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Anywhere else, the Château de Villandry, an elaborate Renaissance-style palace, would be the star attraction, but it’s upstaged by its own gardens, a collection of French-Renaissance-style outdoor rooms that reflect their creator's passion for Italian art.

Laid out in a succession of terraces, each with its own identity and aesthetic, the six landscaped gardens are among the finest in France. Pruned hedges, geometric beds, trailing vines and a riot of bright planting lead visitors down pebbled paths and through an artistic masterpiece that was recreated in 1908 to reflect the chateau's original planting scheme.

I visit Château de Villandry for the gardens, which are big enough to lose yourself in. I always head for the herb garden to breathe in its many varieties of mint, including sweet-smelling chocolate mint.

France specialist Samantha

Things to see and do in Château de Villandry

The Ornamental Garden

Designed as an extension of the chateau's rooms, the Ornamental Garden is a series of outdoor reception rooms with tall box hedges pruned into geometric shapes. The clipped hedges and vivid flower beds are supposed to reflect the emotions of love in different forms from tender to tragic, fickle and passionate. Nearby, an elevated pathway provides a bird's-eye view over the garden’s terraces and reveals the intricacy of their planting in full light.

The Kitchen Garden

Perhaps the most impressive of all Villandry's gardens is the 16th-century-style decorative Kitchen Garden, where the vegetables are laid out in intricate geometric patterns between rose bowers and miniature box hedges.

Despite being a functional plot to provide food for the palace residents, the garden looks magnificent with nine squares of identical size but different formations. Although the garden is at its best in midsummer, it’s entirely replanted twice a year ensuring there is plenty to see year round. Medicinal and aromatic plants and a hornbeam maze grow in the nearby herb garden.

The Water and Sun Gardens

On the garden's top most level is the Water Garden, elevated above the rest of the grounds in traditional style. It features a large pool that reflects the sky and has a decidedly contemplative air.

On the final terrace is the Sun Garden, which was added in 2008 along far less formal lines. Here lime trees and hornbeams delineate three rooms: the Sun Room with its sun-shaped pond and chorus of perennials in vibrant oranges; the Cloud Room with its calm blue planting scheme and wandering paths; and the Children's Garden with its open-air games and crab apple trees.

The château

Château de Villandry, Loire ValleyAlthough overshadowed by its magnificent gardens, the Château de Villandry is still highly impressive. It dates back to 1530 when finance minister to François I, Jean Le Breton, bought the land and medieval fortress at Villandry.

Le Breton had previously worked as ambassador to Italy and as superintendent of works at the chateau at Chambord. He was so impressed by the art and architecture of the Italian Renaissance that he wanted to begin his own grand construction project.

In comparison to Chambord, the chateau has a restrained elegance and is arranged around three sides of a ceremonial courtyard (the fourth side was demolished in the 18th century).

The oriental drawing room and gallery

Inside, the oriental drawing room is the highlight with its gilded Moorish ceiling made up of 3,600 pieces of wood. The ceiling was part of a 15th-century palace in Toledo, Spain, and was transported here by Joachim Carvallo, a doctor of Spanish descent who bought and restored the chateau in the 19th century.

It was Carvallo who returned the gardens to their original Renaissance design. He was also a keen collector of Spanish and Flemish art, and the chateau has a gallery of works dating from the 17th century, widely regarded as the golden age of Spanish art.

The only part of the original medieval fortress remaining is the 12th-century keep, and it’s worth the walk to the top for the views across the gardens.

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who's been there
Audley Travel Specialist Ruth

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Map of Château de Villandry

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