Months of cold, snow, and wind, has us traveling to our past and to sunnier days. And that’s the inspiration for our newest series – Places We’d Rather Be Right Now.
We’re thinking about our travel schedule for next year (our work schedules require a lot of forethought and often do not allow spontaneity), and a very likely return location is the Loire Valley in central France. The area is home to more than 300 chateaux, many previously owned by French kings and nobility. Nowadays, they’re a source of great tourism and garden inspiration.
Let us show you around approximately 1% of them…because, although chateau touring is the major activity in the Loire Valley, it is very difficult to get to more than three in one day and do them justice.
Our first stop is Chateau de Villandry, a “country house” with the most stunning gardens.
The chateau was constructed during the Renaissance by Jean Le Breton, Minister of Finance for Francois I.
While Jean Le Breton was keen on architecture, he was also interested in the art of gardening, particularly Renaissance style gardening, where ornamental gardens offered a gentle transition between the house and its natural surroundings.
When the property was purchased most recently in 1906, the new owner invested a great deal of time and money restoring and recreating the gardens.
Resulting in a water garden, ornamental flower gardens, and vegetable gardens significant for precise detail and formal patterns. Imagine the landscaping bills!
Next up, we head over to Chateau de Cheverny, a “grand estate” that has been owned by the same family for over six centuries.
Unlike many chateaux, which are preserved for the purpose of tourism, Cheverny has always been lived in and maintained by the family. In 1922, it was one of the first private houses to open its doors to the public.
The house and grounds are stunning, but what makes it really special are the hounds and the horses.
The Cheverny kennels were created in 1850 and are currently home to more than a hundred hunting dogs. The dogs, a mix of English Fox Hound and French Poitevins, are primarily there to work, but they have the added bonus of being utterly adorable for us visitors. They are also the face of the house’s formal china, but take it from personal experience, buying your dog a dog bowl from Cheverny does not automatically transform her into an obedient and purposeful dog. Although, it may give her a slight sense of entitlement.
Our final stop for the day is our personal favorite –
Chateau de Chenonceau.
Chenonceau was seized by Francois I in 1535 for unpaid debts to the Crown. After Francois’ death in 1547, Henry II provided the chateau as a gift to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who commissioned the arched bridge that joins the chateau to its opposite bank on the River Cher.
Diane de Poitiers was the unquestioned owner of the chateau until King Henry II died in 1559, and his widow, Catherine de’ Medici gave Diane the boot. Catherine then took Chenoceau as her own beloved residence.
A new series of gardens were added at great expense, and in 1577, the grand gallery was dedicated.
In 1913, the chateau was acquired by the Menier family, who own it to this day. Following great devastation during World War I and II, the chateau was lovingly restored, and once again became a place worthy of a queen.