A few years ago I realized that there was a back way in at Chenonceau, so that you can go to see the castle without having to stand in line, pay the entrance fee, and fight the crowds. There's a hiking path on the left (or south) bank of the Cher River that is free and public.
To get there, you take the main highway, the D976 (it used to be the N76 — it's a long story) which runs from the town of Vierzon over to the city of Tours, along the Cher past the little towns of Saint-Aignan, Montrichard, and Chenonceaux. Coming from Saint-Aignan, you drive past the turnoff signed for the Château de Chenonceau and on past the woods along the right side of the road. Those woods are part of the park that surrounds the castle.
Just as the woods end, you turn right onto a gravel road, and then right again when you come to the river. You can drive a couple of hundred yards down toward the castle, but then the road is blocked off. There are places to park. Then you can walk along the river right up to the castle.
I discovered this road in about 2005. Before that, I thought it was a shame that the only way you could see Chenonceau castle was to pay the entry fee and fight the crowds. You can drive right up to many of the châteaux and see them without paying a fee, if you don't want to go inside. Chambord, for example, is an impressive château to see and you can park and walk all around it for free.
Now that I can just drive over to Chenonceau and walk up to the castle sans hassle, I go there more often. It's a nice promenade. It's only 25 km from Saint-Aignan. That's 15 miles and it takes about 20 minutes to drive over there.
So I was surprised when I mentioned Chenonceau to CHM on Friday, for whatever reason, and CHM asked me if it was far from our house. I said no. Can we go? he asked. Of course, I said, haven't we been before. No was the answer. I couldn't believe it.
We went yesterday morning. The sun was shining and there was a slight breeze. As we walked along the river, we saw a few other people, both hikers and cyclists. But there were maybe a dozen of them in all during the hour or so we spent out there taking pictures and enjoying the views.
If you've never been inside the Château de Chenonceau, you'll want to park on the right bank of the river (north side), pay the entrance fee, walk the half-mile or so from the front gate to the castle, and see the grande galerie, the library, and the kitchens. You'll also get to see the two formal gardens that flank the château.
But if you've seen all that several times, you can still enjoy a nice river walk on the opposite bank of the Cher, with pretty views of the château, which spans the river. I recommend it.