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It’s A Women’s World: The ‘Ladies’ Château’ of the Loire Valley

Desiree Michels

Visitors: 84

A French barge cruise on one of European Waterways luxurious, fully-crewed barge hotels is an experience to remember. We firmly believe that there is no better way to explore the Continent than from the water.

The Nymphea hosts our French barge cruise in the Loire Valley, passing under the remarkable five-arch bridge of the Château de Chenonceau. Built in a pale grey stone, the bridge’s symmetrical curves are juxtaposed against the castle’s pointed turrets and enchant our guests time and time again

It’s not only architecture and engineering buffs who fall in love on the banks of the River Cher. The unique history of the Château – spanning from the early sixteenth century to the modern day – is well worth discovering.

Hidden Histories

Cruising beneath the repeated arches of the gallery aboard our French barge cruise, our guests often wonder who created them.

Today we are looking at some of the famous inhabitants of the ‘Ladies’ Château’ - the women who shaped both this beautiful building and France.

The Mistress: Diane de Poitiers

Intellectual, royal-favourite Diane de Poitiers lived in sixteenth-century France; no decorative wallflower, Diane was intelligent and politically savvy. She became so well-liked by King Henry II that she often wrote and signed official correspondence on his behalf using the portmanteau ‘HenriDiane’.

Diane was also the King’s mistress for over two decades – perhaps the most powerful woman in the country. As Henry’s mistress she was given the Château de Chenonceau. Diane not only lovingly developed the gardens, she commissioned the stunning arched bridge spanning the river – one of the most iconic architectural features of the Loire Valley.

The Wife: Catherine de’Medici

Catherine de’Medici was the wife of Henry II and, understandably, was jealous Diane’s influential position in Henry’s court. After Henry’s death Catherine forced Diane de Poitiers, the legal owner of the property, to leave and triumphantly took possession herself. Determined to make the Château her own, Catherine installed a grand gallery running across Diane’s bridge – the strong-willed widow had successfully displaced the trusted mistress.

Under Catherine’s management, the castle became the site for many extravagant parties and, rumour has it, the first ever firework display in France lit up the sky over one of her night time revels.

The Saloniste: Louise Dupin

During the French Enlightenment, eighteenth-century French women were at the centre of literary, artistic and cultural advancements. Louise Dupin, who lived in the Château de Chenonceau with her husband, formed a literary salon there which drew in leaders of the Enlightenment movement such as Voltaire, Condillac, Buffon and Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle.

An intelligent woman herself, Louise saved the building during the widespread destruction of property prompted by the Revolution. Louise pointed out that the arched bridge provided a rare crossing place on the river essential for the movement of people and trade. As a result of her quick thinking and bravery we can enjoy the splendour of the Château de Chenonceau in the twenty-first century.

Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury French barge cruise itineraries. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience


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