Chenonceaux is an hour or so southwest of Paris (if you take the TGV). As you can see from the pictures above and below, the major part of the chateau is built over the Cher river.
Here is a view of the Cher from the chateau's library:
Desperate Castlewives: Chenonceaux was a focal point for the dramatic soap opera between Henri II, his queen, Catherine de Medici, and his mistress (20 years his senior, the grand dame of all cougars) Diane de Poitiers. All three of them lived in the chateau at the same time, an arrangement that caused Catherine some distress. I can't imagine why.
At one point the jealous queen had a hole drilled between her room and Henri's so she could see what the randy king was up to. Voyeurism? Emotional masochism? Who can say--maybe both. In any case, Henri II died in a fairly stupid jousting accident, after which Catherine booted Diane out, taking over Chenonceaux and ruling France from its tranquil surroundings for many years.
At one point Mary Stuart visited from England. As she worshiped in the chapel that forms the east wing of the chateau, her guards carved, in renaissance English, a bit of graffiti in the chapel walls which you can still see today--graffiti of a religious nature. If you're going to tag God's house (or even God's personal wing of someone else's house) it had better be about God.
Catherine de Medici died at the (then) ripe old age of 70. Chenonceaux then went to her son, Henri III, who was quite gay, in both the 16th century and modern senses of the word. His wife was nonetheless so devoted to him that when he was murdered (kings of France tended to have bad luck) she vowed only to dress in white, and, being by now a queen, became known as "the White Queen." She must have been quite a sight moping around the castle, which was no longer a very gay place to be, in either sense of the word.
La Cuisine: I found all of this very fascinating, but you might easily imagine that my favorite part of the tour was the kitchen.
I unfortunately failed to get a good shot of the massive oven, but I did enjoy the butcher's room, complete with a row of 17th century butcher knives and hooks for hanging rabbit, duck, lamb and other carcasses. One part of the kitchen was actually built into the first two archways that span the Cher, and a dumbwaiter system was constructed next to the window so that boats delivering supplies down the river could simply pull up next to the wall and have crates and boxes hoisted up.
A tour of the grounds will take you to the winery, and you can also tour the vast flower and vegetable garden, but more tangible treats await you in the nearby village of Chenonceaux.
Walk across the railroad tracks from the chateau entrance and immediately you're surrounded by picturesque little cottages with ivy and flowers covering everything. Immediately to the west of the train platform (on the village side of the tracks) walk up Rue de la Roche. Not too far in you'll pass this cottage:
Keep walking north up Rue de la Roche, you'll pass on your left a small patisserie that sells great baguettes and bottles of regional wine. Continue a little further up Rue de la Roche, turn left on Rue du Grand Clos, and you will find an amazing little shop filled with local products. You'll recognize it by the large fake wild boar's head out in front. Stacked majestically on a table, arranged by type, are dozens and dozens of dried sausages (saucissons secs), each about the size of André the Giant's thumb, which, incidentally, grew to its enormous size in the village of Moliens, 150 miles north of Chenonceaux.
Sadly, we only purchased two of these sausages, both of them made from wild boar, mine encrusted with black pepper. They were quite unlike any other sausage I've ever had. They were deliciously full of fat, for starters, and naturally air dried. Apart from that the process of making these little beauties is, to me, a complete mystery.
With our baguettes, our bottle of Touraine that we found to be really really really good (take a moment to admire my facility with describing wine!), and our saucissons secs, we found a cobblestone path that led us between cottages to a small rustic gazebo. We took shelter beneath it, surrounded by flowers and trees, and as we swigged the fruit of the vine from the bottle, and munched on the artisinally crafted flesh of a once carefree porcine animal, it began to rain softly. My primary thought at this point was: "life is good."
So without further ado, for all you meatlovers--and here I'd like to give a special shoutout to Dr. Biggles from Meathenge--I present a lovely if somewhat blurred picture of said saucissons:
You can see larger versions of most of these pictures by clicking on them. Tomorrow, we resume the adventures in Paris with steamed mussels, some underground jazz, and yes, RAMEN!!!!