Castle of Villandry, France

Villandry Castle (French: Château de Villandry) is an intricately interwoven architecture and gardens, located 15 km west of Tours, in the French department of Indre-et-Loire, in the Center-Val de Loire region.

The last of the great palaces that were built on the banks of the Loire in the sixteenth century, the castle of Villandry, brings a final touch to the research of the French Renaissance while announcing the achievements of Ancy-le-Franc (Burgundy) and Ecouen (Île-de-France).

With its unique furnishings, décor and atmosphere, the Château de Villandry is a living testimony of French heritage. When Jean Le Breton acquired the Villandry estate, the building was a Mediaeval fortress. The defensive architecture was pared down, opened up and enhanced with elements of Renaissance décor. In the 18th century, the Marquis de Castellane moved into Villandry and made some major changes to transform the building into a warm, bright and comfortable home that reflected the art of living at that time. By the end of the 19th century the estate had fallen into disuse and was saved from dereliction by Joachim Carvallo and Ann Coleman, who in turn undertook a campaign of restoration to return it to its Renaissance state. Henri Carvallo, the current owner of Villandry, is following in the footsteps of his ancestors by both preserving this unique heritage site and opening it up for visitors to enjoy.

The current gardens of the Château de Villandry, are the result of a patient reconstitution made in 1906 by Dr. Joachim Carvalo from boards and ancient texts of the architect Jacques Androuet du Cerceau, then dealing with a Renaissance garden typical of the sixteenth century.

This area now occupy an area of more than six hectares arranged on four levels of terraces.

After opening the Sun Garden to the public in June 2008 and three new rooms in the castle between 2006 and 2007, the Château de Villandry is focusing its attention on the welcome of visitors and on being a quality venue.

visitors will be to take advantage of the castle which has been entirely restored and furnished, as well as 4 exhibitions, 4 events about gardens … Above all, visitors will be able to admire the outstanding beauty of the gardens. The vegetable garden in particular is gradually becoming organic: hoeing, digging, beneficial insects, etc. are back in favour, resulting in the reduction of the use of phytosanitary treatments.

The whole castle and its gardens is listed as of April 12, 1927 to the list of historical monuments before being definitively classified on September, 1934. The domain is now part of the World Heritage of Unesco.

With its unique furnishings, décor and atmosphere, the Château de Villandry is a living testimony of French heritage. When Jean Le Breton acquired the Villandry estate, the building was a Mediaeval fortress. The defensive architecture was pared down, opened up and enhanced with elements of Renaissance décor. In the 18th century, the Marquis de Castellane moved into Villandry and made some major changes to transform the building into a warm, bright and comfortable home that reflected the art of living at that time. By the end of the 19th century the estate had fallen into disuse and was saved from dereliction by Joachim Carvallo and Ann Coleman, who in turn undertook a campaign of restoration to return it to its Renaissance state. Henri Carvallo, the current owner of Villandry, is following in the footsteps of his ancestors by both preserving this unique heritage site and opening it up for visitors to enjoy.

The Château
The keep is the only Mediaeval element left and a reminder that Villandry was once a fortress before the dramatic changes it underwent following its acquisition by Jean le Breton in the 16th century. It is the only substantial architectural element to display the crenels and merlons typical of defensive structures built in the Middle Ages.

A shrewd eye will pick up on the hole marks made in the keep in the 18th century, but subsequently filled by Joachim Carvallo as part of his major project to restore Villandry to its Renaissance splendour.

Slate was the material used to cover roofs in the Renaissance period. The roofs of the Château de Villandry, restored between 1995 and 2003, rise proudly above the building. Immense, imposing and strongly sloping, they give the building a certain dynamic. The ingenuity of Renaissance architects is evident in their ability to break up the impression of a single vast entity by punctuating the roof with skylights and chimneys.

To maintain order, harmony and symmetry, the windows of Renaissance buildings were aligned both horizontally and vertically. To emphasize this perfect alignment, sculpted pilasters and cornices were added to the façade.

As for the bay windows, they are divided into four by (horizontal) transoms and (vertical) sculpted mullions. Together they form a cross-window.

Located at roof level are the finely-crafted Renaissance skylights. Tall and luminous without competing with the windows, they are also divided into four by sculpted mullions and transoms. The adornment is completed by a triangular pediment, itself embellished with a decorative element reminiscent of a small edifice, from which the name “aedicule” is derived.

On each pediment is a deep relief. Here you can see the coat of arms of Jean Le Breton, the first owner of Villandry. You can also see the coat of arms of Florimond de Robertet, who was secretary to Francis I, treasurer of France and patron of the Château de Bury. His daughter married the son of Jean Le Breton.

The arcaded gallery is one of the features of Renaissance architecture. This ground floor passageway connects the outside with the inside and acts as a gentle transition between home and garden.

The three buildings that surround the main courtyard form a horseshoe opening onto the valley. To break up the monotony of the symmetry, sense of proportion and uniformity so beloved in the Renaissance style, the architect of Château de Villandry introduced some subtle differences: the wings are not exactly the same length, the alignment of the central windows is slightly off-centre, etc. It’s up to you to find the other differences when you visit Villandry!

The drawing room and the study
The drawing room on the ground floor exudes a comfortable family atmosphere that visitors will appreciate when they visit the château interior.

Arranged around a grand piano on which family portraits are displayed, the 18th century furniture is covered with Touraine silk that is still manufactured today.

The panelling on the wall completes the 18th century décor and ensures that the room retains the heat.

The study is located on the ground floor of the keep. In this room, Joachim Carvallo drew up the plans for cultivating the Kitchen Garden, among other things.

The dining room
The dining room is equipped with a fixed table and is a very modern room for the 18th century. Until halfway through the century, a trestle table was erected when the huntsmen returned. But the need for comfort and privacy gradually led to each room having a specific purpose, and as far as the dining room was concerned, a permanent table was required.

The dining room at the Château de Villandry boasts gleaming salmon pink panelling and a fountain, which serve as a reminder of the Provençal origins of the Marquis de Castellane who owned the estate in the 18th century. They are also testament to the taste of the owner, who made many major changes to both the château and the gardens.

The marble floor is typical of a thoroughfare room, with parquet being reserved for private areas.

The dining room at the Château de Villandry has been classed as a Historical Monument since 1934, as has the main staircase.

The kitchen
The kitchen was a room used by serving staff and, as such, there is a rustic aspect to it. There are terracotta floor-tiles, an exposed stone wall and the compulsory imposing fireplace. Copper pots and pans and a rotisserie are reminders of the purpose of this room. The vegetables on the solid oak table are a nod to Villandry’s Kitchen Garden.

The main staircase
The upper floors were reached by an external octagonal staircase located in the main courtyard, as was often the case in Renaissance buildings. When the Marquis de Castellane carried out major structural changes in the 18th century, the external staircase was removed. All floors can now be reached by an internal staircase.

The main staircase is a work of great subtlety that plays with the contrast between the whiteness of the majestic flight of Tuffeau stone steps and the scrolls of the forged iron banister that are dark in colour but extremely delicate.

Observant visitors will notice the interlacing initials of the Marquis de Castellane on the landings.

The main staircase has been classed as a Historical Monument since 1934, as has the dining room.

Prince Jérôme’s bedroom
Under the First Empire, the Château de Villandry briefly belonged to Napoleon I’s youngest brother, Prince Jérôme. This episode in the château’s history is recollected by this bedroom with its mahogany furniture, shot red silks, draperies and military décor.

Joachim Carvallo’s bedroom
A doctor of Spanish descent, Joachim Carvallo saved Villandry from destruction when he bought it in 1906. The restoration work and creation of the gardens encapsulate his personality. His devotion to restoring the château to its Renaissance glory exemplifies his scientific approach and interest in architecture. His love of art – particularly Spanish paintings, which he collected – is clear from the gallery of paintings. As for the gardens, they are a reproduction of ancient gardens that blend architecture, painting and science, but they also represent Joachim Carvallo’s piety. This is particularly noticeable in the maze and rose bushes of the Kitchen Garden, symbolic of a monk taking care of his garden.

Joachim Carvallo’s bedroom, with its understated décor, is a reflection of its former owner. It has a magnificent view of the Ornamental Gardens and the Kitchen Garden.

The library
The library contains works and objects relating to Joachim Carvallo and Ann Coleman. The collection provides us with clues about their ideas, motivation and plans to renovate Villandry.

The Kitchen Garden bedroom
With its magnificent view of the Kitchen Garden, the so-called “Kitchen Garden” bedroom is notable for the beauty of its parquet floor. This 18th century work of art combines different types of wood in a variety of brown hues.

The moat bedroom
Ann Coleman, Joachim Carvallo’s wife, chose this room, which was updated in the 18th century. The soft green panelling; the white silk embellished with colourful flowers and birds that evoke the gardens and music; the portraits of Ann Coleman and two of the couple’s six children painted by their friend, the artist Milcendeau; and the softness of the alcove all allude to femininity and motherhood.

The art gallery
Joachim Carvallo and his wife, Ann Coleman, were avid collectors of ancient paintings, with a particular fondness for the golden age of Spanish painting: the 17th century. When they bought Villandry in 1906, it was with the intention of having somewhere to display their collection. Their collection had gained great notoriety before the war, but was then broken up for inheritance purposes. Despite this, Villandry still has a superb collection of paintings that Henri Carvallo, Joachim’s great-grandson, is trying to rebuild. The vast majority of these works are from the Spanish realism movement, born of a fusion of Flemish and Italian styles. Many of the works on display in this gallery and hanging in the château’s other rooms are religious paintings.

Visiting the art gallery is an integral part of visiting the château, which is open to the public for most of the year.

The oriental drawing room
An unexpected find in a Loire château, the oriental drawing room is notable for its Hispano-Moorish ceiling, once part of the Maqueda ducal palace built in Toledo in the 15th century. The palace was dismantled in 1905 and Joachim Carvallo bought one of its four ceilings – the one from the “La Martina” drawing room – back to Villandry. The other three are currently housed at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the De Young – Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco.

It took a year to reassemble the 3,600 pieces of the polychrome wood ceiling.

Created in the Mudéjar style by Moorish craftsmen for their Spanish patrons, it combines decorative elements from both Christian and Moorish art. The Franciscan cords, scallop shells, floral decoration and royal heraldic coats of arms intermingle with tracery, gilding and Arabic inscriptions to form a harmonious alliance.

The paintings displayed below the ceiling depict four scenes of an “Ottoman gateway” (now Turkey). They are a reminder of the Marquis de Castellane’s diplomatic career as French ambassador to the sultan under Louis XV. These paintings belonged to the Marquis, so we can reasonably assume that they were at Villandry between 1754 and 1791.

The Gardens
An aestheticism under Italian influence
The gardens of the French Renaissance are a style of garden originally inspired by those of the Italian Renaissance, which later evolved to give birth to the grander and more formal style of the French garden under the reign of Louis XIV from the middle of the seventeenth century.

In 1495, King Charles VIII and his nobles brought back the Renaissance style to France following their war campaign in Italy. The gardens of the French Renaissance culminated in the gardens of the royal castle of Fontainebleau and the castles of Blois and Chenonceau.

The gardens of the French Renaissance are characterized by symmetrical and geometric flowerbeds or beds, potted plants, sand and gravel paths, terraces, stairs and ramps, running water in the form of canals and waterfalls. and monumental fountains, and the extensive use of artificial caves, labyrinths and statues of mythological figures. They became an extension of the castles they surrounded, and were designed to illustrate the ideals of measure and proportion of the Renaissance and to recall the virtues of ancient Rome.

The gardens of the Renaissance pass from the utilitarian pen, full of Christian symbolism, to broad perspectives using the pagan vocabulary, and whose main purpose is the only delight, pleasure. The aesthetic and personal considerations then become paramount. The space of the garden is less and less influenced by religious precepts (notwithstanding the visions of Erasmus and Palissy). The iconological references are no longer exclusively classical: they belong to mythology through the use of its symbolism, illustrated themes, statuary … The gardens also have a political dimension (the large gardens are designed to the glory of the master places), and the evolution of the art of living makes it the setting for parties and sumptuous banquets. Their history is also a reflection of that, parallel, of botany (introductions of new species, more and more scientific approach) and the evolution of theories and cultural practices.

The parterres of Villandry
The gardens were created at the same time as the Renaissance Castle, originally the essential part was a decorative garden with exotic plants from various European and American countries. The descendants and successors of Jean Le Breton have spent two centuries maintaining this heritage.

This set will however be transformed into an English garden at the beginning of the nineteenth century developing “in undulations and nipples (…), planted with many recently imported exotic species: cedar, pine, cedar, magnolia, massaged on the backs of artificial mounds. . The castle itself [disappears] in the middle of a forest of trees and greenery.

The current gardens of the Château de Villandry are therefore the result of a patient reconstitution carried out between 1908 and 1916 by Joachim Carvallo from the Monasticon Gallicanum and the ancient planks and texts of the architect Jacques Androuet du Cerceau, dealing with a garden of the Renaissance typical of the sixteenth century: he then wants to give Villandry its authenticity.

This group currently occupies an area of more than six hectares arranged on four levels of terraces:

The upper terrace hosting the brand new sun garden, inaugurated on June 20, 2008, is a kind of belvedere overlooking the different sections of the garden. This last realization extends on an old meadow surrounded by lime trees. From 1908 to 1918, Joachim Carvallo designed a plan of principle for this terrace. As part of the 100th anniversary of the recreation of Renaissance gardens, Henri Carvallo, the current owner, wanted to make this garden inspired by the drawing of his great-grandfather Joachim. This set respects the general principles of organization of the gardens of Villandry, forming a cloister of greenery composed of three rooms:

The cloud chamber develops into small grassy paths forming triangles that wind through rosebushes and shrubs in blue and white tones.

The Sun Room, the central part of the garden, has a sun-shaped pool represented by an eight-pointed star, designed at the time by Joachim Carvallo, as well as clumps of perennials dominated by yellow-orange.

The children’s room is made up of decorative apple trees with outdoor games.

Located south of the park, the water garden is none other than the French garden wanted by Michelangelo Castellane in the mid-eighteenth century. Surrounded by a cloister of linden trees, this section is now composed of greenery carpets adorned with topiaries whose classic forms develop around a central pond constitutant a real water mirror of Louis XV .

An intermediate terrace extending the lounges of the castle welcomes the ornamental garden or garden of embroidery composed of boxwood and yew topiary. Arranged by Lozano, Sevillian painter, assisted by the painter and landscape gardener Javier de Winthuysen, this section consists of four lounges representing gardens of love:

The tender love symbolized by hearts separated from small flames. In the center of the masks that were put on the eyes during the balls allowed all kinds of conversations.

Passionate love with hearts broken by passion, engraved in a movement reminiscent of dance and whirlwinds of passion.
The fickle love with its four fans in the corners represents the lightness of the feelings. The dominant color in this square is yellow, symbol of deceived love.

Tragic love with daggers and swords to represent the duels caused by the love rivalry. In summer the flowers are red to symbolize the blood shed during these fights.

Left, center: a drawing easy to recognize the Maltese cross. Behind this cross, on the right, that of Languedoc and, on the left, that of the Basque Country. Finally, very stylized, lily flowers along the moat.

Located at the level of the castle, the decorative garden takes again the tradition of the garden of simple medieval, devoted to the aromatic plants, condiments and medicinal of which it conceals about thirty species. In a Renaissance style, it consists of nine squares lined with fruit trees in cords and planted with vegetables harmoniously arranged colors where are associated in the spirit of Italian gardens of the fourteenth century, decorative elements, fountains, arbours and squares of flowers, skilfully arranged to distract walkers, thus transforming the utility garden into a pleasure garden.

Located to the South-West of the complex, is composed by a labyrinth planted with bowers aiming to rise spiritually to its central platform.

The last section nicknamed the Forest develops in flowered terraces around a greenhouse and a small folly of the eighteenth century, the pavilion of Audience. Forming one of the sections of French gardens built in the eighteenth century, Michelangelo de Castellane “gave audience” to farmers and peasants who worked on his land. This factory was completely renovated in 2004.

The fountains and arbours of the garden were restored from 1994. The gardens form a set limited to the north by the road of Tours, to the south by the rural road of the Sheepfold, to the west by the wall of fence along the labyrinth vegetal. They got the label of Remarkable Garden. A study day was organized on 8 February 2012 as part of the Rendez-vous aux jardins 2012 by the General Directorate of Heritage and the National Council of Parks and Gardens. Finally, a grass tennis course was reopened in 2010.

Organic garden
Since his arrival at Villandry in 2009, the head gardener, Laurent Portuguez, has had one thing in mind: to make the magnificent Villandry gardens organic.

The first efforts focussed on the kitchen gardens, where the working methods have been entirely rethought, with the motto “observe to anticipate and anticipate to avoid using chemical treatments”.

For the team of gardeners, this is no mean task: in addition to a new work organisation, certain tools have appeared in the sheds, and each gardener has to keep a close watch on all the plants to prevent pests and diseases.

Here are a few concrete examples of what has been done since 2009 in the gardens:

Stop pesticides
All pesticides have been eliminated from the gardens and replaced either by parasitic or predatory auxiliaries or by nematodes, which feed on diptera larvae (flies, etc.).

For example, native predators of the lime mite have been introduced following the recommendations of the university technology and skills transfer unit Innophyt specialising in organic methods of preventing the spread of lime mite, which cause discoloration and leaf fall in the lime trees in the Villandry gardens. These natural predators are being introduced in controlled conditions so that they eventually become permanent residents of the gardens.

Finally, since we have stopped using chemical insecticides, insects hitherto naturally present have started to come back in the kitchen garden, and many of the natural enemies of aphids (green or black fly), such as syrphus flies, green lacewings, and parasitic wasps, are present and are at work to attack these pests.

In addition, four beehives were installed on the south terraces of the gardens in spring 2010.

The natural fungicides
At the same time, we are fighting against fungus borne leaf diseases without using synthetic treatments: by stimulating the natural defences of roses, vines and fruit trees with treatments using minerals, trace elements, essential oils, slurry and decoctions to strengthen the plants and make them more resistant to disease.

The organic fertilisation
Chemical fertilisation has been eliminated and has now been replaced by organic fertilisation, in the form of compost comprising a variety of granules supplying nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. All the fertilisers can be used in organic farming, but require several targeted applications as and when needed to avoid the soil becoming impoverished.

The elimination of the chemical fertilication was with few changes:

Changes in growing methods: multi-tined spades are now used to preserve the activity of the bacteria contained in the tope 10 to 15 centimetres of soil. Unlike ordinary digging, it avoids burying this microscopic life 30cm under the surface. Hoeing is also done more frequently to make the watering more efficient.

Changes in the choice of plants: introduction of plants, seeds and growing composts with “organic farming” certification. So the spring and summer planting schemes are now fully organic.

Still owned by the Carvallo family, the Château de Villandry is open to the public and is one of the most visited châteaux in France; in 2007 the château received about 330,000 visitors.