Monday 16 June 2008

The Gardens of Château de la Chatonnière, Azay le Rideau, Vallee de la Loire

Nestling in a secluded valley, this charming chateau and its aging outbuildings are surrounded by beautiful and charismatic gardens. You don't need to know the labels to appreciate the neat, symmetrical patterns of the formal 'L'Intelligence' garden, the curvaceous beds of lettuces in 'L'Abondance', the circular maze of 'Les Romances' or the parade of roses in 'Les Fragrances'. All four are surpassed by 'L'Exuberance' - rolling meadows of blue, red and pink wild flowers spreading up the hillsides around the chateau. You can peer over a high stone wall down into a large enclosed courtyard - 'Le Silence', which, ironically, is patrolled by four boisterous German Shepherd dogs. From there you can climb up through some trees and follow a path down to the main gates where there is lovely view across a luscious green basin back to the conical slate roofs of the towers and creamy stonework of the chateau. Admission to the gardens, which stay open until 7pm, is 6 euros for an adult. With just a handful of visitors on a sunny afternoon in late May, the Château de la Chatonnière is a magical place. 9/10