We meant to begin by traipsing through the well laid out gardens at Château de Villandry. Being all set and all relaxed, we were ready to initiate our road trip after a comfortable two hour TGV ride from Gare de Montparnasse. Having disembarked at Saint Pierre des corps, from where it is a mere five minute train ride to Tours, our brief sojourn at the nearby Brasserie for lunch was an initiation into the cheeses of the region. Partaking of a delicious Sainte Maure de Touraine, presented on a bed of lettuce drizzled with vinaigrette followed by an immensely regrettable Andouille; I tried not to envy the unpretentiousness of my husband’s humble poulet served with Gruyère. Sainte-Maure de Touraine is an unpasteurized cheese made from goat’s whole milk and produced in the region of Touraine, mainly in the department of Indre-et-Loire. It is white, soft on the inside with a greyish mouldy rind and it is remarkably delectable.
Having forgotten to change our previously selected destination, we made our way through the Loire countryside to eventually reach the quaint picturesque village of Azay le Rideau instead of Château de Villandry. But don’t they say, the best itineraries are usually happenstance.
The village was well laid out with it’s tiny patisseries and brasseries and it’s own early French Renaissance Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, built during the period 1515 – 1527. Erected on the foundations of a medieval fortress in the heart of Touraine, and reconstructed by Gilles Berthelot, Treasurer-General of the Finances of France under King Francis I and mayor of Tours, whose later falling out of favour with the king, led the chateau to change ownership several times until the early twentieth century, when it was finally purchased and restored by the French government.
Arriving at Azay-le-Rideau towards evening, our first impression was of cottony wispy seeds fluttering from tall trees flanking the short path to the entrance, floating away gaily in the evening sun.
The chateau was surrounded by a distinctly nineteenth century English landscape garden dotted with exotic conifers: Atlas cedar, bald cypress and sequoias.
The chateau itself has Italianate sculptural decorations, but a very French high sloping slate roof and vertical stacks of grouped windows. At the corners were Bastions topped with conical turrets.
The main feature one encounters upon entering the chateau is the escalier d’honneur or the central staircase which is partly embedded in the wall and rises in a dog legged fashion turning 180 degrees around a dividing wall at each floor . The chateau also has intermediate landings that open onto terraces or loggias that face the courtyard.
The sculptural details at the chateau are noteworthy especially the first loggia with it’s display of salamander and ermine, the emblems of Francois I and Claude de France.
The birds chirped all through the late and yet well-lit evening. The waning sunlight set off beautifully the wisteria on the walls of the courtyard and the water around the chateau glistened.
Honoré de Balzac rightly called it ‘a facetted diamond set in the Indre.’
We slowly sauntered to the almost empty Parking lot outside, equipped with some brie and a highly recommended Chinon red.
As we made our way once more, losing it now and again through the countryside, up until we reached fairy tale thickly wooded groves and a meadow of lavender to retire to our own rooms at a private chateau in the Loire.