Without dwelling on the respiratory virus that spoiled a significant portion of our stay on Tours, we were unable to visit so many places. Among the many experiences we missed was a trip to three chateaux.
Fortunately, after being with us for almost three weeks, neither my brother nor his wife contracted the virus, though they departed for their home about the same time our symptoms began.
On the other hand, our long-time friends Niels and Jette, were driving from their home in Denmark within two weeks, and we were unsure how our symptoms might impact their visit. The bad news was that we would be contagious for 3 to 8 days, but the good news was that (hopefully) we would not be infectious when Niels and Jette arrive. The other bad news was that the symptoms (coughing and fatigue) could linger for a long time, from four to eight weeks in some cases.
To make this long story short, our friends arrived safely from Denmark, and we again had a great reunion, making plans to travel together in their car on a daytrip based on Niels and Jette’s proposals. Our goals were a wicker town, a slumbering princess’s castle, and a chateau’s garden, and as luck would have it, the weather proved to be gorgeous.
Wicker weaving has thrived in Villaines-les-Rochers since the 7th century. Today, only around 1000 people live in this little village, and many are artisan wickerworkers keeping this ancient craft alive making a wide variety of items specific to certain trades. Baskets for breads, catering, hot-air balloon baskets, etc., as well as utilitarian and decorative items for the home, were displayed to showcase the many uses of willow. Wickerwork is also taught in the town, under the tutelage of local masters.
The day’s next stop was the Chateau d’Usse overlooking the Indre river where, “Once upon a time …” Charles Perrault, 1628—1703, an important French poet, prose writer, and storyteller used it as inspiration for his tale of “Sleeping Beauty”.
Perrault is best remembered for his 1697 “Contes de ma mère l’oye” or “Tales of Mother Goose”. Remaining faithful to the oral tradition, his collection included “Cinderella,” “Little Red Ridinghood,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Sleeping Beauty”. Of course, Sleeping Beauty was in a 100-year slumber as the result of a curse, and waiting for an available Prince to wake her.
Though the château was beautiful as befitting a sleeping beauty, we couldn’t give it the time it deserved, only admiring it and its surroundings from outside the walls. It was a brief visit because we knew that the next stop would take the rest of the afternoon.
The Loire Valley has more than 300 châteaux to see, from formidable medieval fortresses to extravagant Renaissance estates, and all are individual masterpieces of architecture. Nowhere else in the world can claim such a high concentration of regal residences.
After Amboise and Langeais, we would have only one more opportunity to visit another chateau. Fortunately, since they had a car, Niels and Jette had chosen a route for the day that besides visiting Villaines-les-Rochers and Château d’Usse, would culminate at a chateau best known for its unrivaled gardens and grounds, Château de Villandry.
The U-shaped Château de Villandry is far from decrepit; indeed, it is a beautifully preserved castle. In the 1530s it replaced a feudal castle and has undergone many renovations over the centuries. But the main draw are the gorgeous grounds, and to see them well in the time we had, we decided to forgo the interior of the castle, which turned out to be a wise decision.
Laid out in Renaissance style, with many geometric shapes, there are six landscaped gardens à la Française. With more than 6 hectares, one can walk around for hours admiring the 16th-century-style Jardin des Simples (Kitchen Garden), the classical Jardin d’Eau (Water Garden), the hornbeam Labyrinthe (Maze), the Jardin d’Ornement (Ornamental Garden) that consists of four ‘love gardens’ depicting various aspects of love (fickle, passionate, tender and tragic) using geometrically pruned hedges and colored flowerbeds, and the Jardin du Soleil (Sun Garden) is a looser array of gorgeous multicolored and scented perennials. As a bonus, there’s a forest next to the gardens.
As it was still early in Spring, and the leaves of the pollarded Tilia × europaea trees, (i.e. common linden, Lime trees or European lime though not a true lime at all) had not yet emerged leaving bare fists at the ends of their long branches.
Since prehistoric times, leaves from pollarded trees are likely to have been the mainstay of many stock animals and the cutting of leaf-fodder for livestock is reported from Roman times. Pollarded trees also produced quick wood growth for fuel, fencing and basket-making. Today, pollarding can keep large trees smaller and controls the shade they cast. Over time, the trees develop knobs or knuckles where it was repeatedly pollarded, and new branches only grow from those knobs.
The château has 10 full-time, professional gardeners and also many horticulture students from all over the world who come to do their internships.
By the time we finished the circuit of the gardens, we were all exhausted, and the drive back to Tours was quiet. Thanks Niels.