Discover France and Spain, Issue 13, March 2020

Page 22

The French chateau fit for an Italian queen In the heart of the Loire Valley, a region of France teeming with Renaissance chateaux, Chenonceau and its arched gallery have sat across the Cher river since the 16th century. An architectural masterpiece, Chenonceau demarcates itself by combining French opulence and elements of Italian style. Re-imagined by Catherine de Médicis, Chenonceau became a prime example of aesthetics and pleasant living. But beyond the physical edifice, Chenonceau also stands for a rich cultural heritage ranging from gastronomy to wine-making and floral art. TEXT: PIERRE ANTOINE ZAHND  |  PHOTOS: CHATEAU DE CHENONCEAU

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s one might expect of a French chateau, Chenonceau has a long and eventful history. While the domain itself dates back to the 12th century, the edifice was conceived between 1514 and 1522. Two decades later, in 1547, King Henry II gifted it to Diane de Poitiers, his official mistress. Passionate about the chateau, Diane commissioned an arched bridge straddling the river, as well 22  |  Issue 13  |  March 2020

as flower gardens arranged in eye-catching shapes on the opposite bank. After Henry II’s death, his actual wife, Catherine de Médicis, reclaimed Chenonceau from Diane de Poitiers, and proceeded to commission yet more ambitious modifications and expansions. The queen from Tuscany set out to bring an Italian flair to Chenonceau, overseeing, among other things, the development of the chateau’s

stunning Grande Galerie, which was built along the existing bridge. As queen regent, Catherine had ample room to throw lavish parties, and Chenonceau became famous for its night-time celebrations. In 1560, on the occasion of her son’s coronation, it hosted France’s first fireworks displays. Chenonceau also made the chateau an important point in wine history by implanting the Italian Chenin grape in the Chenonceau vineyard.