224km (139 miles) SW of Paris; 26km (16 miles) E of Tours
A Renaissance masterpiece, the Château de Chenonceau (tel. 02-47-23-90-07; www.chenonceau.com) is best known for the dames de Chenonceau, who once occupied it. (The village, whose year-round population is less than 300, is spelled with a final "x," but the château isn't.)
In 1547, Henri II gave Chenonceau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. For a time this remarkable woman was virtually queen of France, infuriating Henri's dour wife, Catherine de Médicis. Diane's critics accused her of using magic to preserve her celebrated beauty and to keep Henri's attentions from waning. Apparently Henri's love for Diane continued unabated, and she was in her 60s when he died in a jousting tournament in 1559.
When Henri died, Catherine became regent (her eldest son was still a child) and forced Diane to return the jewelry Henri had given her and to abandon her beloved home. Catherine added her own touches, building a two-story gallery across the bridge -- obviously inspired by her native Florence.
Chenonceau is one of the most remarkable castles in France because it spans an entire river. The way the waters of the Cher surge and foam beneath its vaulted medieval foundations has been described as mystical. Many visitors consider this their favorite château in all of France.
Gobelin tapestries, including one depicting a woman pouring water over the back of an angry dragon, cover many of the château's walls. The chapel contains a marble Virgin and Child by Murillo as well as portraits of Catherine de Médicis in black and white. There's even a portrait of the stern Catherine in the former bedroom of her rival, Diane de Poitiers. In François I's Renaissance bedchamber, the most interesting portrait is that of Diane as the huntress Diana.
The history of Chenonceau is related in 15 tableaux in the Musée de Cire (Wax Museum), located in a Renaissance-era annex a few steps from the château. Open the same hours as the château, it charges admission of 12€ for adults, 9€ children. Diane de Poitiers, who, among other things, introduced the artichoke to France, is depicted in three tableaux. One portrays Catherine de Médicis tossing out her husband's mistress.
[tel] 02-47-23-90-07. www.chenonceau.com. Admission 12.50€ adults and 9.50€ students and children 7–17; combination ticket château and wax museum 14€ adults, 12€ children 7–17; free 6 and under; admission for evening garden light show 5€ adults, free children under 7. Open daily 9am–8pm July–Aug; 9am–7pm last 2 weeks of March; 9am–7:30pm June and Sept; 9am–6pm Oct; 9am–5pm rest of the year.