Château de Villandry

Top choice in Touraine

Exterior of Villandry Castle with its manicured garden.

© (Richard Semik)/Shutterstock

Villandry's six glorious landscaped gardens à la française are some of France's finest, with more than 6 hectares of kitchen gardens, cascading flowers, ornamental vines, manicured lime trees, razor-sharp box hedges and tinkling fountains. Try to visit when the gardens – all of them organic – are blooming, between April and October. Tickets are valid all day (get your hand stamped). The website has details on special events.

The original gardens and château were built by Jean Le Breton, who served François I as finance minister and ambassador to Italy (and supervised the construction of Chambord). During his ambassadorial service, Le Breton became enamoured with the art of Italian Renaissance gardening, later creating his own ornamental masterpiece at newly constructed Villandry. The current gardens, tended by 10 full-time expert gardeners, were recreated starting in 1908.

Wandering the pebbled walkways, you’ll see the classical Jardin d'Eau (Water Garden), the hornbeam Labyrinthe (Maze) 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 Jardin du Soleil (Sun Garden) is a looser array of gorgeous multicoloured and multiscented perennials. But for many the highlight is the 16th-century-style Jardin des Simples (Kitchen Garden), where cabbages, leeks and carrots are laid out to create nine geometrical, colour-coordinated squares.

After the gardens, the Renaissance château (built in the 1530s), surrounded by a watery moat, is a bit of a let-down. Nevertheless, highlights include the Oriental drawing room, with a gilded Moorish ceiling taken from a 15th-century palace near 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 12th-century donjon (the only remnant of the original medieval château) and three belvédères (hillside panoramic viewpoints).

Near Villandry's parking area you'll find a branch of Tours' tourist office (in an all-wood pavilion opened in 2017), several restaurants, a boulangerie and two places to stay.

The château is 16km southwest of Tours and 11km northeast of Azay-le-Rideau. Trains link Savonnières, 4km northeast of Villandry, with Tours (€3.50, 13 minutes, two or three daily).