At 8a.m. sharp Georgy and Brigitte arrived at 104 ready to scoop us up for a small road trip. We are going to visit the Loire Valley to see the Chateaux and the wine growing areas. Georges is going to be our chauffeur as well as our companion for the trip which is a huge treat for the Lights. We make good time on the excellent French roads and arrive at Chinon in time to find a good restauration location where it is evident the working French retreat at lunch time. We eat the menu of the day, my only disappointment being the inferior Paris Brest which isn’t a patch on our boulangerie back home.
After lunch we drive to Villandry and how divine an afternoon I spend.
The Château de Villandry is a castle-palace constructed around the original 14th-century keep where King Philip II of France once met Richard I of England to discuss peace. The château has passed through several owners and in 1906, Joachim Carvallo bought the property and poured an enormous amount of time, money and devotion into repairing it and creating what many consider to be the most beautiful gardens anywhere. These famous Renaissance gardens include a water garden, ornamental flower beds, and vegetable gardens. The main gardens are laid out in formal patterns created with low box hedges. This being a Renaissance garden there are layers of symbolism – love, sex, corruption – apparently a quality of cabbages. Meanwhile, the chateau itself, whose interior we did not feel we had the time to visit, falls under Spanish influence. In 1934, Château de Villandry was designated a Monument Historique. Like all the other châteaux of the Loire Valley, it is a 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 châteaux in France. We bought tickets for the garden only; how wise this was. The gardens are vast, terraced and laid out with geometric formality; they could have been created with set-squares, protractors, compasses rather than garden tools. The lines, the swirls, the colours, the designs, the precision feed the eyes and leave almost all the senses exalted. Seen from the château battlements above, the gardens resemble a gigantic puzzle-page from a colouring book, brilliantly filled in.
Here are the masterly plantings of vegetables in geometric shapes bordered by low box hedges. At the time of our visit, where beds have been emptied of an earlier crop, plump princely pumpkins are ranged in orderly fashion, each perched on a flat stone tile. After what has probably been a clement growing season cabbages are kings, huge, regal and perfectly formed. Aubergines, purple, green and white grow alongside several varies of chilli pepper. Leaf and root celery. In the herb garden perhaps dozen varieties of mint, several of sage.
Come time to go, just a quick look along the racks of plants for sale. It is a modest selection and really, what a let-down! Very ordinary offerings of the everyday plants that have been used for edging here and there and some of the common herbs. None of the unusual varieties of Tradescantia, for example, offsets of which I saw elderly French ladies nicking as they passed by. Oh well, honesty doesn’t always pay!!!
We drive back to Huismes near Chinon where we are booked into a gite Georgy found on the internet. This is a nice pad, tending to shabby chic in the bedroom department certainly, with a nice terrace where we can sit and take apero. We cook what we brought for supper, good Cumberland bangers and follow this with a hand or two of Spite and Malice and take to our beds ready for another day.