are in Amboise, the last home of Leonardo Da Vinci. There is no time for a
sit down lunch as we’re on a schedule. Even here in Amboise, on the
Loire, there is so much to see. I marvel at the cave dwellings of the
troglodytes and smile as I see the modern satellite dish at the cave door.
Progress is everywhere. Yet, at The Clos Luce, where Da Vinci lived, I am
reminded only of the past. But I’ve written about all this in a previous
article so it’s time to move on. We settle for the drive back through
Tours and west to Villandry.
are good reasons to stop here and they are centered mostly on the
magnificent gardens. The renaissance chateau built in 1536 by one of
Francis I’s ministers, on the banks of the Loire, is important
architecturally, but not one of my favorites. The one exception is the
Prince Jerome chamber which is charming. It was named for the brother of
Napoleon who once lived there.
with its arcaded galleries, mullioned windows and sculpted gables, I find
it overdone and slightly neglected. I’m here for the gardens and I start
with the fifteen-minute slide show of Villandry In All Seasons. It shows
the most unique gardens in Europe, laid out on three levels. On the first
level there is an ornamental lake in the center. It is wonderful for
Joachim Carvallo, a Spaniard and great-grandfather of the present owners
purchased the chateau. It changed hands in 1906. This brilliant scientist
gave up his career to devote himself entirely to Villandry. He founded the
‘Demeure Historique’ society in 1924, the first association of
privately owned Chateaux.
herb garden, between the kitchen garden and the church, is a splendid
example of French architectural and color design. This was a must in the
Middle Ages. It provided aromatic, cooking and medicinal herbs. Here,
thirty varieties of these beneficial plants provided centuries of
residents with items essential to their well-being.
‘ornamental kitchen garden’ occupies the nine equal squares, each with
a different geometrical design. Here the vegetables are planted for their
color and looks like a checkerboard. You’ll find blue leek, red cabbage,
beetroot and green carrot tops. This was created by monks of the Middle
Ages and reminds us of these monastic origins. The Monks left their mark
with the planting of standard roses to add to the décor.
there is also an Italian influence here with the fountains, bowers and
flowerbeds. The design changes each year and today, the laborious task of
watering is done automatically by underground sprinklers.
are definite patterns in the ornamental gardens, behind the chateau. I
still remember the first time I say the entire vista from the belvedere.
It’s easy to see the various designs but hard to describe them. There
are designs called “Tender Love”, “Passionate Love”, “Fickle
Love”, and “Tragic love.” This last one is the most dramatic. It
represents blades and daggers and swords used during duels, provoked by
lovers. The summer red is a flash back to the blood spilt during these
in the middle of the farther designs sits the ‘Maltese Cross’, the
Languedoc cross and the Basque cross, with the fleurs de lys running along
is a very old courtyard where one enters the chateau and the inevitable
terrace where, no doubt, the ladies took their walks.
certain days each year, there are festivals. Call ahead for the dates.
They usually include a sound and light show, a Baroque Music Festival in
August and days in September when you can get hints on gardening and share
in the work.
visitors there is a restaurant, toilets and the always-present gift shop.
But that’s to be expected. It’s a welcome place for those who want to
just spend an extra few minutes breathing in the aromatic air.
takes time to do the chateau and gardens properly. Don’t rush. But if
there is time, try walking through the interesting maze at the far end
near the playground. It’s designed so you can’t get lost.
you’re in Tours, it’s an easy ride 15 Km west on D-7.Find out more
about Villandry by contacting them at http://firstname.lastname@example.org
ahead. Tel: 02 47 50 02 09
you have the time, I suggest you go 10 more Km south to Azay-Le-Rideau.
This is one of the great French monuments to the rich Bourgeoisie. Built
on an island, this graceful small chateau was once a fortification and is
now a gentle, inviting building with vertical ornaments, pepper pot towers
at each corner that overhang the river, and a dominant courtyard with
monumental open stairway. There is a drawbridge to the garden and
skylights that tower upward. The remarkable decorative latticework is
typical of the designs in the region.
boasts a library with fireplace, and wall furniture of paneling and
painted canvas. There is a dining room where gusts ate on service bearing
the Biencourt coat of arms. (Charles de Biencourt, the great benefactor,
owned the chateau after 1791).
is a billiard room decorated with Flemish tapestries from the
century, decorated with biblical scenes. The Biencourt drawing room is
open on all sides to the river and park, laid out in the 19th century.
There is more and a sound set to help you understand it all.
a remarkable building, filled with the charm of centuries past. The light
lines of the building are worth remembering and you certainly will.
you’ve visited the charming residence, take time to walk around the
building and see the chateau from all sides. You will cross a tiny bridge
and hear the rushing waterfall as the Indre River runs around this
charming site. Bring your cameras. It’s worth it. You can even visit at
night. There’s a sound and light show. Just call ahead for times. It’s
only half an hour from Tours.
too there is a well-stocked souvenir shop and clean bathrooms. There are
no refreshments but that’s possibly because the town is only steps away.
more information go to http://www.monuments-france.fr
is one of the 3615 Historical Monument sites.
telephone number is 02 47 45 42 04
me it is time for lunch and I’m headed south passed Poitiers and
Futurscope, the park of the future. But my mind is set on Cognac and my
eventual stop in Angouleme.
is that region center where the spirits of old are the crop of choice. Why
not? This is the best region in the world for the manufacture of Cognac.
There are many distilleries ready to welcome you. I’ve been to Martel,
Otard, and others, but I enjoy the friendly greeting I always get at
Hennessey. Here in this age-old depot and modern meeting site, I buy my
ticket and wait for the boat that will take me to a place where the air is
redolent with the wonderful smells of Cognac. The tour here will explain
groups are transported to the opposite side of the river where one is told
of the age-old traditions of making Cognac. We are shown the hand-made
wooden vats containing samples from the 19th century and how the blends
create one of the most sought-after drinks other than wine. The casks are
hand made by coopers who are extremely adept at their work. The uniformed
guides take you through the entire plant and even point out the black
lichen stains on the walls and ceilings from the alcohol evaporation. The
guide told us that there is a high percentage of evaporation ‘for the
the tasting, which is a popular part of the tour, the tour includes a very
vivid multi media show, which allows one to see the harvest and the work
it takes to create this smooth drink. At the tasting, we were served the
newest product, which was a lighter color than normal. This ‘Pure
White’ was served with a small amount of mineral water. The guide
explained that 85% of all cognac is consumed mixed. I didn’t know that
and still take it neat. The flavors seem better and more memorable.
I always enjoy Hennessey, one can visit Martel or another popular site at
Otard. This distillery operates from the Chateau where King Francis I was
born in 1494. The site’s thick walls are a perfect place for creating a
wonderful blend. It is a true historic monument. They have preserved
some of the Renaissance Architecture and that’s a good thing. They too
offer a tour and tasting. But it also affords the visitor with a view of
the ceremonial Helmet Room where Richard the Lion hearted watched his son
get married in 1190. The state Room is for receptions and The Guard’s
Room has signs that it was once a prison for Irish and English soldiers
during the Seven Years War (1756-63)
Richard Hennessey is on both sides of the Charante River. They are open
seven days a week from Mid March to New Years Eve from 10 AM daily.
Call ahead for reservations at 05 45 35 72 68
reserve by Fax. 05 45 35 79 49
is on Boulevard Denfert Rochereau, near the public garden. They open
to the public every day from April 1st to October 31st. November and
December is Monday to Friday only. They can be reached at 05 45 36 88 86
or by Fax at 05 45 36 88 87 or on their excellent website at http://www.otard.com.
you have a virtual visit with slides and description.
places have an entrance fee but it is well worth it, especially with the
chance to taste something special. If age and blending are the attributes
to perfection, these two sites are worth the visit. Bring home a bottle.
Buy a traditional snifter and, voila, Cognac at its best.
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)