Clustered in the rural, but bucolic Central region of France, the châteaux de la Loire are certainly stunners. Having once been inhabited by kings, queens, and noblemen, these stately manors are considered one of the finest examples of French architectural history. They draw millions of visitors– French and foreigners alike– to their 100-plus locations each year, as means of admiring their facades in all their splendor.
From my time spent in France these last few years, I’ve had the chance to visit a few châteaux in the Loire Valley. I’ve seen both the big and the smaller ones, including the famous château de Chambord, and with this past October vacances in Paris, I wanted to see the châteaux again.
More specifically, I was interested in visiting château de Chenonceau, which I hadn’t gone to yet. Along with château de Chambord, this particular estate is the second most-visited châteaux in France after Versailles. I’d seen photos of Chenonceau online, and I was immediately captured by its distinctive look, as part of the building is suspended over the river, adding a sort of regal authority to it. After all, it has established itself as one of the most-visited châteaux in France!
Many visitors who choose to go see château de Chenonceau (or any châteaux, for that matter) either take a car or a tour bus– the former is often the French themselves who actually own a car (or rents it) and the latter are day-trippers from Paris. Admittedly, the châteaux are easily a two-hour drive away from the French capital, thereby making a day trip feasible, but long.
There’s also the third option of using public transport, e.g. trains, to the main grounds, although they tend to take more work to do so. In other words, it requires at least one transfer (usually in Tours), and the train schedules are just enough spread out that it means waiting around inside the station for the next ride. Again, it’s also a long trip, but I would say that it takes around the same time (give an extra 30 minutes) to reach Chenonceau.
Since I don’t drive in France, nor did I want to fork over 150€ for a guided day tour, public transport was my best option to see Chenonceau. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of booking trains just a few days prior to going, and tickets were outrageously expensive: I ended up paying 75€ to-and-from Chenonceau, but as long as I could finally see it with my own eyes, I found the purchase (and the long ride) to be worth it.
I woke up early on my third day in Paris to take the metro to Gare Montparnasse, where I would be catching the morning train first to Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (a small town right next to Tours) before making a transfer to Chenonceaux, where the eponymous château is just a three-minute walk away. I’ve experienced long rides in France before, so I didn’t consider the two-and-a-half-hour journey to be difficult.
Arriving around half-past noon to Chenonceaux, I stepped out of the train and made my way over to the ticket entrance. Sadly, the weather wasn’t favorable that day, as it was heavily overcast and rainy– all the same, I braved the less-than-desirable weather to explore the grounds. The entrance fee was pricey at 11€ (with a student card, which I used my old university card), but it granted access both to the château itself and its estate.
It was then a 5-10 minute walk down a long, slightly-muddied path to the château itself. Funny as it sounds, I felt a bit like royalty strolling the path, and I envision how noblemen themselves had arrived to the estate centuries ago, perhaps by horse-drawn carriages. The towering trees appeared to lean in, half-barren from autumn and the auburn leaves scattered on the ground, damp from the rain.
Just adjacent to the château was Diane de Poitier’s garden, still green and filled with flowers. Château de Chenonceau is considered the “château aux Dames” (Lady’s estate), and the garden was dedicated to King Henry II’s most-beloved mistress of the 16th century. In addition, the château itself was once-ruled by Catherine de’ Medici, the king’s wife who had it traded for another château with Diane de Poitiers. It was pretty incredible to see just how much power these women yielded in their era, all the while with the château‘s beauty!
I entered, and I spent some time wandering from room-to-room, as well as floor-to-floor, of the château’s interior. For some reason, I’d had the impression that it would be rather barren, as it was with château de Chambord that I’d visited over a year-and-a-half ago. I was, however, pleasantly surprised, as Chenonceau had a good amount of items to check out, from the lavish royal bedrooms to the symmetrically-tiled hallway to the kitchen worker’s quarters filled with pots, pans, even knives! The building had enough to see to be worth the admission fee, which I greatly appreciated and enjoyed.
Following the interior visit, I headed back outside. It was still raining, and I decided to pop into the estate’s tea room for a late lunch, as well as to get out of the rain. I ended up just opting for an afternoon break, as the menu was outrageously expensive: I ordered a small cake and mulled wine, which came out to nearly 20€! Definitely a rip-off, but at least I could stay warm inside on the cold, fall day.
Afterwards, it was just a matter of killing time, since my train back to Paris wouldn’t be until 16:15. The rain had stopped, so I headed out and explored a cute cottage area behind the château, as well as joined some French children in the hedged maze. Soon enough, I caught the train back, making a change at Saint-Pierre-des-Corps before arriving into Paris half-past 18:00. It’d been a long day of travel just for a few hours at château de Chenonceau but, despite the distance and expenses, I’m glad to have seen Chenonceau– I can confirm that it’s just as gorgeous as it is in the photos (even in dreary weather!).
More adventures to come soon. Until then!