Villandry: Europe’s Most Extraordinary Garden
Text & photos by Marla Norman, TCO Publisher
The sheer number of grand, celebrated castles in Loire is staggering. And, as you’d expect, most of these palatial estates have exquisite, perfectly manicured gardens. But nothing amidst all this splendor quite tops Château de Villandry.
An astonishing potager (assortment of vegetables) is changed out seasonally in row after row of meticulously trimmed boxwood edging — 32.5 miles (52 km) to be precise. Accompanying the vegetable beds are 196 yew topiaries, an arbor that extends over a mile, 1,016 lime trees, close to 700 fruit trees and 667 vines. The effect is astonishing and mesmerizing — simultaneously playful and majestic.
The original castle dates back to the early 16th century and was initially owned by Jean Le Breton, France’s Controler-General for War under François 1. (Nearby, of course, are François’ remarkable Château de Chambord, Château d’Amboise and Clos Lucé – the home François gave to Leonardo da Vinci.)
During the French Revolution, the estate was confiscated, then later acquired by Napoléon for his brother, Jérôme I. Ultimately, Château de Villandry was purchased by Joachim Carvallo and Anne Coleman in 1907. Joachim was born in San Benito, the Spanish province of Extremadura, while Anne, an American, was originally from Pennsylvania. The two met while both were studying medicine in Paris.
Shortly after they married, Anne Coleman inherited her family’s fortune. Her wealth enabled the couple to give up their medical careers and devote their full time to family and to developing a vision for Château de Villandry. For over 25 years, Joachim and Anne worked to create a spectacular potager, orchards, ornamental gardens and water gardens.
Today, Château de Villandry is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known as the finest example of Renaissance garden design in Europe. Three separate terraces showcase the magnificent gardens. Fountains, canals and a lake, complete with swans, create a dream-like setting.
Henri Carvallo, the great-grandson of Joachim Carvallo and Anne Coleman, currently supervises the estate and has diligently maintained the family legacy. In 2008, Henri added an herb garden and he has also spent considerable time restoring the Château itself, which is now open for the public to tour.
Henri and his family live in a separate residence also on the estate. His proximity and devotion to Villandry, which requires constant attention, make the property the treasure it is today and an essential stop for anyone visiting the Loire.