Friday 13 June 2008

Chateau de Villandry, Vallee de la Loire

The substantial Renaissance Chateau de Villandry serves primarily as a handsome backdrop for the imaginative, but meticulous and highly-regimented gardens. Just beyond the chateau's moat, are a series of large squares marked out with boxed hedges, low-level uniform flower beds and small trees trimmed to precision, each symbolising a kind of love from tender to romantic to passionate. Vibrant shades of green are laced with splashes of colour. Nearby is an aromatic and bountiful kitchen garden, while another large section is given over to topiary with rows of ice-cream shaped-trees each spliced into horizontal sections. Children will find the maze, with its central viewing platform, great fun and will also want to linger in the fine wooden playground. Circling the chateau, you pass a peaceful lake lined by a row of trees broken only by a stone bridge positioned dead-centre. Climbing up a steep bank takes you into a small wood with good views through the trees of the gardens and the venerable village church beyond.

Lofty vantage point
The rather gaudy interior of the chateau is something of an anticlimax after the gardens, but it is still worth a look, particularly the charming children's quarters near the top of the medieval tower. And you can clamber up onto the ramparts for a great aerial view of the gardens and the countryside beyond. From this lofty vantage point, you can really appreciate the swirling patterns and the themes created by the symmetry of the planting below. Entrance to the chateau and the gardens is 8 euros for adults and 5 euros for children over seven, while younger kids are free. The green-fingered will be fascinated and even gardening-phobes will appreciate the extraordinary effort that has gone into bending nature to the will of man. 8/10