Tag Archives: Catherine de Medici

Saint Remy de Provence

Set in a lush, fragrant and verdant valley, Saint Rémy de Provence is one of the region’s “must sees”.

It sits on the site of one of the oldest archaeological sites in Europe. Traces of the ancient city of Glanum, founded in the 3rd century BC by the Romans are still visible, including the Triumphal Arch, which was feature of many Roman settlements.

The house of Nostradamus, St Remy
The house of Nostradamus, St Remy

Saint Rémy’s most famous son was undoubtedly the prophet Michel de Nostrodame or Nostrodamus who was born in Saint Rémy in 1503. After working initially as apothecary, or doctor, in 1555 he published a collection of prophecies among which were suggested threats to the family of the King, Henri II. They caught the attention of the Queen, Catherine de Medici and Nostrodamus was summoned to court where he was put to work writing horoscopes for the Royal children. By the time his death in 1566, Nostrodamus was the Counsellor and Physician-in-ordinary to the young King Charles X. Throughout history Nostrodamus has attracted many followers. He is credited with predicting many significant worlds events including the Fire of London, the rise of Napoleon and Hitler, the death of Princess Diana and September 11.

Because of its picturesque scenery and its extraordinary light, Saint Rémy attracted many artists. The most famous of these was Vincent Van Gogh, who produced more than 150 works which featured Saint Rémy and its surrounds. During his time in Saint Remy he was treated at the psychiatric centre of the Monastery of Saint Paul de Mausole.

Today the narrow streets of Saint Rémy are lined with lovely old houses, beautifully restored. They open into shady squares with fountains. There are elegant restaurants and boutiques stocked with all kinds of wonderful things, including clothes, homewares and produce, all with the unmistakeable stamp of the South of France.

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.

Le Chateau d’Amboise

Built in the 11th century, on a steep hillside overlooking the River Loire, Le Chateau d’Amboise enjoyed its first few centuries as a tranquil retreat. Then, in 1434, its owner was convicted of plotting against King Louis XI and the château was confiscated.

Le Chateau d'Amboise
Le Chateau d’Amboise

Once in the hands of the monarchy, Le Chateau d’Amboise became a favourite of the French Kings, who extended and remodelled it in true royal style.

Charles VIII and his wife Anne de Bretagne lived at Amboise and among their many additions to the chateau were some of the first Renaissance decorative motifs ever seen in France. Gardens were established, in the Italian style, and these were later to develop into the formal French style, seen still all over France.

In December 1515, Leonardo Da Vinci came to Amboise as a guest of The King, François I. He lived and worked in the nearby Clos Lucé, which is connected to the château by an underground passage. It was during his time that Amboise reached the pinnacle of its glory. Da Vinci died at Amboise and is buried in the Chapel of St Hubert, adjoining the château.

King Henri II and Catherine de Medici raised their children at Amboise along with their ward, Mary Queen of Scots who had been promised to the future French King François II. Renowned for her redecorating zeal, Catherine de Medici left a significant mark on the appearance of Amboise.

Amboise lost favour with the royals during the religious wars and never regained its standing. In the 17th century it was abandoned and, like so many of the great buildings of France, became a prison. During the French Revolution much of the château was destroyed and more of it fell in the bombings of World War II.

Happily, after the war, Le Chateau d’Amboise was listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture and restoration began.

Le Jardin des Tuileries

Located between the Place de la Concorde and the Palais du Louvre, Le Jardin des Tuileries is one of the most popular, lively and beautiful public gardens in Paris.

Le Jardin des Tuileries
Le Jardin des Tuileries

Established by Catherine de Medici in 1564, Le Jardin des Tuileries  was a playground and a hunting ground for the royals and the aristocracy. Over the ensuing century it was home to stables, a riding school and even a zoo.

Le Jardin des Tuileries became a public park after the French Revolution and by the end of the 19th century it offered all kinds of entertainment, with acrobats, puppet theatres, donkey rides and small boats sailing on its ponds.

Two notable historic buildings stand in Le Jardin des Tuileries.  Designed by architects Firmin Bourgeois and Ludovico Visconti and completed in 1852, L’Orangerie was commissioned by Napoleon III as a greenhouse. It is now a museum of art and its specially designed oval gallery showcases Monet’ s best known work,  Les Nymphéas.

The twin of L’Orangerie, Le Jeu de Paume, was constructed in 1861 to house Napoleon’s tennis courts. During World War two it was used to store works of art expropriated from Jewish families. From 1947 to 1986, when they were transferred to the Musée D’Orsay, it was home to a large collection of Impressionist paintings.

Le Jardin des Tuileries  is yet another great Paris escape. Even though Parisians come in their thousands to enjoy its ponds, its fountains, its flowers, its trees, its cafes and restaurants, its entertainment and its art installations,  there is always a tranquil spot to be found somewhere.