24 hours at Château de Chenonceau with Diane de Poitiers


Loire ValleyCultural HeritageNature and Outdoor ActivitiesVillages and CountrysideCouples


Reading time: 0 minPublished on 4 January 2023

The Château de Chenonceau is the stuff of fairytales—delicately pretty, tucked away in the lush Loire forest, it even spans the river Cher like the world's loveliest bridge. Its history is more the stuff of Greek myths, complete with lust, jealousy, infidelity, and ageless beauty. Diane de Poitiers, the royal mistress of King Henri II was one of its most famous residents, helping to transform Chenonceau from a simple country house to the jewel of the Renaissance that it is today. Follow along in the footsteps of the woman hailed as the Duchess of Valentinois, the Mistress of the Moon and "the True Queen of France."

8am: Wake up in the bedroom of the "True Queen of France"

Diane and Henri's love affair was truly one of the romances of the ages, for its grandeur and its drama. Legend has it that Henri and Diane first met when the 7-year old prince was being handed off to Spanish captors for a ransom—the 26-year-old baroness kissed him goodbye. He nursed that tenderness for life, falling deeply in love with the noblewoman two decades his senior, until succumbing to his injuries from a jousting accident. Through their lives they acted as co-parents to Henri's children, co-sponsors of the arts, and often co-rulers, earning her the nickname of "The True Queen of France." While she wove the symbols of the virginal goddess Diana into her mythology, the love between Diane and Henri was certainly not chaste. Though nearly all traces of the king's favorite were erased by a jealous Catherine de Medici, save a small bronze of Diane, from the velvet throne of this bed Diane de Poitiers ruled the king of France. "Sleeping in Diane's bed," wrote Gustave Flaubert when he visited in the 19th century "is worth more than sleeping with a number of other palpable realities."

11am: Ramble through the parterre garden

Though named for the goddess of wild places, one of the first projects Diane embarked on when she came into possession of Chenonceau in 1555 was to revamp its gardens. By the time the Renaissance was in full bloom, the sequestered medieval gardens were passé. According to Chenonceau, the Château on the Water by Jean-Pierre Babelon, Diane set her sights on a two and a half acre barley field. She commissioned a moat on the three sides of the plot not washed by the Cher, erecting sturdy retaining walls against the river's floods. The garden was ideally placed, as Diane was rumored to bathe daily in the water to retain her youthful looks. From a modest field she cultivated a floating paradise, arabesqued with boxwoods, yews, and hibiscus, embedded with a fountain in the center. Diane hewed a Renaissance oasis from a humble field, creating one of France's most magical gardens.

3pm: Tour her art collection, especially Diane as Diana the Huntress

Perhaps the most emblematic glimpse into the mistress of Chenonceau is the portrait by Francesco Primaticcio, hanging in François I's bedroom—it's a snapshot of the way Henri, and the rest of court, viewed his beloved in a gilded frame. Diane is portrayed as Diana the huntress, the Roman goddess of the moon, the hunt and chastity. The statue-like staging of the figures and the color palette are typical of the Mannerist style of the late Renaissance. Diane drips with the emblems of Diana, as she did in life, such as stag's antlers and hunting dogs (the noblewoman was an avid hunter), as well as the crescent-moon diadem. According to art historian Armelle Fémelat in Château de Chenonceau, History, Architecture and Gardens, "the presence of of winged cupids and arrows are veiled references to the king's feelings for the lady." Primaticcio's painting depicts a dynamic goddess, luminious in her own charms and the love of a king rendered into a doting cupid.

5pm: Survey the progress of Diane's bridge

Along with the parterre garden, one of the first things Diane did when she took posession of Chenonceau was to look to the Cher. Since she used its cold water in baths as part of her supernatural beauty regime (as well as elixirs of gold), this was a natural point of focus for her. What she had in mind, according to Babelon's account, was bridging the river to create a gallery, a Renaissance status symbol combining the functionality of a passageway with a banquet hall and ballroom. With this bridge, Diane's château could reach the lush south bank of the Cher while providing more entertaining room. While Diane didn't retain control of Chenonceau long enough to see the gallery in its current glory (Catherine would execute the final stages), Diane laid the foundation for the magical bridge that makes the castle seem to float over the water.

Though Catherine took control of the château after Henri's death in 1559, Diane's influence in Chenonceau is as strong as her influence over the king of France.

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