Cycling to Chenonceau

With one day left in Amboise we decided to make a trip to Chenonceau. This Chateau is often referred to as the women’s chateau, as several women played a key role in the design and construction as well as its history. It is beautiful and grand, and one of the most popular in the Loire region.

We found a map at a local bike store showing a Loire Velo Route that would take us on the opposite side of the river from the tourist entrance, but would give us great views of the castle. This way we would not have to deal with big crowds and lots of walking.

The Loire Velo route from Amboise to Chenonceau

The forecast was for a sunny day in the 90s, so we decided to get a very early start. Riding through the empty streets of Amboise early in the morning, we were grateful to find that it was cooler and overcast. Soon we were traveling through the countryside on our way south. Our route took us through small villages, and alongside rivers where fisherman sat on the banks hoping for a nibble.

The river Cher on the way to Cheonceau

Crossing a narrow one-way bridge we found our way to the trail along far side of the riverCher. As we rode along the wooded bank it felt as if it could have been 300 years ago. Rounding a bend we caught our first glimpse of the castle and a small sign roughly translated as: ‘You are now in the territory of Chenonceau castle, no fishing.”

NO barbed wire, no fences, just a quiet path extending before us towards the most beautiful chateau I have ever seen. La belle France!

Our first glimpse of the Chateau Chenonceau.

The Chateau spans the river, connecting the right and left bank.

Between July 1940 and November 1942 the river Cher was designated the dividing line between occupied and unoccupied France.  During this period the castle was used by the resistance to smuggle people to the opposite side.

This wooden door leads to the small draw bridge over the river.

Standing on the drawbridge I felt a visceral connection to the people who used this clandestine route during WWII.

Some of the women (and men) who played important roles in Chenonceau’s history:

Katherine Briçonnet, wife of the Chamberlain to King Charles VIII supervised the initial design and construction while her husband was a way on the King’s business.

King Henry II appropriated the château to give to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, who built the arched bridge joining the château to the opposite bank of the river Cher. After King Henry II died in a duel in 1559, his widow Catherine de Medici forced Diane to exchange it for the Château Chaumont.

In 1773 the château was purchased by Claude and Louise Dupin. Louise’s literary salon at Chenonceau attracted Voltaire, and many other leaders of the Enlightenment. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was Dupin’s secretary and tutored her son.

Rousseau, who worked on Émile at Chenonceau, wrote in his Confessions: “We played music there and staged comedies. I wrote a play in verse entitled Sylvie’s Path, after the name of a path in the park along the Cher.”

The widowed Louise Dupin saved the château from destruction during the French Revolution, preserving it from being destroyed by the Revolutionary Guard because “it was essential to travel and commerce, being the only bridge across the river for many miles.“ (Excerpts from Wikipedia)

Heiress Margurite Pelouze purchased the château in 1864 and spent her fortune restoring the estate and furnishing it lavishly before going bankrupt in the process.

The Henri Menier family (owners of Menier’s Chocolates) purchased the estate in 1913 and own it to this day. During WWI, Simone Menier oversaw a hospital in the château entirely financed by the Menier family, Over 2000 wounded soldiers were cared for there. During WWII Simone’s bravery led her to carry out numerous actions for the resistance.

The Chateau suffered damage during the Wars from both the Germans and the Allies. After WWII the Menier family contracted with Bernard Voisin, to rehabilitate the structure and the gardens.

Looking back at Chenonceau.

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