Villandry and Tours
31 Aug 2012
|Ali wanted to have a quiet day today reading in the Loire, so I grabbed the car and decided to go see a few things which we didn't get the chance to yesterday. The first place I wanted to head to was a chateau called Villandry, which is renowned for it's beautiful gardens.
The chateau itself is tucked away on the south side of the Cher River (a tributary of the Loire) by a km or so. There isn't very much to the town, a few shops and a very long car park.
The chateau was originally built on the land where a fortress once stood. The new chateau was built by Jean Le Breton, who was the "Minister for Finance" in France at the time, under King Francis I. Le Breton leveled the fortress, with the exception of the keep. It was in this keep that King Henry II of England signed a peace treaty with King Philip II of France, 2 days after which he passed away.
After being owned for 200 years by the Le Breton family there was a short period of ownership by the Marquis de Castellane. He did not like the renaissance style that had been incorporated into the design, and found the palace cold and uncomfortable. He changed the castle, by installing wooden paneling as sound proofing and insulation.
Later, during the French Revolution, the chateau was confiscated. After this, the land was reclaimed by Emperor Napoleon, who gave the property to his brother Joseph Bonaparte. The ownership of the chateau changed many times until it fell into disrepair.
In the early 1900s, Joachim Carvallo, a Spanish born doctor bought the property with the help of his wife Ann Coleman, who was heir to an American steel empire. He left medicine behind, and dedicated the rest of his life to restoring Villandry. He acquired the help of 100 stonemasons, who helped restore the chateau to its renaissance style.
After this, he decided that the English romantic style garden did not match the renaissance style chateau, so he decided to investigate what the old chateau gardens looked like, and restore them to the renaissance style as well. He was able to find plans from the Bonaparte era and Marquis de Castellane, and restore two of the gardens to their original state. He then hired some artists to help build the "salon of crosses" and the "salon of love". He designed the "salon of music" garden.
I walked through the rooms of the chateau, and admired a few. In particular, the dining room which had a small fountain in one of the walls. There were quite a few paintings and tapestries, which had come to be a bit cliche for interior decorating of a chateau, but were impressive none the less.
At the end of the walk through the various rooms, I went up the narrow spiral staircase of the keep, and had a look down over the various gardens. I could now see why they were called salon of crosses and salon of love. The garden beds were formed with hedges around them and in the middle, forming cross patterns. In between the hedges were flowers of various colours.
The salon of love was designed, with 4 patterns in mind. The first pattern had heart shaped hedges, with light coloured flowers inside the heart, and hedges with red flowers outside, which were meant to signify the flame of love. The next pattern was the passion of love pattern. It had smaller hearts which were meant to be entangled, like a dance or whirlwind had swept them away. The third pattern was meant to represent the fickleness of love. It was made up of hedges with predominantly yellow flowers, which apparently represent betrayed love. In the middle were white flowers, which were meant to be symbolic of love letters, and on the outside, were hedges with fan shapes with yellow flowers, to show how easily blown away the emotion can be. The last pattern was made up of hedges with crescent like shapes, with red flowers inside. This was meant to represent the tragedy of love, when men dueled for the affections of a lady with sword or dagger.
These "salons" were then divided up from the other gardens in the chateau grounds. One of these was a water garden, which had a magnificent pool of water and three "step" waterfalls. Inside the pool of the garden were two swans, and just outside the main pool were fountains, symmetrically spaced from the bigger pool. The pool flowed water down the little step waterfalls, into a moat around the chateau. In the moat were another two beautiful white swans, which seemed to dance before me when I walked past them later.
On the other side of the moat, was the kitchen gardens. In here there were many vegetables which would have been used by the owners to cook with. Apparently this is what used to exist in the time of the Le Breton family, and Joachim wanted to bring that part of the chateau back. On the other side of the property was a church, and in between that church and the kitchen garden was a herb garden, which was also used by the owners for fresh cooking.
There was also a hedge maze in the distance, there was also another area called the Sun garden, way off in the corner.
I descended down the stairs of the keep, and then started walking along the terraces, which are still elevated above the gardens. It was quite a relaxing and pretty place to walk. Many people in France rate the renaissance gardens of Villandry the best in France. Whilst I have not seen them all, they do seem very pretty, although in my eyes, they aren't natural. Whilst the patterns are attractive on the eye, they are very much manipulated by man, rather than growing in a natural way.
After spending some time walking back through the gardens, and watching the swans, I headed back to the car, and plotted a course to Tours. I had been attracted to its medieval old town from some pictures I had seen, and by its apparently brilliant cathedral. I parked a mile away from all of that, underneath the railway station, and started walking back to the Hotel de Ville and Palais du Justice. There were some roadworks going on here, so it was hard to take a good picture. Both buildings have some lovely ornamentation on their facades, and look very majestic. Brilliant choice of architecture for their purpose.
From here I took a walk down the streets opposite the Hotel de Ville. After about 20-30minutes, I realised I had not seen a single sign for the old town, so I popped into a real hotel and asked for some assistance. She told me to head back the way I came, get to the Hotel de Ville, and walk for another 20mins in that direction. She gave me a map and highlighted the best areas to walk through.
Eventually I got to the old town, via some streets which looked like they were being prepared for a new tram (or the old tram line was being repaired). The buildings looked very similiar to Vitre. They were wooden, and the wood had warped with the ages, so that they weren't perfectly straight bits of wood in either the horizontal or vertical directions. Some of them looked like they'd eaten a bit much too, as the wood had bowed like an over sized belly.
The buildings were painted in similiar colours, dark orange, or very dark pink colours. The border of the house was painted in a very dark, chocolate brown, with vertical lines every few inches. I also walked past an old cathedral, which had been heavily damaged, probably during the second world war, although Tours was also heavily impacted by the first.
During the second world war, the French government moved for a short period to Tours, before it moved further south to Bordeaux. In the same period, the Germans dropped incendiary bombs on the city, which started an uncontrolled fire. The fire burnt for three days, destroying many historic buildings. As the Germans approached, the French army blew up part of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (named after the US President) to slow the Germans down. As it also carried the water into town, the locals had no choice to flee, as they had nothing to put the fires out.
I walked past several of the old wooden houses, marveling at the pure luck that they survived this. After a bit longer, I found myself in the main part of the old town, which is called Place Plumereau. Here there were lots of tables and chairs with restaurants and bars that the locals were sitting down and drinking at. I assume they were locals, as I didn't hear any other English speaking or German voices. The Place was filled with these old buildings I had been seeing.
Near here I walked down a small alley, thinking it was taking me somewhere else of interest, and I found an area which allegedly had some roman ruins. I found out after leaving, that the town was called "Hill of Caesar" by the Romans.
The locals had originally called the town Turones. The Romans then renamed it Civitas Turonum. This was then modified to Tours. The Romans at the time had built a huge amphitheatre, at the time one of the largest in the Empire. Again, I missed this, as it wasn't clearly marked on the tourist map. The ruins I had found had nothing to do with this amphitheatre though, which wasn't marked on my tourist map. Boooooo!
I did leave the Place Plumereau however, and started walking in the general direction of the cathedral. I eventually got to a street which was a block or two away, but instead of turning right, I turned left and went to have a look at the Chateau and the Loire river. There was a suspension bridge here for pedestrians, so I crossed over most of the way to take some pictures. I noticed down below in the sand bars, there were people sunbathing, and a couple of unlikely types looked like they had a raft built from rubbish (truck tyres, broken chairs), which they were pushing into the water. It floated.
I watched for a bit in amazement, and then almost got ran over by a motorbike, which apparently, has the same rights as a pedestrian. I left the bridge and headed back past the chateau, and to the Cathedral. It was fairly impressive and typically gothic in style. I went to see if there was anything particularly special about this church, and found the most amazing lead light windows. In the central nave above the choir, there were about 6 of them, and all told a story from the bible. That isn't very different to other churches, but I thought the detail in these windows was exceptional.
Inside the cathedral, was a small tomb, which housed the bodies of two children. They were the children of Charles VII and Anne of Brittany. The sarcophogus was brilliantly carved marble, by an Italian artist I cannot remember. It was done in a renaissance style, which I found out, was not too uncommon for the church.
The outside of the church had ornamentation which was gothic, but the rest of the church was a hybrid of various styles. The tops of the two tours on the front of the cathedral apparently were also renaissance style, and the buttresses on the outside were Romanesque. You live and learn!
After spending some time admiring the windows a bit more, I left the church (grumble, 1 block from the amphitheatre!) and headed back towards the car. It was starting to get later in the afternoon, and I wanted to be back before dinner time. I hopped into the car, and drove back along the Loire River again, like Alison and I had done the day before.
If I had my time again, I think I'd have researched what I wanted to look at before I go somewhere, but I guess you can't see absolutely everything, no matter how much you try.