France’s Château de Chenonceaux is one of the most popular castles in the beautiful Loire Valley. In fact, it is often listed as the second most visited castle in the country, behind only the Palace of Versailles.
Built in the 16th century this unique structure spans the River Cher near the quaint village of Chenonceau. But, although the castle is spectacular on its own, a visit here should include much more than just the chateau itself.
But the experience gets even better if you take advantage of the opportunity to stroll through not just the formal gardens adjacent to the castle but also through other gardens surrounding the chateau.
Don’t miss the Garden of Diane de Poitiers with its raised terraces located just upstream from the castle, on the right bank of the river. Here you’ll find over 100,000 flowering plants as well as a variety of trees and shrubs with strawberry plants and violets bordering the paths throughout the area.
This is only one of several gardens at the estate, including Catherine’s Garden, the Green Garden and the Vegetable Garden. And don’t forget the restored 16th century farm and farmhouse that feature the Jardin des Fleurs where all of the flowers displayed in the castle are grown.
Add visits to the Circular Maze and the Bouquet Factory and you’ll quickly learn that the castle is only one part of a great experience. But while the castle, its gardens and grounds are unique and incredible, my ultimate visit there includes spending at least some time, and better yet a night, in the small village of Chenonceau itself.
If you’re already in Paris, you’ll be happy to know that the small town of Chenonceaux is only a pleasant two-hour train ride away. And while this is definitely close enough to warrant a long day trip, why waste the chance to spend the night? Located just a short walk from the train stop, the quaint village itself (2007 population:351) offers no “touristy” temptations, which means you won’t be lost in a crowd.
On the opposite side of the railway crossing from the castle, the village does offer a Tourist Office where you can get maps, directions and recommendations. Just continue along the roadway leading away from the castle and across the rails for about 200 yards and then turn right on the next road. The Tourist Office is on your immediate right. But there’s more to do along this road so don’t stop just stop there. Several small and unique shops, including a terrific pottery shop, are located farther along the road.
And to find the best place to stay, continue to the end of the block and on your left you’ll find the ivy-covered walls of the Auberge du Bon Laboureur (http://www.bonlaboureur.com/en/). This magnificent “hotel” occupies a restored 18th century postal relay house as well as its grounds, wonderful garden and several ivy-covered village houses. The guestrooms offer country decor and furnishings, but added modern conveniences include flat-screen televisions with satellite channels and free Wi-Fi.
This is not only the perfect place to sleep; it’s a great place to dine. The on-site restaurant offers traditional French cuisine featuring fresh produce from the hotel’s vegetable garden in either its fine dining room or on its more relaxing terrace. Or, if you’re tired and would prefer to stay in your hotel suite, they offer in-room service as well.
At the hotel, turn right to continue along the street there to enjoy more of the town. You’ll find more restaurants and shops along this street as well. When this street branches in less than 100 yards, take the branch to your right. Soon, on your left, you’ll see a small, quaint square with the town’s 12th century chapel.
This very small chapel, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was restored in the 16th century but if you make your way around to the back of the chapel you’ll get a better view of its historic architecture. Continue a short distance along the road, past the chapel in the square, and you’ll find yourself back at the train station.
My strong advice: do not miss an opportunity to visit Château de Chenonceau, its grounds and gardens. And if you’re visiting Paris anyhow, take the time to ride the train and spend a relaxing night in the village of Chenonceau that’s only a 15-minute walk away from the castle.