Château de Villandry
Lonely Planet review for Château de Villandry
Completed in 1756, one of the last major Renaissance châteaux to be built in the Loire Valley, Villandry is more famous for what lies outside the château’s walls than what lies within. Sheltered with enclosing walls, the château’s glorious landscaped gardens are some of the finest in France, occupying over 6 hectares filled with completely manicured lime trees, ornamental vines, razor-sharp box hedges and tinkling fountains.
The original gardens and château were built by Jean le Breton, who served François I as finance minister and Italian ambassador (and supervised the construction of Chambord). During his time as ambassador, le Breton became enamoured by the art of Italian Renaissance gardening, and created his own ornamental masterpiece at his newly constructed château at Villandry.
Wandering around the pebbled walkways you’ll see formal water gardens, a maze, vineyards and the Jardin d’Ornement (Ornamental Garden), which depicts various aspects of love (fickle, passionate, tender and tragic) using geometrically pruned hedges and coloured flowerbeds. The SunGarden is a looser array of gorgeous multi-coloured and multiscented perennials. But the highlight is the 16th-century potager (kitchen garden), where even the vegetables are laid out in regimental colour-coordinated fashion; plantings change in spring and autumn.
Try to visit when the gardens are in bloom, between April and October; midsummer is most spectacular.
After the gardens, the château’s interior is a bit of a let-down compared with others in the region. Nevertheless, highlights include an over-the-top oriental room, complete with a gilded ceiling plundered from a 15th-century Moorish palace in Toledo, and a gallery of Spanish and Flemish art. Best of all are the bird’s-eye views across the gardens and the nearby Loire and Cher rivers from the top of the donjon (the only remnant from the original medieval château) and the belvedere.