Every square meter of the gardens is like a geometric mosaic. Designed on a trio of superimposed cloisters with a water garden on the highest level, the gardens were restored by the Spanish doctor and scientist Joachim Carvallo, great-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. The borders symbolize the faces of love: tender, tragic (represented by daggers), and crazy (with a labyrinth that doesn’t go anywhere). The arbors, citrus hedges, and walks keep 6 men busy full-time. The vegetable garden is being reverted to all-organic.

A feudal castle once stood at Villandry. In 1536, Jean le Breton, François I’s finance minister and former ambassador to Italy, acquired the property and built the present château with influences of the Italian Renaissance. The 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; closed Nov to March), serves light dishes using vegetables from the garden and other local ingredients as well as fresh-baked bread and homemade ice cream.