We bought coffee and croissants at a local covered market then headed out to Villandry, where we visited the Chateau and gardens.
Built overlooking the Loire, Château de Villandry is a château for garden lovers and the last of the major Renaissance castles to be built in the Loire Valley. It was the home of neither a king nor a courtesan but of Jean Le Breton, François I’s finance minister. He demolished the old feudal fortress, except for the keep, in 1532 and replaced it with an extremely elegant and richly decorated purely French Renaissance château. When the Marquis of Castellane bought it in 1754, he revamped the interior in the neo-Classical style. Unfortunately, he also destroyed the harmony of the outside, adding balconies, balustrades and trompe l’œil windows.
The house was not as interesting as the previous chateau, but the gardens were spectacular. We spent a couple of hours walking round. The use of vegetables particularly the coloured cabbages and chilies were particularly beautiful; so this is where all the vegetables go – certainly absent from the French restaurant menus.
After a spinach and cheese tart for lunch we headed for another chateau, close by.
Considered by many to be a “jewel of the French Renaissance”, Château d’Azay le Rideau was built on an island in the Indre River by a rich financier in the early 16th century during the reign of François I and combines the Italianate and French styles. It is more sober than the larger châteaux and one of its most striking features is its monumental fireplaces. The château was abandoned after the French revolution and redecorated by the Marquis de Biencourt. In 1898, the 4th Marquis had to sell out and it was not until it was bought by the State in 1905 that renovation began.
Unfortunately when we arrived there were more renovations going on and half the chateau was covered in scaffolding. The inside was still fully available for viewing. Of particular note were the bed and walls of one of the bedroom, because a video showed how these had been recently done. The walls were covered in a type of reed matting, which helped reduce the damp, and the bed curtains and cushions had been sewn by hand and the lacework using old style mechanical equipment.
In another building there was a video showing how the carpentry, tiling and masonry was being done in the old style. Despite ongoing renovations it was still possible to get a photo of the chateau and nearby trees.
The town of Villandry was also very beautiful.
We drove back to Tours and walked through the old town, locating somewhere nice for dinner. We had a beautiful mixed salad followed by duck Margret, slices of duck in an orange sauce, washed down with wine of course.
On Monday we drove back through the poring rain to Charles de Gaule airport where we stayed at an airport hotel and caught an early flight back to London, hence ending our four weeks in France.