253km (157 miles) SW of Paris; 32km (20 miles) NE of Chinon; 18km (11 miles) W of Tours; 8km (5 miles) E of Azay-le-Rideau
The 16th-century-style gardens of the Renaissance Château de Villandry, 3 rue Principale, 37510 Villandry (tel. 02-47-50-02-09; www.chateauvillandry.com), are celebrated throughout the Touraine. A trio of superimposed cloisters with a water garden on the highest level, they were restored by the Spanish doctor and scientist Joachim Carvallo, grandfather of the present owner.
The grounds contain 17km (11 miles) of boxwood sculpture, which the gardeners cut to style in only 2 weeks each September. Every square of the gardens is like a geometric mosaic. The borders symbolize the faces of love: tender, tragic (represented by daggers), and crazy (with a labyrinth that doesn't get you anywhere). Pink tulips and dahlias suggest sweet love; red, tragic; and yellow, unfaithful. All colors signify crazy love. The vine arbors, citrus hedges, and walks keep six men busy full-time. One garden contains all the French vegetables except the potato, which wasn't known in France in the 16th century.
A feudal castle once stood at Villandry. In 1536, Jean Lebreton, François I's chancellor, built the present château, whose buildings form a U and are surrounded by a moat. Near the gardens is a terrace from which you can see the small village and its 12th-century church. A tearoom on-site, La Doulce Terrasse (tel. 02-47-50-02-10; www.chateauvillandry.com), serves traditional Loire cooking, including hot dishes, freshly baked bread, homemade ice cream, and cocktails made from fresh fruit.
Admission to the gardens, including a guided tour of the château, costs 9.50€ for adults, 5.50€ for children 8 to 18, and is free for children 7 and under. Visiting the gardens separately, without a guide, costs 6.50€ for adults and 4€ for children 8 to 18. The gardens are open daily 9am to between 5 and 7:30pm, depending on the hour of sunset; the château is open daily from 9am to between 4:30 and 6:30pm, depending on a complicated seasonal schedule. Tours are conducted in French; leaflets are available in English.
Arriving -- Three daily buses operate from Tours from July to October only; the trip takes about 30 minutes and costs 2.20€. For bus information, visit www.tourainefilvert.com or call [tel] 02-47-05-30-49. Villandry has no train service. The nearest connection from Tours is in Savonnières; the trip takes around 15 minutes and costs 3.90€ one-way. For information, visit www.voyages-sncf.com or call [tel] 36-35. From Savonnières, you can walk along the Loire for 4km (2[bf]1/2 miles) to reach Villandry, rent a bike at the station, or take a taxi. You can also drive, following D7 from Tours.