Mener la vie de château

The Château of Chenonceau is one of the most beautiful castles in the Loire Valley, south-west of Paris. It has been transformed numerous times since its origins in the 11th century as a mill on the river Cher. A new château was built on the site in the 16th century. It was seized by Francis I for unpaid debts. When Henry II came to the throne, he gave the house to his favorite mistress Diane de Poitiers who doted on it. She undertook massive renovations, including building an arched bridge across the river and creating the elaborate formal gardens. Upon Henry’s death, his widow, Catherine de Médicis, forced Diane out. She turned the bridge into a light-filled gallery and entertained lavishly in the former home of her rival.

The château passed from hand to hand. Each owner beggared him or herself, entertaining in a matter sufficiently grand for the setting. In World War I, the gallery served as a hospital ward for soldiers. In the next war, the gallery was used by the Resistance to move from Free to Occupied France. Today, the château belongs to Nestlé, the chocolate manufacturers. One of the lovely touches is enormous bouquets of flowers throughout that complement the art and furnishings. Next to Versailles, Chenonceau is France’s most frequently visited château.

Today’s expression, mener la vie de château (menay lah vee duh shatoe) literally means “to lead the life of the chateau.” We’d say “to live the life of Reilly.” The château de Chenonceau is proof that even kings and queens can make themselves house poor.

Chateau de Chenonceau: Simple Guide

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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4 Responses to Mener la vie de château

  1. Wow that’s awesome! That tower separate form the main house is very interesting.. do you know, was that common? What was the purpose… security/battle?

    • Thanks for asking. That’s known as the Marques Tower, after the family that built the 15th century chateau and is all that remains of the original structure. That type of tower is also called a “donjon,” which means dungeon or keep. It likely was used only for defensive purposes, not holding prisoners. A mill was the equivalent of a nuclear power plant in the middle ages and required protection.

  2. Pingback: Se regarder en chien de faïence | One quality, the finest.

  3. Pingback: Une maîtresse | One quality, the finest.

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