On our recent trip to France, my daughter and I visited the Loire Valley. The Loire Valley area stretches over 170 miles along the central region of the Loire River. The area is known for its cherry orchards, artichoke and asparagus fields, and, most notably, vineyards that produce excellent wines.
In addition to the agricultural offerings, though, the Loire Valley draws tourists to visit some of the more than 300 chateaux and gardens located in the lush region. Dating back as early as the 10th century, some of the chateaux were built by rulers, while others were the homes of wealthy land owners.
My daughter and I chose to visit three of these chateaux on this trip -Chateau de Villandry, Chenonceau and Chateau de Chambord. We visited Villandry, in the afternoon one day, and the next two the following day.
There are several ways to visit the Loire Valley chateaux. There is public transportation to a few of the them, but many are out in the country and not accessible by train or bus. One of the popular ways to visit the chateaux is to join an organized tour. Due to its proximity to Paris (a little over an hour by train or car), day tours are available from the city. Day tours are also available from the city of Tours (yes, that’s the correct name), and private tours can start almost anywhere.
Another option – the one we chose – is to rent a car and drive yourself to the chateaux of your choice. We had looked at day tours, but they are all limited by the choice of the tour company. We had chosen three chateaux that looked the most appealing, but none of the tours included only those three. In a multi-day tour we could have visited these three plus more, but that didn’t fit in our schedule this time.
Driving to each of the chateaux was not difficult, as much of the driving was in rural areas. We were able to park in lots that were reasonably close to each of the sites, although if we visited in the summer, the lots may have been filled with more cars – and the chateaux filled with more visitors.
Villandry is located southwest of Tours, while Chenonceau and Chambord are located east of the city. We stayed east of Tours, so we visited Villandry on our drive into the city from the west. Logistically, it worked great.
Tickets for visiting the chateau and gardens of Villandry are available in two options. You can visit the gardens only for a reasonable €6.50, or you can visit the chateau and gardens for €10.50. Although the gardens are the highlight here, we found the chateau beautiful, too. If you are only interested in seeing the gardens, I would still recommend purchasing the combo ticket. From several rooms in the chateau, the views of the gardens are spectacular. In fact, I thought the garden views from the chateau rooms were more beautiful than the views while walking through the gardens.
When you purchase an entry ticket, be sure to pick up the informational brochures about the chateau and the gardens. The brochures provide a self-guided walking tour throughout the property. We found them helpful and interesting.
An original chateau was built on the grounds in the 16th century, but nearly all of it was razed in the 18th century so a new, modern chateau could be built. The original chateau was built by Jean Le Breton, a finance minister. When the nobleman, the Marquis de Castellane, purchased the chateau in 1754, he redesigned it, with only the keep (main tower) remaining from the original.
In 1906, Joachim Carvallo purchased the chateau and added the beautiful gardens. He and his wife were collectors of art, some of which is still in the chateau. It was Carvallo’s wish that the chateau be open to the public, a goal which he accomplished in 1920. His great-grandson now owns the chateau and it remains open to the public.
Highlights of the Chateau
The chateau’s self-guided tour explores the kitchen, dining room, drawing room, art gallery, and several bedrooms. The kitchen is more rustic that the rest of the rooms, but this makes it easy to imagine someone actually working here to prepare food.
Sleeping in one of the bedrooms would make you feel like royalty. The bedding is luxurious, with each bed covered by a draped canopy. It doesn’t take much to imagine a family living here, though, as all the rooms look functional and comfortable.
Nearly every room was decorated with flowers from the garden. They added a special, more personal, touch to each room. I’d love to be able to have flowers in all my rooms at home.
The last room of the walking tour is a gallery that houses temporary exhibits. When we were there, the exhibit included a selection of needle arts. There were quilts,embroidered projects, and lace items on display. Several women were busy working on various lace and embroidery projects. I loved this exhibit!
As I mentioned above, many of the rooms had views of the gardens. Some overlooked the vegetable gardens, while others were positioned toward the flower gardens. On the third floor (second European floor) there is a terrace which gives a complete view of all the gardens. Visitors exit the chateau from this terrace where they can walk to down to the gardens on one side or to the gift shop on the other side.
When Carvallo purchased the chateau, his aim was to restore the gardens to their original Renaissance glory. Through research and hard work, his goal was achieved, but even today, the process continues. In 2009, the chateau gardeners began to convert the vegetable garden to an organic one. They introduced selected insects, changed their work habits to include more hoeing, and installed a better watering system. Although the cost is higher, the quality of produce has improved.
In addition to the vegetable garden, there are six other distinctive gardens on the property. There is a wooded garden, a maze, and a simple, but impressive water garden. There is an herb garden next to the vegetable garden. In the farthest corner of the property is the sun garden, which has a sun room – yellow and orange flowers; a cloud room – blue and purple flowers; and a children’s room with playground equipment and apple trees for shade.
My favorite section of the garden was the Love Garden, which is part of the oriental garden. It has four sections that represent different kinds of love – tender love, passionate love, flighty love, and tragic love.
In the Area
The small town of Villandry which is located at the edge of the chateau, has a couple small restaurants and a small hotel. The restaurant where we ate was connected to the hotel, but it was not what you would expect. The restaurant could seat about twenty people and seemed to be filled with locals. Our server barely spoke English. The restaurant shared bathrooms with the hotel but we had to go outside and across a walk to get to the hotel. As I said – small. The food, however, was delicious!
I would definitely put Villandry near the top of the list of chateaux in the Loire Valley. I hope you can visit soon.