Chateau de Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France
The Chateau de Chenonceau is the second most visited chateau in France, second only to the Royal Palace of Versailles. It has been designated an historical monument by the French Ministry of Culture since 1840. It was originally built between 1515 and 1522 on the foundation of an old mill. King Henry II acquired the castle after his father's death, and gave it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. It was Diane who commissioned an arched bridge to be built, connecting the chateau to the opposite side of the River Cher in 1555.
When King Henry II died in 1559, his widow, Catherine de Medici, kicked her husband's mistress out, and took up residence in the chateau. Catherine spent huge amounts of money on the castle, adding elaborate gardens built over the river, and regularly hosted spectacular evening parties. It was here that the first ever fireworks display in France was held. Catherine expanded the castle along the length of the existing bridge, to cross the entire river, and also expanded other areas of the castle.
In the 1700s, the chateau was host to Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among many other leaders of The Enlightenment. It was saved during the French Revolution, but it was bombed by the Germans during World War II. Today, it is owned by the Menier family, makers of fine French chocolates, who restored it to its former splendor. It is open to visitors every day of the year.