Villandry

On the river Loire, just downstream from Tours in the department of Indre et Loire, Villandry was one of the last Renaissance castles to be built in the Loire valley. Dating from 1532-1540, the white tuffeau construction is impressive, but it is the gardens surrounding the castle that are unique.

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Renaissance in style, they owe their plan to Joachim Carvallo, a Spanish doctor, and great grandfather of the current owner. He bought Villandry at the start of the 20th century, swept away the disfiguring alterations that had been made to the building in the previous couple of centuries, and began to reconstruct what the gardens might have looked like in their heyday.

Set on three levels, one arrives first at the water garden, with a rectangular basin from which water falls towards the moat, in the centre of a huge lime-tree hedge.

The second level down is reached through a maze, and is composed of various separate gardens; a garden of music, a garden of love, and a herb garden which unites thirty plus varieties of medicinal, culinary and aromatic herbs in three circles.

Finally, on the lowest level of the garden is the decorative kitchen garden and orchard.

The house is worth a visit, too, with its fine paintings by Spanish masters such as Velasquez, El Greco and Goya. There is also a beautiful sculpted wood ceiling dating from the 13th century, which was imported from Toledo.

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