Thursday 29 December 2011

Chenonceau in winter

approach to Chenonceau, no people...
Last week we had Sarah, my cousin's daughter to stay. Playing tourist with someone who is seeing for the first time what treasures the Loire valley has to offer is always great fun; especially when she is an art history major. 

Sarah looking down the long gallery
We picked her up at Orly airport early in the morning. We had lunch in Amboise and found time to buy some handmade chocolates at a very busy chocolatier before heading to the Clos Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci's residence where he died in 1519. The king of France, Francois I had coaxed him to come to France and he's buried in the chapel of Amboise castle. Sarah wanted to see it and the collection of models of Leonardo's inventions.  It was so quiet we literally parked at the entrance and had the place to ourselves:- an advantage of visiting on a cold grey winter's day. In the summer it is absolutely heaving with visitors.

The next day we had to pick up our pintade from Loches market and this gave us an opportunity to show Sarah the Caravaggios we've mentioned before and pay a quick visit to St Ours to see Agnes Sorel's tomb. There was quite a bit of fallen plaster in St Ours, presumably it had been knocked loose by the recent storm, Joachim.

Sarah, Niall and a christmas tree!
Having got our pintade we drove up to Chenonceau for the main visit for the day. Again it was really quiet. A place like Chenonceau will always have visitors, no matter what day of the year but there were only about 20 cars in the parking lot and not a tourist bus to be seen. In Chenonceau terms that is empty!

It meant that we were able to enjoy the full impact of the allée of plane trees leading up to the chateau.

Catherine de Medici
real log fire in the five queens' bedroom
It was a great visit as, with the christmas trees, floral displays and roaring fires it had a lovely ambiance. You weren't part of some demented rugby scrum trying to see the art treasures hung on the walls such as small Poussin landscape and the portraits of the two most well known owners: Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici. Diane was the favourite mistress of King Henry II. Catherine de Medici was Henry's wife and after Henry's death 'appropriated' Chenonceau from her longtime rival Diane. 

It was interesting to re-visit the unusual black painted 'mourning room' of Louise de Lorraine wife of the assinated Henry III although we weren't quite convinced by the white christmas tree with black decorations. 

Soon after we entered a bus load of tourists did come pouring in armed to the teeth with camcorders but they were obviously on a tight schedule as they went from room to room at a rapid pace and soon disappeared over the horizon. We took our time and enjoyed the christmas decorations as much as the chateau.


the fly in the web said...

That was a wonderful tour!
I used to wish friends would come over in winter to be able to get the most of visiting 'tourist' sites.

Have you visited Oiron?

Susan said...

Personally, the things I head straight for are the portrait medallions. If you want to get an accurate image of the historical characters, it is the medallions that provide it, not the idealised portraits. It's such a shame there isn't one of Gabrielle d'Estrees.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - no we haven't. Just looked at where it is and it's not too far for us to go and have a look.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Susan - it is a pity that Gabrielle is missing. I like the irony of Catherine ostentatiously re doing the chimney brest in Diane's bedroom and her portrait looming over the room.

The Broad said...

Sounds like the perfect tourist day to me... Sigh ... I loved Chenonceau and would love to visit it when its not early September -- which was still better than August. You sound to me like the perfect hosts! Happy New Year!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Broad - it was :-) We had a very easy to please guest!
Happy New Year to you too! All good things for 2012!