Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Visiting Chenonceau Under Covid19 Deconfinement Easing Rules


The security officer at the entrance disinfecting his station.
Disinfecting the entrance station at the Chateau of Chenonceau during the Covid19 restrictions.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Yesterday I went up to the Chateau of Chenonceau to see how they were managing the new regulations for opening. In order to get permission to reopen after the Covid19 lockdown they had to be able to meet a strict set of rules, including having a one way visitor route, no groups or guided tours, everybody (visitors and staff) to wear masks, hand sanitizer to be provided and regular cleaning of surfaces that people touch. They have succeeded in managing the process very well and are clearly taking it very seriously.

 The only toilets open (two others were closed), and the café is closed.
Toilets and cafe at the Chateau of Chenonceau during Covid19 restrictions.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The car park had about 30 cars in it, and no coaches or mini buses. The visitor centre/reception/gift shop is closed, as are the toilets, ticket machines and snack bar. You have to buy your ticket online. Anyone like me with an annual ticket (carte privilege) which expired during the lockdown will be given an extension until the end of August, when you will then be able to renew.

The most crowded it got.
The Chateau of Chenonceau during Covid19 restrictions.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

I was greeted at the big wrought iron gates by one of the security guards, who recognised me and asked how I was. He explained that I had to wear a mask at all times inside the chateau but could remove it if I wanted in the grounds. Visitors have to bring their own mask. I was then asked to use the hand sanitizer, in a nifty waist high stainless steel foot operated column dispenser. These turned out to be everywhere, and everywhere the staff ask visitors to use them.

 The long gallery.
Long gallery at the Chateau de Chenonceau during Covid19 restrictions.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

I checked that the stables were open and headed there to take some photos of the World War One hospital reconstruction that I needed. Just as I was approaching, the staff member who was stewarding the adjacent apothecary hailed me and informed me that even with a mask on she recognised me. One of the cleaners rode up on a golf buggy and we all exchanged greetings and news.

I took several photos of the kitchen with no people, but I found I liked this one better.
The kitchen at the Chateau of Chenonceau during Covid19 restrictions.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

After taking my hospital photos I headed over to the chateau, where the long serving and very nice Head of Security was on meet and greet duties. I did the hand sanitizer thing then we had a long chat about the new arrangements, a couple of details about the hospital I needed, what the tourist season had and did not have in store, how the new setup was working and generally mostly looked on the bright side. He told me that there were certain aspects of the new visitor route and ways of working that they have discovered work so well they are likely to keep them even after they don't have to. He also told me that I was the only guide so far who had been to see how they were getting on. Both of us were surprised by this.

 The ugly but practical new handrail, and the hand sanitizer station at the top of the stairs.
Pragmatic Covid19 suitable handrail at the Chateau of Chenonceau.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

I went off to walk the visitor route and take nearly 300 photos. Lots of the visitors were wielding serious cameras and happily taking even more photos than me. We were all very polite and friendly, standing aside to allow people free views. Along the way, staff were on hand to point the way and make sure people didn't stray from the visitor route or cause bottlenecks. Because there was only ever half a dozen people in each room at most the staff had very little to worry about, and were happily engaging with visitors to make them feel welcome and answering any questions. I was there on a Monday deliberately so as to encounter the least number of people but apparently it had been quite busy on Sunday. On the other hand I deliberately chose to visit Chenonceau because I knew it would get more visitors than any other chateau, so if they were handling the new rules well, anywhere could.

The view from the main balcony.
View from the balcony of the Chateau de Chenonceau during the Covid19 resrictions.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Some of the staff on duty usually work in the office but had volunteered to do room stewarding. Most of the staff are on partial furlough, including the gardeners and florists, who are only working two days a week. The chateau is only opening Friday to Monday for June, so all the staff are having their wages partially paid by the government as part of the Covid19 emergency provisions to keep the economy going. Normally the chateau would take on a number of seasonal workers for the summer, but this has not happened. Existing staff have taken on new roles to cover all the tasks that need doing in a heritage attraction.

A visitor looking at the drawings and etchings collection. He actually moved so as to let me get a clear shot, but I liked the photo better with him in it so asked him to move back and pose.
Looking at the drawings and etchings collection at the Chateau of Chenonceau.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The big entry door and hall is divided in half with ropes and stanchions from the staircase. Visitors entering are directed to the left and into the guard room. From there you go into the chapel, carefully entering and exiting through the door in turn with your fellow visitors. The route continues into Diane de Poitier's bedroom, then a careful little excursion off to the left for Catherine de Medici's anteroom. The small tower rooms on both floors are taped off. Around you go, through the narrow passageway and into the long gallery. From there you are directed over to the far side to exit back into the entry hall and down into the kitchen (10 people at a time, for 10 minutes duration). Then back up and into the two salons before heading upstairs.

Looking up from the newly accessible balcony at the junction of the original chateau and the later bridge.
Looking up from the balcony at the junction of the original chateau of Chenonceau and the later bridge.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Impressively, the huge flower arrangements are still in every room. For anyone familiar with them it is clear there is some simplification and scaling down of varieties of flowers. Humble wild flowers and grasses are being made to shine more than ever though, and none of the arrangements look mean. For anyone who was a first time visitor they would be as utterly wowed as any visitor in pre-Covid19 days. 

View of the estate manager's cottage from the quay.
View of the estate manager's cottage from the quay at the Chateau of Chenonceau.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The famous early Renaissance straight ramp on ramp staircase has lost its rope handrail and gained what looks like yellow plastic agricultural pipe in its place. The staff and I joked about how ugly it was and it will certainly be changed, but what's important now is that it can be regularly disinfected.

When you get to the top of the stairs on the first floor the staff are standing in wait to direct you up again, to the second floor, to Louise of Lorraine's bedroom. Once back down again you go left into a bedroom, then onto the main balcony, back into another bedroom, and another, then out through a door onto a side balcony that hasn't previously been open. From there you go into the gallery, around it in a clockwise direction and finally back out and into Caesar de Vendome's room. And that's your lot, the complete tour, so you return down the stairs, trying not to get too close to anyone coming up. There is some momentary confusion at the exit, with many people mistakenly taking the wrong way, back into one of the first floor salons which you've already seen rather than the middle path through the ropes and stanchions which takes you out the door.

By the time I got out Delphine was on the front door. She's my main contact in the office at Chenonceau as she deals with group bookings. So we had a long chat, great for networking.

After that I went off to take a few photos in the gardens. I thought Diane de Poitiers garden had rather an aspect of Sleeping Beauty, with annual plants having been left to get past their best and not replaced, weeds in the paths and the permanent plantings looking rather drought stressed. The gardeners were at work in Catherine de Medici's garden, putting out the summer annuals in tones of purple. In the cutting and kitchen garden they'd sown a wildflower bed to act as a cover crop whilst they were all on furlough.

If you can, I highly recommend visiting Chenonceau during June. It is a chance to see it up close without literally thousands of other visitors being there. And you will be made to feel very welcome by the team there, who are grateful for local support. Be aware though that if you enter the chateau there are not really opportunities to cut your visit short, as you cannot move against the visitor flow direction due to the Covid19 restrictions. I suggest somewhere between an hour and two hours inside the chateau, and the same for the grounds, where you are free to wander at will.

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6 comments:

Jean said...

How nice to see the place without its hordes of visitors, yet sad at the same time.
Also, how strange to see people wearing their coats in June!

Sheila said...

Like Jean, I also noticed the coats. Were you able to get a sense of the nationalities of the visitors?

Susan said...

Everyone was speaking French.

Susan said...

Everyone, including me, was slightly over dressed for the actual temperature, but it's just easier to wear it than carry it. The day didn't start off very warm, and there was a storm at 2pm. These photos are all between 11:30 and 14:00.

Carolyn said...

Fascinating to learn how a major chateau is coping with its visitors. What you show here is a far cry from the crowds we faced last year. I'm so happy to hear that their extravagant floral displays are still on show.

Susan said...

I think they are demonstrating remarkable goodwill and faith in the future. At the moment, and for the rest of the year, they are basically subsidising visits. The amount of money they will bring in will be peanuts compared to a regular year.

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