To paraphrase Vesper Lynd, “there are Gardens and there are Gardens; this is the latter.” We packed up from Les Sources and made our way west, bound for Nantes which would be our last stop for this trip. On our way, however, we were originally going to make two stops. The first would have been Le Château de Chenonceau, a truly epic castle-house that can best described as a bridge that somebody built a keep on top of. However, with the Loire being in the state its in and having already bagged one location on this trip because of the shabby situation, we didn’t even try for Chenonceau. Life is long and we hope to see it in its full splendor. And so, we had one stop before Nantes, and it was a doozy: Le Château de Villandry.
Villandry is the platonic ideal of the French gardens ensconcing a formidable house. I haven’t looked but I just assume that stock art image sites bury you in Villandry images if you search “French + gardens”, “castle + gardens” etc. That said, we had serious concerns about going there for the same reasons that we bagged Chenonceau – had the recent dry weather put the kibosh on the gardens? As we were pondering that question I coincidentally stumbled on a local magazine article that covered this very topic. The facts were these: first of all, Villandry has used catchments to collect the water they use for their grounds; they haven’t been using municipal water (or rivers/streams) even in normal times. With the reduced precipitation, they decided that rather than pare back on all of their gardens, they completely stripped out whole sections of the estate, replacing normal garden beds with gravel and/or art installations. Dry gardens, in other words, the same thing that they do in places like Las Vegas to avoid having to water lawns.
And so, while they may not have as many garden areas as they usually do, the ones that they have maintained are as amazing as ever. Pictured above is the vegetable garden, which actually does provide food to their restaurant (with extras going into the local community).
There were a half-dozen discrete sections, including the veg garden, a maze, a children’s park complete with play structures, and a swan lake complete with swans. It is, sadly for a blog like this, a thing more to be experienced than to be read about. It was truly lovely though. Bonus bit – the system of canals they have for moving water also have some tremendous fish in them. Since nobody fishes there, the wildlife has not developed any hesitance and will happily bob along the surface, all 4-feet of them(!), nipping at any disturbance in the water at all – bubbles, bread crumbs, whatever. It’s enough to make a sport-fisherperson weep, but they were neat to look at, and reminded us of a similar experience at Bodiam castle in England, where the moat was so stuffed with fish that it was actually slightly nauseating to look at the roiling mass of them; the law proscribed any fishing in the moat, dating back who knows how many centuries, but it was a population of fish that clearly butted up against whatever maximums exist because of available food and not because of predators.
The touring of Villandry complete, and the rain starting to come in, we hopped back in the car and made for Nantes. We had arranged an Airbnb situation there which was, quaintly, in the old/original model of these places; somebody clearly lived in the space when it wasn’t being rented out and it thus had a very cozy, lived in feel to it. The only downside was that it was tucked deep into a residential pocket and so we found ourselves hoofing it a fair ways before any meals. Speaking of which, we had an issue (yet again!) where the place we planned to eat was “open” but only for drinks; it would be a couple of hours before they opened their kitchen back up. Ye gods and little fishes. Instead we hoofed it further into the retail district to eat at <<<<LOOK THIS UP IN QUICKEN>>>>. It was nonetheless a tasty and refreshing end to the day; which is good because we promptly went back home and fell into bed. We were excited about the next day, which would be our final day of tourism and would involve steampunk elephants and robot hummingbirds.