The morning we went to Azay-le-Rideau we had the pleasure of finding ourselves in a very agreeable commune. Azay-le-Rideau is at the heart of the 8 villages which make up the appellation for the Touraine white and rose wines, the latter of which I am rather fond. The village has delights to offer as does the chateau of Azay-le-Rideau which was built from 1515 to 1527, being one of the earliest French Renaissance châteaux. Built on an island in the Indre River, its foundations rise straight out of the water. The writer Balzac, who lived nearby and was occasionally a guest at the château, deeply admired the building, describing it as ‘a facetted diamond, set in the Indre.
Compared to other chateaux we have looked at Azay-le-Rideau is relatively small, divided into two sections, the main central body and a wing at right angles to it, and displays a blend of architectural styles. The château’s most prominent feature is the grand central staircase, the escalier d’honneur , but the one I am much more taken with is the beautiful spiral that climbs up through a corner turret. Another special feature can be seen in the attics, where the charpente (in French), or the hand-crafted wooden frame supporting the roof, has been recently restored (2010–11) and can be viewed alongside an exhibition explaining the complex techniques of its construction.
The current gardens were designed in the 19th century and consist of a large landscaped park in the English style. Our access to the grounds was restricted by some mechanical earth movement and re-landscaping of the large lawned area at the rear of the chateau. We walked beneath some huge trees, ‘des vrais venerables’, and quizzed a gardener who was watering a bed of shrubs, notably hydrangeas. I bought cookery books with recipes for courgettes and pumpkins. At the end of the morning we walked up to a bar at the top of the small road which leads down into the chateau drive and drank a glass of wine. Then we repaired to the gite where Bri and I made lunch then chilled for the afternoon and the men fished the small lake in the grounds and caught small roach (gardons).