The Loire Valley is a rich area of gardens and orchards, inhabited since the middle Paleolithic period. Famed for many Chateaux, the one I visited was Chenonceau, built between 1556 and 1576. It spans the river Cher and was a gift from Henry 11 to his mistress, the lovely Diane de Poitiers.
She adored the chateau and made extensions, also engaging a landscape architect to design magnificent flower and vegetable gardens.
When Henry died, his widow and regent, Catherine de Medici, forced her rival to exchange Chenonceau for another castle – not exactly a hardship but it must have been annoying to abandon a home which had made her happy, and one in which she probably hoped to end her days.
Chenonceau has had a number of
additions over the years, with beautiful galleries on two levels, and wonderful views over the water. On the day I visited it was redolent with the perfume of lilies; delightful flower arrangements from the gardens filled every room.
During the First World War, Chenonceau became a hospital. It treated over two thousand two hundred and fifty four causalities. On the 31st December, 1918, the last patient was discharged from the chateau.
The castle spans both banks of the river. The little adventure I am about to relate is funny now, but seemed a crisis at the time!
Late in the afternoon, ready to leave, I faced a locked door at one end of the gallery. Convinced it was the one where I’d entered, and thinking the coach was in that direction, I asked how to reach the opposite bank. I was dismayed when a receptionist told me the door couldn’t possibly be opened: I’d have to cross by the bridge. Far off in the distance, I could see le pont, and she confirmed my worst fears by saying it was a long way.
The last thing I wanted was to be late, or worse, miss the coach. Close to panic, I rushed across the beautiful gardens and set off at speed once along a pretty path in the woods. The bridge never seemed to get any closer. Hot and perspiring, I plodded on. Half an hour came and went. By then, both path and bridge had vanished. Faced with thick bushes ahead, there was nothing for it but to turn back, and even less time to lose. They must
open that door! On the way I practised my hissy fit, in French. J’etais une dame trop agee pour marcher aussi loin. On doit ouvrir la porte etc etc. I was too old to walk that far. They must open the door…
Amazingly, they understood my French and responded in kind. A woman nearby immediately offered to show me the way. What a fool I felt. I’d been on the correct side of the river all along! We chatted in French all the way, a rare chance to do so, with everyone except the guide speaking only English.
I arrived five minutes before the coach was due to leave. Phew!