Azay-le-Rideau, the Loire Valley’s smallest chateau

Constructed between 1515 and 1527, by Gilles Berthelot, a wealthy financier of François Premier, the château of Azay-le Rideau is hailed as one of the masterpieces of 16th century architecture.

Le Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau
Le Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau

Although relatively small, Azay-le-Rideau embodies all the French Renaissance grace, elegance and style of its bigger and bolder neighbours, like Chambord and Chenonceau.

The charm and romance of Azay-le Rideau is underscored by its beautiful setting. It stands on an islet in the middle of the River Indre, surrounded by rolling parklands.

Azay-le Rideau is now on the UNESCO world heritage list.

 

Le Chateau de Chenonceau

The Château de Chenonceau was built in 1521 by Thomas Bohier. It did not remain long in Bohier hands, however. When the family failed to pay outstanding debts to the Crown, the king, François Premier, seized the property and added it to his considerable collection of Loire Valley estates.

Chateau de Chenonceau
Chateau de Chenonceau

In 1547, Henri II installed his mistress Diane de Poitiers at Chenonceau. During her time there, she established the extensive flower and vegetable gardens, set up a silk worm farm and a thriving weaving business, had an arched bridge constructed to join the château to the opposite riverbank. In 1555, she was officially granted ownership of Chenonceau.

Unfortunately, in 1559, Henri II died and Diane de Poitiers lost her protector along with her position as mistress of Chenonceau. Immediately after the King’s death, his strong willed widow, Catherine de Medici, expelled Diane from the château and moved in herself. During her time Chenonceau was the scene of extravagant soirées and in 1560, when François II took the throne, the occasion was marked by a spectacular display of fireworks – the first ever in France.

When Catherine died in 1589, the château passed to her daughter-in-law, Louise de Lorraine-Vaudemont, wife of Henri III who was assassinated. Louise fell into a depression after the demise of her husband and draped her quarters in sombre black tapestries emblazoned with skulls and crossbones. She spent her last years wandering the vast hallways dressed in mourning clothes. The château, once so beautifully maintained and so alive, fell into silent decay.

In the 1770s a squire named Claude Dupin bought Chenonceau and his wife brought it back to life. Somehow, too, she saved it from destruction during the French Revolution.

In 1913 the famous chocolatiers, the Meniers bought the château and it remains in the family to this day.

During World War I Chenonceau was used as a hospital and in World War II, it served as an escape route from Nazi occupied France on one side of the river Cher to the free zone on the opposite bank.

By 1951, le Château de Chenonceau had been completely restored and it is now, after the Palais de Versailles, the most visited castle in France.