Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Flowers and Fireplaces at Chenonceau

Among gentle spirits of the air, my France awakens with the early dawn...

You know that scene in the Impressions de France movie at Epcot, where you're floating down the river and suddenly come across a gorgeous castle?

That castle is called Chenonceau, and it was on my must-see list for our trip to France!

We caught the train to Chenonceau from Tours.  Have I mentioned yet how much I adore train travel?  Just the list of cities up on the board makes me excited: Lyon, Poitiers, Orleans.  (Make sure you're saying them in a French accent in your head.  That makes them even more exciting!).

It was about a half hour journey, and the tiny station was right next to the castle.  You literally stepped off the train and into the parking lot!  Past tiny European cars and big tour buses, we followed a long avenue of tall trees...

Soon we came across a lovely green garden, and just across the round hedges and fountains and gravel paths I caught a glimpse of the castle...

The first thing we had to do was go up to the railing by the river to get the same view as in the movie!

Apparently that little tower was built first, and then they built the bigger bit on the left on the edge of the river.  And then they built a bridge going over to the other side of the river.  And then they figured what the heck, we'll make the bridge part of the castle too.

The movie at Epcot only shows you the exterior of Chenonceau.  Sooooo...do you wanna step inside?


We stepped into the first room, and as I was taking in beautiful worn tiles...

...and the incredible designs on the ceiling...

...it took me a minute to notice a very distinct sound.  It was a loud crackling and sputtering noise, sort of like a log fire would make...



I could practically see the knights and ladies gathering round it to warm themselves on a cold March day, just as we were doing on a modern, cold March day!

Chenonceau actually was quite drafty and chilly, and the fires (yes, there were fires going in multiple rooms!) were, I'm sure, partly practical.  But they also added SO MUCH to the atmosphere.  Many museums and stately homes are so carefully preserved, but they feel empty and lifeless.  But not Chenonceau!  I was expecting Diane de Poitiers or one of the King Louis's to step out at any moment!

And it wasn't just the big huge crackling fires filling the big, huge fireplaces that did it.  In every room there were MASSIVE displays of REAL, FRESH flowers.

It felt like the royal family must have been visiting, and the gardeners had been working overtime.  And those gorgeous new flowers juxtaposed with the gorgeous old tapestries and architecture was breathtaking.  It made the castle feel cozy.

There were glorious displays of roses in the gallery.  Apparently some wild parties used to get thrown in here.  You know.  In the sixteenth century.

Seriously, though, if I could have taken those roses along with me, I would have.  I think they might not have fit in my carry-on though...

Down in the kitchen were some sweet baskets of herbs...

I could just imagine the French-equivalent of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes sitting down to the servants' dinner here!

...some new bulbs in one of the small sitting rooms.  There were so many charming nooks and corners in this castle, and the little rooms in the turrets - oh, the little rooms in the turrets.  I want so desperately to live in a little room in a turret like the ones at Chenonceau.

SEE - my outfit even matched! It's like that room and I were made for each other.

 And this is what the ceiling looked like.  Someday, I want a ceiling like that.


We wandered through more rooms and stopped in the chapel, which had graffiti on the walls from when Mary Queen of Scots's troops stopped by.  That's the Mary that Queen Elizabeth beheaded.  Yeah.  NBD. ;)


I loved going up and down the stairs.  You could actually see that the stone steps were warped and worn from where so many feet had passed over the centuries.

I tried to imagine all the different feet that had come this way - ladies in delicate slippers with swishing skirts, gentlemen with clattering swords and boots, kings and queens of France, servants, people fighting for the resistance during World War II (apparently there were German guns pointed at Chenonceau during the war, as one side of the river was occupied and the other side was free!).

There are just so many layers up layers of history in Europe.  It's incredible to ponder and appreciate.

Back out in the sunshine again!  The gardens were lovely, full of spring flowers just beginning to peek up above the earth.  I later read that Chenonceau has an impressive staff of gardeners and florists, and all the flowers from the displays are grown on the grounds!

I had been expecting to love Chenonceau for the way it stands gracefully over the river, but I loved the fires and the flowers that brought the inside to life even more.  I would say it was my favorite castle of the trip, but then...you'll just have to wait and hear about the other castles we visited in the Loire Valley!

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