BRIEF HISTORY OF CHATEAU DE VILLANDRY
The lands where Villandry now stands once held an ancient fortress in a region known as Colombier. It was here that King Philip II of France once met Richard I of England (“the Lionhearted”) to discuss peace. This was acquired in the early 1500’s by Jean Le Breton, France’s Controller-General for War under King Francois I, and a new château was constructed around the original 14th-century keep and completed in 1536.
The castle remained in the Le Breton family for more than two centuries until it was acquired by the Marquis de Castellane, who made substantial additions to the building and also furnished it in a comfortable 18th century style. Three decades later during the French Revolution the property was confiscated and in the early 1800’s Emperor Napoleon acquired it for his brother Joseph Bonaparte.
Over the next 100 years the castle was left to abandon and fell to ruin. Then in 1906 the castle was saved when Dr. Joachim Carvallo purchased the property and poured an enormous amount of time, money and devotion into repairing the castle and creating what many consider to be the most beautiful gardens anywhere in the world.
VISITING CHATEAU DE VILLANDRY
The gardens with the castle as backdrop are the main attraction at Chateau de Villandry, although the interior of the castle also has some beautiful decoration and furnished rooms to see when you visit, including the dining room and kitchens.
The famous Renaissance gardens at Villandry include ornamental flower gardens, a water garden, and vegetable gardens. The best view across the gardens is from the raised belvedere that surrounds a large part of the formal gardens - from the raised position you see the gardens as more of a pattern than individual plants, which was the original intention.
The extensive ornamental gardens are mostly laid out in the formal French style using meticulously clipped box hedges and consist of several areas consecrated to different themes. Interestingly, the gardens also follow a historical tradition of mixing ornamental gardens with food production so in one area you will see lettuces and pumpkins surrounded by carefully cut hedges.
The water garden includes a pond area and fountains and is a peaceful contrast to the ornamental gardens. Although the main pond is based on the shape of a Louis XV mirror, the gardens are very modern in appearance. Next to here you can also discover the more informal gardens in the Jardin du Soleil and also explore the maze.
France This Way note
Until I visited the gardens at Villandry I never quite understood French style gardens, and has always thought them a bit lacking in imagination and character. I was wrong!
The Villandry gardens are perhaps the most beautiful I have seen in any style of gardening, emphasised by the sheer size of the formal gardens which seem to stretch as far as the eye can see. I didn't have the same 'epiphany' at the other castles I visited in the Loire Valley unfortunately but would love to be able to visit those at Villandry every month of the year to watch them change with the seasons.
The interior of the Chateau de Villandry, although less visited than the gardens (a supplement is payable if you also want to explore the castle), still has a great deal of interest. Most of the interior was redesigned in the 18th century and the furnishings are from this period.
Other highlights include the staircase and the beautiful mauresque ceiling in one of the rooms, although it is perhaps the views across the gardens from the keep that are the highlight of your visit.
In 1934, Château de Villandry was designated a Monument historique. It also falls within the Loire Valley World Heritage Site.
Still owned by the Carvallo family, the Château de Villandry is open to the public and is one of the most visited castles in France. It is open all year round, admission price about 7 euros just to see the gardens or 10 euros to visit the castle and the gardens.