Christmas at Chenonceau

Christmas at Chenonceau

Long post alert…
There’s not a ton of text, but lots of photos.
Lemme explain…

The last time I did a post like this from Chenonceau was in 2016, where I more or less took you on a floral tour of one of the most recognizable castles in France.

Personally, it’s one of my favourite aspects of this castle. Each room has an original floral bouquet, built onsite by master florists, and many of the flowers are grown right onsite, on the castle grounds.

Liz’s brother and his family visited over the holidays and we took them up for a day’s outing. After having done a Christmas visit to Azay-le-Rideau a couple of weeks ago, it was a rare treat to do a second castle in such a short time.

Let’s begin our visit. If you’d like to see an online version of the castle’s official guide, I found one here, on their website. My pictures will follow the same order (slightly adjusted due to covid restrictions).

Note: grouped pictures are clickable to see larger sizes

Arrival & Main Floor

The forecourt is actually the foundation of a much older medieval fortress, with the tower as the only remaining structure. It is surrounded by a moat.

Beyond the forecourt you can see the main part of the castle. It was build by Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briçonnet on the foundations of a fortified mill that was adjacent to the original castle.

Guards Room

This first bouquet is located in the Guards’ Room, a room which, as the name suggests, was occupied by armed men tasked with guarding the castle from ill-intentioned, would-be intruders (not sure how often that occurred, but better safe than sorry). It’s made up of white amaryllis & hydrangea, berried branches, white-painted ferns and gold-painted leaf twigs.

The Chapel

Anytime I’ve been there, the chapel has always been decorated using white flowers, which I suspect is meant to represent purity. Here you can see a large wreath hanging from the ceiling, decorated with various hanging ornaments – both natural and man-made.

You can also see the altar area, flanked by snow-covered Christmas trees and beneath which is a nativity scene, as well as a basin containing white orchids and ranunculus. (the surrounding layer of snow is, of course, fake… but it was EVERY-where and looked so authentic. It really gave a wintery feel!)

Diane de Poitiers’ Bedroom

Diane de Poitier was Henry II’s mistress. He gave her Chenonceau as a gift.

More than just a pretty face, she was also very clever. She managed to greatly increase the estate’s yield in terms of produce and opened up the opposite side of the river to develop the park as well.

The floral arrangement in her room was very unique: a tall box-shaped structure covered in cotton blossoms and fleur-de-lys.

Building the castle

At this point it might be helpful to show you three key dates in this castle’s timeline:

  • 1517: Chenonceau at the time of Katherine Briçonnet
  • 1547: Diane de Poitiers builds a 60m (196′) bridge spanning the Cher River, allowing cultivation on both sides of the river.
  • 1559: Catherine de Medici transforms Diane’s bridge into a 2-story enclosed gallery.

…and speaking of the gallery… let’s continue our tour of the main level.

The Gallery

The gallery is wonderful at any time of the year… very bright as the walls and ceiling beams are bright white and windows line the corridor. But add a parade of ‘snow’-covered fir trees and ever-green garlands … and you have a positively stunning wintery-wonderland.

The floral arrangement at the end of the gallery was simply a giant urn filled with white twigs and white orchids on erupting up from a bed of bright green ivy.

The Kitchens

From the gallery, you go down into the bowels of the castle, into the kitchen complex. Past the bread oven is the butchery area, decorated with white and chartreuse hellebores and ivy.

In front of the fireplace you can see 3 big spits, where game would’ve been roasted with an ingenious crank & weight system… early automation. You can also see us reflected in one of the many copper pots hanging on the wall.

The Larder

While at first, it might seem like flowers were absent from decorations in the larder, look a little closer and you’ll see white roses and orchids hiding amid the table dressings as well as on the cakes, in addition to the white fox-tails hanging from the racks.

The Servant’s Dining Hall

Decorations in here were, on one hand, more subdued than the flashy white of the larder, but on the other hand… warm and rich with their pink & blush coloured flowers, with accents of gold and orange-berried twigs hanging from the ceiling.

Yep… I’d eat there!

Only two rooms left on the Chenonceau’s main level….

The François Ist Drawing Room

The flowers in this room consisted mainly of pink roses and amaryllis, with gold accents and several large baskets of what looked like they could’ve been huge chocolate truffles… although the stem in the one below this bouquet makes me wonder if they weren’t meant to be chocolate apples in stead. (? …hmmmmm)

The Louis XIV Drawing Room

This is a regal room if ever there was. Brilliantly red and the floral decorations always incorporate that as well. Christmas was no exception. Two crimson fir trees stood in front of the two main windows in the room, bordered by red poinsettias.

Beneath and beside the huge painting of Louis XIV (I mean really… check out that frame), were several small floral bouquets that together, made a strong statement. They were made with amaryllis, roses, poinsettias, ornamental apples, and a couple other flowers I don’t know the name of.

Let’s Head to the 2nd Floor…

Coming out of the Louis XIV Drawing Room, we again enter the main hall, before taking a lovely carved stairway up to the second floor.

The second floor landing puts us in the Katherine Briçonnet Hall.

(Remember… she was the original owner of Chenonceau with her husband Thomas Bohier, a wealthy banker from the nearby city of Tours… 16th century.)

At the end of this hall is a balcony overlooking the forecourt where you enter the castle.

Sitting atop a table is this massive arrangement that combines a candelabra, a ball made entirely of dried white strawflowers, yellow cascading orchids, white ferns and plumes of pampas grass.

The 5 Queens Bedroom

This bedroom honors Catherine de Medicis 2 daughters (D) and 3 daughters-in-law (DIL).

  • Margot, wife of Henri IV (D)
  • Elisabeth of France, wife of Philippe II of Spain (D)
  • Mary Stuart, wife of François II (DIL)
  • Elisabeth of Austria, wife of Charles IX (DIL)
  • Louise of Lorraine, wife of Henri III (DIL)

The floral arrangement is composed of a tall gold cone, surrounded, at the base, with a mixture of Christmas balls in gold, pink and orangey accents. The flowers are gloriosa (glory lily) in peach and a green & crimson combination as well as pink and purple orchids.

The Medici Gallery

This gallery hosts an exhibit of articles depicting the castle in various media (porcelain ware, mother of pearl, ceramic, embroidery, etc.) interspersed among panels that recount the history of the castle and its key figures.

The main decoration here… the Christmas tree…

Catherine Medici’s Bedroom

Catherine de Medici was a grand figure in the history of Europe. The only floral decoration was the enlaced double-C made up of dried strawflowers in shades of pink.

The other 5 picture below are from the two tiny apartments just off Catherine de Medicis bedroom. For a time, she ruled France from these rooms; primarily as Regent (1560-1574).

From the first apartment, you can see the pinecone wreaths in the fireplace, the small urns on the mantle, filled with crimson amaryllis and gloriosa. The last two pictures show decorations hanging from a suspended wreath, above a rich red bouquet on the table overlooking the Cher River. This bouquet is made up of red berries, red gloriosa, ranunculus and various red-tinted leaves & grasses.

Cesar of Vendôme’s Bedroom

César de Vendôme was the son of Henri IV and uncle to Louis XIV. In this room, a long table decorated with small pots of white hyacinth and hellebores at the foot of a makeshift birch grove, from which dangled various mosses, feather-like leaves and small tubes filled with chartreuse green and white orchids (which reminde me of Lady Slippers that used to grow in the woods back home).

Gabrielle d’Estrée’s Bedroom

Gabrielle d’Estrée was a mistress to King Henri IV. The three children she had with the king were eventually recognized as legitimate (including César de Bourbon, Duc de Vendôme, whose bedroom we saw above).

Here… lots of pink and blush tones.

On the main table, pink foxtails trailing down from the bouquet tops which themselves are comprised of white-ish ferns & roses, gloriosa, ranunculus and amaryllis. There were pink roses accenting the table-top candle-display and on the bedside bouquets… more pink than blush. I’m not entirely sure, but it looks like a combination of peonie, aster-like flowers, berries, hellebores and various grass / leaf accents (some of which was due for a refresh).

We’re almost done. Let’s go to the top floor…

Third Floor (2e étage)

There’s really not a lot to see on the top floor of the castle. The staircase leads you to the main upper hallway where we saw this…

Lots of pine cones & wreaths in golds, browns and beiges. The ‘hardscape’ is accented with gold-tinted, whispy ferns and swaths of white orchids.

Louise of Lorraine’s Bedroom

This, to me, is one of the more striking rooms and interesting characters in the castle. As to a ‘favourite’, I’d say it’s a tie-up between this room and the green mini-cabinet off of Catherine de Medici’s room, overlooking the Cher.

What’s striking about this room is that it’s almost entirely black in decor and the flowers are always white. Here’s the reason.

Louise de Lorraine was married to King Henri III, who was assassinated on August 1st, 1659. After his death, she retreated to Chenonceau to mourn and to pray. Much of the castle interior was draped in black, but she and the courtiers around her would have been dressed in white – royal protocol for mourning. The room is quite macabre… but that only adds to the startling splendour of the white floral arrangements that can always be found here.

Note the white amaryllis, hydrangea, ranunculus, gloriosa and orchids, accented with sprays of fern and white-painted leaf. The arrangement is largely contained in a black cage-like orb, crested with a plume of black feathers.

The flowers in this room never fail to disappoint.

Out of Doors

To finish off, here are a couple pictures from the grounds, but there really wasn’t too much to see given that the beds had only recently been planted for their Winter/Spring displays which will fill in gradually over the coming months of relatively mild weather.

Here you see two pictures taken from Catherine de Medici’s garden, one looking across Diane de Poitier’s garden and a majestic stag crafted out of … wait for it … chicken wire. Yep… while I make your average (at best) chicken coop out of this stuff… other people are making life-like animals filled with Christmas lights that are lit at night.

So if you have the chance to visit Chenonceau… do so. Whether for the history, the gardens or the flowers, it’s well worth a stop!

3 responses

  1. Pingback: New(s) « AIM Long

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