The Château de Villandry is the last of the great castles built on the banks of the Loire during the Renaissance.
It was built by Jean Breton, the finance minister of François I: passionate about botany and garden design, he decided to buy the Villandry estate in 1530. After its acquisition, he decided to lighten its medieval-style architecture, open up to the outside world and enlarge it with Renaissance décor.
The particularity of the estate is concentrated in its 6 gardens on 4 levels, which are a re-enactment of a 14th-century French garden, based on ancient texts. You can indulge in wandering around the 6 hectares of grounds, which house some 1260 lime trees, hundreds of grape arbours and 52 km of rows of plants and flowers, laid out in a workmanlike manner.
The structure of the castle consists of three wings and is surrounded by a moat: its appearance is enhanced by an imposing quadrangular keep dating back to the 14th century, embellished with elaborate battlements.
Inside the main body of the castle, there are more than fifteen rooms to visit. Each one has its own style, they are all furnished and decorated according to 18th century fashion: one immediately notices the sober architecture and warm atmosphere of the place. Don’t miss the oriental hall at the end of the Spanish Picture Gallery on the first floor.
The real attraction of the Château de Villandry are undoubtedly its elaborate gardens: they are famous throughout the Loire Valley as an admirable masterpiece of topiary art, i.e. the refined art of shaping nature by pruning trees and shrubs in order to mould them into geometric shapes or particular subjects.
The estate’s gardens are divided into six gardens, arranged on three levels and in three areas connected by wide staircases and accompanied by paths and panoramic terraces.
Each of these six gardens is presented as a painting of greenery framed by successive terraces. They are all characterised by a unique theme and architecture. Seen from above, always an enchanted chessboard, painted by a magic wand.
Conceived as an extension of the inner salons, the ornamental garden is itself divided into salons of greenery. Next to the castle walls is the first living room, consisting of four squares. Of Andalusian inspiration, its vegetal structure draws geometric shapes that constitute the gardens of love.
Tender Love is symbolised by hearts separated by the flames of love. In the centre are the masks that used to be placed over the eyes during court balls and that allowed for all kinds of conversations, from the most serious to the most light-hearted, between courtiers and lovers.
Passionate love is again represented by hearts, but this time, broken by passion. Boxwood beds intertwine and form a labyrinth, symbolising the dance and the passionate whirlpool.
Fickle Love is composed of four fans symbolising the lightness of feelings: the horns of deceived love, love letters and the sweet notes that lovers exchange. The dominant colour in this square is yellow, symbolising love deceived.
Finally, there is Tragic Love, where the designs represent dagger blades and swords, used during duels caused by romantic rivalries. In summer, the flowers are red to symbolise the blood shed during these clashes.
A canal divides the ornamental garden into two green salons called the first and second salons.
The designs in this second hall, made of boxwood, symbolically evoke music. The large triangles represent lyres, next to which are harps. Some topiaries complete the décor. Yews cut in the shape of candelabra ‘illuminate’ the musical score.
The belvedere built in the forest above the gardens is the ideal vantage point from which to contemplate the richness of the embroidery from above and admire the magnificent panorama.
Above the ornamental garden, at the southern end of the estate, is the water garden.
This bowling lawn, bordered by grassy enamels, consists of a central pool in the shape of a Louis XV mirror, enhanced on both sides by partitioned grass lawns, a network of symmetrical perpendicular paths and four secondary pools.
This area forms a cloister of greenery composed of three rooms: the children’s room, where there are outdoor games and decorative apple trees; the Sun Room, the central part of the garden, where we find a pool in the shape of the sun, the eight-pointed star designed by Joachim Carvallo; and the Cloud Room, where small grassy paths forming triangles meander among the rose bushes and shrubs.
The labyrinth in Renaissance gardens is a reference to the one imagined in Greek mythology, linked to the myth of the Minotaur, but does not have the same meaning.
In the Greek labyrinth, man gets lost and ceaselessly seeks a way out through ambushes and dead ends. In the Renaissance labyrinth, all imbued with the Christian spirit, the labyrinth symbolises the journey of life and the centre represents the encounter with God.
The decorative kitchen garden is the jewel in the crown of the Villandry gardens. In a purely Renaissance style, it is made up of 9 squares of identical size but each featuring a different geometric motif of vegetables and flowers. In fact, different vegetables were planted here, their colours alternating with each other: the blue of the leek, the red of the cabbage and beetroot, the jade green of the carrot tops, to give the eye the illusion of a multicoloured chessboard.
Vegetables were cultivated in the old style of French monastic communities, which arranged the plants in geometric patterns. At a later stage, Italian influence was also introduced: this special portion of the estate was enriched with decorative elements, fountains, pergolas and flowery squares, cleverly arranged to distract walkers, thus transforming the utility garden into a garden of delights.
This is a traditional garden from the Middle Ages, dedicated to herbs, condiments and medicinal plants. The scents emanating from its beds are reminiscent of the walled gardens of monasteries in medieval times.
The plants are arranged in circular beds, symbolising eternity, while the alleys, which intersect at right angles, draw crosses. There are over 30 varieties of plants in the middle of the flowerbeds.
The château de Villandry is open every day from 9 February to 11 November and during the Christmas holidays, while the gardens are accessible every day of the year . Access is free for children under 8 years of age.
If you are only interested in the gardens, you can purchase a single ticket for the outside of the castle.
With a separate ticket, you can access the audio-guide service, which will explain in detail the complex symbology of these enchanting gardens.
The castle is located 270 km from Paris, about 200 from Nantes and only 17 from the town of Tours. A few minutes’ drive from the tiny village of Villandry are also the famous castles of Langeais and Azay-le-Rideau, which can be visited on the same day.
If arriving from Paris, take the A10 motorway, exit n°24 (Joué-lès-Tours) then follow the A85, direction Saumur, exit n°8 (Villandry). If you are coming from Nantes, follow the A11 motorway then the A85, exit n°8 (Villandry).
Parking is free around the castle.
Arriving from Paris, the nearest TGV stations are Tours (16 km) and Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, a 20-minute drive from the château. Once you arrive in one of these two towns, you will have to take a bus or taxi.
From Tours, the Fil Bleu shuttles will take you directly to the castle.
In the heart of Turenne, the château of Villandry is located a few kilometres from several tourist resorts in the Loire Valley. The village of Villandry is a handful of a few houses: accommodation is therefore scattered in the surrounding countryside and you need to take a car to get around and to reach the castle.
The hotels and B&Bs in this area are almost always housed in old buildings that have been restored and furnished with great taste and elegance, and often have enchanting gardens.
In addition, you might consider using the lively town of Tours as a base for exploring this area so rich in castles and sights: in fact, it is only 16 km from the castle of Villandry.
What's the weather at Villandry Castle? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Villandry Castle for the next few days.
The castle of Villandry is located in the ancient province of Turenna, situated in the Loire basin, with its capital Tours only 16 km away.