Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley, France - egg & dart blog
Art, design, Visiting France

Chenonceau again

Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley, France - egg & dart blog

It’s not the first time we’ve been to Chenonceau, and, you might remember, not the first time I’ve written about it (1 & 2). But it is one of those places that you hold dear to your heart. There is something about it besides its location spanning the beautiful Cher River, or its grand but comfortable dimensions, or even its ornate detail. It must be its soul.

Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley, France - egg & dart blog

Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley, France - egg & dart blog

Halloween day turned out to be a glorious sunny day in central France and, lucky us, R and I had planned to leave É and his Mamette to have fun for the day while we went our way. The first time we’ve been gone that long since he was born I think.

It was autumn, my favorite season, and I knew I wanted to go soak up the inspiration and beauty of my favorite chateau. That we needed that. Luckily R was in complete agreement and, to our surprise, we realized it had been more than 5 years since our last visit, after our French wedding in 2011. So we set out for Chenonceau.

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The Chateau dates to the 16th century when Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briçonnet demolished the existing castle and mill to build the chateau we see today, minus the wing spanning the river. Katherine supervised the work and incorporated modern art and design, like the flights of straight rather than spiral staircases, a model brought from Italy.

Katherine lived for just two years longer after the castle was finished but she said and had carved into the doors, along with their initials ‘TBK’, this saying: “S’il vient à point, me souviendra” (If it is completed, I will be remembered). I think she succeeded.

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Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley, France - egg & dart blog

Known also as the ‘Chateau des Dames‘ (castle of the ladies), Chenonceau was seized by the crown from Katherine’s son for unpaid debates and King Henri II’s mistress, the famous Diane de Poitiers took up residence. She oversaw the building of the wing over the river, at that time a bridge, and extensive flower and vegetable gardens. While she was particularly fond of Chenonceau, she was forced to give it back to Henri’s widow at his death, Catherine de Medici, who transformed the bridge into a 2-story wing where she hosted spectacular fêtes and balls. The first fireworks seen in France were displayed over Chenonceau.

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Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley, France - egg & dart blog

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The clever contraption above has a weight on the other end of the rope which hangs out the window over the river. As the weight drops down, the movement rotates the spits on the fire in the kitchen!

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Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley, France - egg & dart blog

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The bedroom on the second floor where this arrangement was is called the Five Queens Room for Catherine’s two daughters and three daughters-in-law, one of whom was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. There were so many people visiting I wasn’t able to photograph them, but Mary’s guards left fascinating graffiti carved in the chapel walls on the first floor, including “Man’s anger does not accomplish God’s justice.

Year-round the chateau is filled with the amazing arrangements of Jean-François Boucher. They are always perfection and are an integral part of what keeps the chateau and its history alive for visitors. You can follow his work on Instagram.

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Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley, France - egg & dart blog

Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley, France - egg & dart blog

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The line of ladies of Chenonceau continued when Louise de Lorraine withdrew to mourn her husband, King Henri III, to this room on the top floor in 1589. With black walls adorned with the symbols of mourning and dark textiles, Louise would have glowed in royal white mourning clothes in this room. While hers was the last royal residence of the chateau, the line of women mistresses continued even through the World Wars when Chenonceau played an important role as a hospital.

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Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley, France - egg & dart blog

Here I promised myself that I would offer a visual tour of our time at Chenonceau and not go into too much written detail! But I love this place and its history is such a fascinating and important part of its soul.

If you can, plan your visit to the chateau so as to finish in the dying light of the day before you leave. The magic of the windows spilling golden light onto the gardens and river is not to be missed! Like being able to peek in to see the household of Catherine de Medici bustling around preparing for the evening meal to be laid. The past still lives here.

Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley, France - egg & dart blog

Chateau de Chenonceau

open year round with special decorations for the holiday season

xo,

A.

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Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog
Art, design, Visiting France

Visiting Le Chateau de Malmaison

Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog

May was full of not only long weekends here in France, but a strange mix of weather highs and lows. The weekend of (American) Mother’s Day corresponded to a summery high that made you feel like you were on vacation in your own town. I had wanted to visit Josephine Bonaparte’s home at Malmaison for a few years but the timing was never right – Malmaison is known for its roses and I really wanted to visit when they were in bloom. Unfortunately, we were a mere two weeks early for the roses that weekend but that didn’t bother us in the least because what we discovered was a fascinating building surrounded by wildflower lawns and bordered by a beautiful bois (wood).

Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog

The Chateau de Malmaison is not big like Versailles or perfectly conserved like Chenonceau but what makes it worth a trip is its visitable size (you aren’t completely exhausted by the end) and its fascinating history. Many chateaux in France are furnished as they may have been or were during the French renaissance or before but the Bonapartes’ chateau is from a much younger period and one that you don’t often see in such a context. Bought by Josephine while Napoleon was in Egypt, the chateau was decorated almost completely around the theme of military campaigns (albeit, the very rich and fashionable version) and classical and Egyptian motifs. This influence is in every detail – the arrow shaped curtain rods, the x-benches used throughout, the striped wall hangings – but what I found most striking were the wonderful and saturated color combinations in so many rooms.

On the first floor, one of the first rooms you visit is the billiard room which happened to be my favorite palette in the house – that wonderful verdigris green contrasted with the vibrant orange. Then the music room with cobalt blue walls lined with saturated red upholstered furniture trimmed with black. And everywhere, even on Josephine’s harp, the military detailing.

Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog

On the other end of the first floor, past the dining room, are Napoleon’s council room and library where the military imagery is on full display, the council room being swathed in draped striped fabric to mimic a military tent ornamented with regal eagles, lions, and mythical creatures.

Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog Chateau de Malmaison, France | egg & dart blog

When Napoleon and Josephine divorced, she kept Malmaion and lived there until her death. The upper floor is a mix of rooms that show her softer, simpler style and spaces that were converted to exhibition rooms after the house became a museum. On display are stunning collections of hand-painted china she commissioned displaying scenes of Egypt, artworks she collected from both classical and contemporary artists, and David’s original painting of Napoleon Crossing the Alps (originally commissioned by the King of Spain, four versions were eventually made).

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The gardens around the chateau were converted to the English style by Josephine and remain beautifully simple and natural, much of the lawns being taken over by wildflowers. The gardens are also home to some remarkable trees, brought back from Napoleon’s travels.

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While the Chateau de Malmaison is not the grandest castle, it is worth the visit on a longer trip to France for the uniqueness of its story and interiors. Access is very easy and parking is right next to the castle. But be sure to plan some time to visit the Bois-Préau next to it, planning a lunch picnic there is a great idea, because it will only add to the enchantment of the visit which truely feels like you’ve escaped Paris for the afternoon. Oh, be sure to take the well-done audio guide that is included in the price of admission. Although, you may be required to share as Romain was!

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Chateau de Malmasion and Bois-Préau

Avenue du château de Malmaison
92500 Rueil-Malmaison

xo,

A.

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Life, Visiting France

Azay-le-Rideau

 

On our mini-vacation at the end of last week there was one thing I knew I really wanted to do: visit the chateau of Azay-le-Rideau. The Loire Valley is littered with chateaus and I’ve been lucky enough to visit a handful but there remains plenty to discover. And I remember when I first learned about Azay-le-Rideau in my French art and architecture class in Grenoble – the image of this particular chateau captivated me the most.You see, it is built somewhat in the Indre river. It has water on all four sides and streams that meander through the park. So I convince husband and mother-in-law (who were eager to visit too) and we made the trip.

Before touring the chateau, we took a quick turn around the park. The rain had decided to take a break and sun peaked out once in a while. We were lucky. And even just looking around the landscape and the outbuildings, I started to notice that this place was all about perfect details. Gilding on roof pitches,decorative carving on stone borders… I’ll let to pictures show you.

When we started the tour of  the chateau, we followed the signs and climbed first up the central stairs to the attic. A brilliant place to start seeing the building, we were able to peer into the soaring roofs built of timber felled in the winter of the early 1500’s. What detail and thought was put into such a thing as roof beams at the time! It is beautiful and shows such pride in the skill that has now been listed on the UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage. The semi-circle under the post seen above would have even once been decorated with a crest.

Thought and detail everywhere. The wavy pattern carved into the shutter and door panels (top right) throughout the chateau is called a linen-fold pattern, like the folds of a pressed napkin.

We all agreed that it is a beautiful chateau and one I would recommend visiting if you ever have the chance. And keep your eyes open for hidden details! You can read more about the history here or here.

xo,

A.

 

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