaggerated historical movie, involving a bitter competition between a king's wife and his mistress. 

You do pay a normal admission fee to go inside but the extensive gardens all around it are free, and so is the view of the château from the outside which is actually the most enjoyable part of the visit anyway.

Our series about the châteaux of the Loire is also bringing you to Amboise, Chambord, Cheverny, Azay, Blois and other places, with our home base in the city of Tours.


Loire Valley

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