Chateau de Chenonceau is the second most popular castle/garden visit in France and although a good proportion of visitors are drawn by the history and Gothic/Renaissance architecture, this review focusses on the gardens, which are outstanding in their own right.
Set in the Loire valley, on the banks of the river Cher, these extensive grounds contain many delights to fill a day out for all ages. With a powerful focal point of the Chateau and the Tour des Marques as background, two large formal gardens feature in millions of tourist photographs - simply because the combination is absolutely spectacular.
#1. Catherine de Medici's Garden is refined and ultimately elegant, featuring a central circular pond, five manicured lawns, curving pathways and intensely colourful planted borders. All this is punctuated with immaculate spheres of box shrubs, roses and low lavender hedges.
The French excel at border planting, with those being an especially fine example combining shades of pinks and reds with an unusual and eclectic mix of border plants.
With the river, castle and Orangery set so close, this garden is outstandingly beautiful and it is easy to while away long periods just strolling and taking in its many beguiling facets.
#2. Diane de Poitier's Garden is much larger and more formal, featuring a raised walkway around all four sides which provide an excellent raised view of the central gardens as well as protecting it from the occasional river floods.
The terrace walls feature climbing roses and hundreds of pots from which cascade colourful summer flowers.
In the vast central area are multiple parterre lawns and box hedges along with scores of medium sized shrubs, especially hibiscus. Delicate spiralling patterns of Santolina are etched into the grassed lawns and a newly restored central fountain commands attention with its single, towering waterspout.
Colour schemes here are in the blue spectrum and again the plant and colour combinations are superb.
Both formal gardens were clearly designed to impress, but keen gardeners will also really enjoy the 16th century farm along with the flower and vegetable gardens closeby. Springtime in particular is quite stunning in the flower gardens with rainbow stripes of tulips making a huge and colourful vista behind the overlooking farmhouse. Espalliered apples and pears are also fine examples of the craft close to the delightfully ancient greenhouses.
These are very much working gardens, producing all the content of the wonderful flower arrangements to be found in every room of the castle. These are made twice a week by a team of florists who work in 'the bouquets factory' (a lovely series of old rooms in the farm outhouses). Produce from the vegetable gardens also help supply the kitchens of the various restaurants and eateries of Chenonceau.
Many visitors will miss the wonderful beech wood walks, simply because at first sight they seem less spectacular - until of course you try them. These woodland walks are in reality as good as any other feature and we recommend a half hour be set aside for a sheltered, leafy stroll alongside the river - it is fabulous. And finally the maze will entice children of all a ages to run off some steam while their 'keepers' rest their legs.
Chenonceau is an extremely well designed and managed tourist attraction, but it is also a delightful garden for those who just love plants, beautifully presented. The lawns in particular are manicured within an inch of their lives and the entrance driveway showcases the best of the French art of regal tree lined avenue planting.
Chenonceau is precociously pretty and elegant in the extreme. Its scale also allows it to accommodate large numbers of tourists without impinging on the atmosphere of delightful relaxation.
©GardensOnline - review by Bob Saunders
Author: Bob Saunders.
Eating: The Orangery is a very nice 'white tabelcloth' restaurant looking out over the Jardin Vert
The Self-Service Cafe offers a good selection of hot and cold food and is perfectly situated overlooking the castle entrance and lawns in the old royal stable of the Batiment de Domes.
The Snack Bar (Creperie) is situated by the main entrance ticket office e.g. outside of the main grounds. However visitors can get an exit pass to purchase food here and eat in the picnic area closeby.
Picnic Area - this is a nice grassed area between the entrance gates and car park, alongside the stream. It is large and has picnic tables. There is also a new large covered area - a converted barn that is available for picnic-people on wet days.
Shopping: A souvenir shop is part of the main entrance and ticket hall, it stocks a good selection of quality branded products.
Wax Museum: At the far end of the Batiment de Domes is a waxwork museum dedicated to the women who played such a large part in the creation of the castle and gardens.
Other: There are play areas for children close to the entrance to the farm courtyard and a Donkey Park at the back of the farm.
Disabled Access: All paths are flat and easy for wheelchairs, there is disabled parking close to the entrance and complimentary wheelchairs available. Disabled toilets are also provided.
By Road:It is a 40min drive from Tours on D140; a 50min drive from Blois on D764; from Paris it is a 2hr 30min drive on A10 - exit Blois or Ambois.
By Train: one hour by TGV from Paris-Montparnasse to Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (Tours)
one hour and 35 minutes by TGV from Paris-CDG Airport to Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (Tours)
25 minutes by TER Tours-Chenonceau