01 May 2015 by Gillian Thorntorn
Blooming Summer – the Gardens of the Loire Valley
Everybody loves a good garden, and whether you’re green-fingered or just green with envy, travelling as a couple or with children in tow, you can’t go wrong in the gardens of the Loire Valley. Plots don’t get much more desirable than the green spaces that surround the elegant Renaissance chateaux of the French aristocracy, all an easy drive from the Western Channel ports.
The Loire Valley – a horticultural heaven
From ‘English style’ parks to formal French flowerbeds, wonderful water features to contemporary garden design, the manicured parks and gardens of the Loire Valley never fail to delight.
Here, close to France’s ‘last wild river’, you can pick up tips for your own horticultural haven, admire somebody else’s hard work or simply relax while the children let off steam. Many gardens offer activity trails for young visitors and some even invite families to picnic in the shade of their ancient trees.
Gardens large & small
And while major players like Villandry and Chenonceau have become household names among garden lovers, you’ll also find smaller, more intimate plots that have been lovingly created by passionate enthusiasts. Don’t miss Stéphane Chassine’s enchanting rose garden, Les Jardins de Roquelin, at Meung-sur-Loire, where more than 450 old-fashioned varieties fill borders, climb trees and spill from pergolas.
Whole communities are transformed by flowers in the summer months, such as the pretty village of Chedigny near Tours, where roses and colourful annuals tumble into the village street from every garden. You can even stay with a garden enthusiast through the Guest & Garden network that offers B&B in private homes across the Touraine around Tours.
There are gardens to discover right across the neighbouring regions of Centre and Pays de la Loire, but you don’t need to stray far from the river, listed by UNESCO for its combination of unspoilt nature and architectural heritage.
The Chateau gardens of Orleans
Orleans, regional capital of the Centre, is best known for its association with Joan of Arc – the ‘Maid of Orléans’ – but don’t miss the family friendly Parc Floral de la Source, where the Loiret river bubbles to the surface. This 35-hectare floral oasis includes a butterfly house and aviary, as well as collections of roses, iris and dahlia.
East of Orleans at Chilleurs-aux-Bois, the turreted Chateau de Chamerolles offers six scented gardens bordered by avenues shaded with honeysuckle and roses, a delightful complement to the sensory exhibitions inside the castle, devoted to the history of perfume.
Many visitors to the Chateau de Chambord, near Blois, are surprised to find that this flamboyant royal palace doesn’t actually have a garden – just a vast park bigger than the city of Paris! Built for King François I as an entertainment venue, Chambord hosted lavish hunting parties, and the range of sporting activities and nature tours offered today reflect its original use as an outdoor playground. A great place to walk or cycle.
It’s a very different story however at nearby Chateau de Cheverny, which will look familiar to any fan of Herge’s boy detective Tintin. The castle, minus wings, was the model for Captain Haddock’s ancestral home, and has been in the same family for six centuries. Wander the fabulous kitchen garden that keeps the chateau supplied with flowers; enjoy the contemporary design of the Apprentices’ Garden; and relax beneath the giant redwoods and cedars of the park. You might even spot a kingfisher on an electric boat ride ‘along the Bayou’.