This is the second in a series of posts on our recent trip to the Loire Valley.
The first one was about the cave we slept in. In the next two posts, I’ll be talking about castles.
Part 2: Leave your guidebook at home
Our travel guides on France have started getting tattered- we tend to use them faithfully as we gallivant through new regions. On our last trip to the Loire Valley, however, we discovered there are quite a few “hidden secrets” waiting to be unearthed- and our guidebooks hadn’t even mentioned our favorite one. With so many remarkable chateaux decorating the countryside, it’s easy for many of the lesser-known sites to fall under the shadows of the most celebrated. If you’re like us, you’d enjoy visiting the renowned Azay-le-Rideau, Chambord, and Villandry, but you may also want to get away from the crowds and discover the other, equally fascinating, treasures that lay just off the customary itinerary.
Chateau de la Chatonnière is in Azay-le-Rideau, a very short drive from the town center. Why visit this medieval manor? Its gardens. I was impressed with the gardens at Villandry, and was equally enchanted by these. (You won’t be surprised why after you look at their website to find the connection between the two!). At first, we thought the site was closed since no one else was around. As soon as we arrived at the front gate we were greeted by the head gardener- telling us straight away that we needn’t pay attention to the closing time listed on the sign. We could stay as long as we wanted and, of course, watch the sunset.
Once inside the iron gate, we were free to wander around the twelve different gardens- each with its own name and theme. Among the most impressive were the vegetable garden (Jardin de l’Abondance), which took the form of a gigantic leaf, and the Jardin des Romances, which was an interlaced series of life-size “rooms” made of willow branches. We also enjoyed getting lost in the labyrinth and gaping at the seemingly endless field of white narcissus, in bloom only from March to May. The chateau itself is not open to visitors, but this was not a disappointment. The gardens, with the manor towers idling in the background, stood completely on their own.
Part 3: Chateau de Langeais