It is early August in the Loire valley. Peak of summer, 27C, azure skies, wisps of stratus clouds sneaking from horizon to horizon. As the Diplomat and our family serenely navigate our SUV along the Loire we catch a glimpse of the fairytale chateau that is Villandry. Lauded as one of the most exquisite château in France, why on earth would we not waft our way here to take in the heady scent of lavender and stroll amongst the bees for whom this place is paradise (incidentally, did you know that parádeisos is Persian for ‘garden’?).
We arrive, turn down a gravel path to park in a pleasant field. I say field…this is done French-style. It is a manicured lawn with cars parked neatly against stunning flower beds full of yellows, orange and violets. Beside us, the Loire river burbles gently past, reeds bending in the current. Languidly crossing the village route we enter through a cool ante-chamber, pay a reasonable thirty euros for two adults and four kids, and emerge into the brilliant sunlight to gaze at the fairy tale white château and its perfect gardens. This blog isn’t about the château; we chose to skip through the one-time residence of Jean Le Breton, Minister of Finance for Francois I, (the same King I mention in the blog about Château De Clos Lucé) because it’s not the best for a pushchair and a 2 year old. However, I can assure you that the interior is equally as stunning. Not like IKEA at all.
Anyway, the Breton family pile was built in 1532 around the old keep where, on 4 July 1189, Henry II of England admitted defeat before King Philip Augustus of France and signed the treaty known as The Peace of Colombiers two days before he died at the Templar royal fortress of Chinon.
As you can see from the picture, the architecture has mullioned windows surrounded by decorated pilasters, lucarnes with sculpted curves and steeply sloping slate roofs – all of which frame a main courtyard; the entire design espouses the architectural principle of the period: symmetry.
Enough of that…it was the gardens we came to see. We first pick a stroll through the organic kitchen gardens which have had a major renovation in the past six years. As we all know food is something the French are rather good at, and here, in this idyllic setting, was their own personal farmer’s market. Created with the avoidance of chemical pesticides, using organic fertilizers, toiling with traditional tools, the kitchen gardens are magnificent.
The kitchen Garden is complemented by three other gardens divided into terraces: an upper terrace with the Sun Garden, which gives way to a terrace with the water garden, based around a pool representing a Louis XV mirror, surrounded by a cloister of linden trees, followed by a terrace with a decorative garden with sculpted box hedges and yew trees in a topiary style which extends along the castle’s drawing rooms. Climbing up to the belvedere gives us a magnificent view of the entire gardens of love, divided into four sections: tender love, passionate love, fickle love, tragic love. Yet for all that the place where we have the most fun is the maze planted with arbours. It is pretty easy as you can see over it – the one at Château Chernonceaux is far superior for kid fun.
After our stroll of about an hour – adults can easily spend three or more hours here but, as we know, children have a short attention threshold – we went back out through the gift shop to a lovely restuarant in the entrance courtyard that served a luncheon menu that children of all ages could enjoy coupled with food for the parental palate. It was so good I forgot what I ate as I yawned and settled back into the summer sun of the Loire Valley. Luckily, the Diplomat is on hand to remind me that it was rillettes on baguette with chevre, compote and a green salad. 😉
Is this what diplomacy is all about?