With its vineyards, gardens, and blue slate turrets, this countryside chateau straddling a river has the real life magic of a children’s fairytale book.
The first time Jim and I went to Paris, I found a leaflet for Château de Chenonceau in one of those stands filled with travel advertisements while waiting for a train. The picture was so beautiful and interesting that we decided to check it out on a detour to the French Alps. (Last minute travel changes is one of the perks to traveling with a Eurail pass and a flexible schedule). It utterly charmed me.
The main draw of Chenonceaux is its whimsical château. It sits atop graceful arches that span the river Le Cher.
A chateau is kind of like a palace often times mixed with the fortifications of a castle. And even though they were typically the homes of French nobility, they can feel pretty royal.
Château de Chenonceau was built in the early 1500s and has a varied history of owners including mistresses, widows, and mothers to kings. It was also an intellectual salon in the 1700s for the literary elite of the Enlightenment, and largely survived both the French Revolution and WWII. My favorite room is the Grand Gallery, whose length is the entire width of the river.
We came for the château, but fell in love with its adjoining gardens and village. Chenonceaux is a tiny one-lane town with a population under 400. It’s a charming glimpse into the French countryside. We explored the vineyards and forests surrounding the outlying areas, and watched hot air balloons take flight over the Loire Valley.
For many people Chenonceaux is just a day trip, which makes it even more magical after hours when the crowds are gone. We stayed the night in a building as old as the château itself, if not quite as grand: Hostel du Roy. It’s only a ten minute walk to the château and was about half the price of our previous room in Paris.
We had a beautiful al fresco dining experience in the hotel’s gardens. It was typical French food and delicious. We chose the fixed menu which included escargot in an incredible buttery garlic sauce. It was my first time eating snail and it was yummy!
The next morning we left on the train for the French Alps, but not before stopping by a tiny bakery stocked just with the basics. We used our limited French to buy the biggest baguette I’ve ever seen — it was probably about three feet long! It lasted us several days of Nutella sandwiches and snacks.
If you go: Admission to Château de Chenonceau is 13 Euros for adults as of the date of this post. It includes a brochure for a self-guided tour. Avoid group tours if possible because the most enjoyable part of the tour is simply exploring and letting the beauty of it all soak in, which is easiest to do on your own pace. Check their website for hours.
— Laura Rowley