Château de Villandry is a Renaissance country house in the Loire Valley region of France. It’s best known for its flowers and gardens, which is the reason we ranked it #3 on our Best Castles in the Loire Valley list. In this post, we’ll share photos of Château de Villandry and our thoughts on why it’s one of France’s elite chateaux.
Like all the other châteaux of the Loire Valley, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Château de Villandry has also been designated a Monument Historique in France. Villandry has earned plenty of other accolades, many of which are predicated upon its gardens. It’s the allure of those famous gardens that convinced us to visit Château de Villandry in the first place. While we found its interiors to be quite nice, it was photos of the meticulously manicured gardens that drew us to Villandry.
While Château de Villandry ranks #3 on our list, which some people call the definitive rankings of castles and chateaux in the region (okay, no one calls it that), it’s #1 among the locations that are not featured in Epcot’s Impressions de France film. That’s right–we actually visited somewhere in France that was not based on the “recommendation” of Walt Disney World. And are we ever glad that we did…
Frankly, it seems like a huge oversight that Château de Villandry was not featured in Impressions de France in the first place. Even setting aside personal preference and just trying to be objective about things, it’s difficult to envision Château de Villandry not being among the top 5 chateaux in the Loire Valley. The interiors are solid, and the gardens are the best in the region.
In fairness to that film, it could be that Château de Villandry has been a mover and shaker in recent years. The “Editorial” currently on Château de Villandry’s website suggests that it has been undergoing significant refurbishments in the last decade, and indicates it was recently awarded the awarded the Quality Tourism Classification by the Ministry of Tourism, “recognising its activities in terms of its upkeep and enhancement.”
We’ll start this by looking at some of the interiors at Château de Villandry.
When Jean Le Breton acquired Château de Villandry, the building was a Medieval fortress, complete with architecture befitting a defensive structure.
This style was rolled back, with the floor plan opened up and refreshed with Renaissance décor.
Marquis de Castellane moved into Villandry in the 18th Century and made additional changes to further transform Château de Villandry into a bright and comfortable home that reflected the era. That’s more or less where Villandry stands today.
It’s a well-appointed home with inviting decor that is at once stately and disarming. It’s nice, but nothing that is particularly noteworthy among Loire Valley chateaux.
Château de Villandry has some fascinating interiors, but honestly, those pale in comparison to the gardens. Villandry would not be nearly this high up the list if we were going solely on the interiors.
Conversely, the gardens alone guarantee Villandry a spot in the top 3. The gardens here are incredibly large (perhaps not technically the largest in the Loire Valley, but they’re the best) and you could spend hours exploring their multiple tiers.
We did exactly that, devoting around triple the time to the gardens that we did the interior.
The Renaissance gardens of Château de Villandry include a water garden, ornamental flower gardens, and vegetable gardens. The gardens are laid out in formal patterns created with low box hedges.
Our first and biggest tip for Château de Villandry has to do with timing your visit. The interior closes an hour before the gardens, with the last ticket for the interior being sold 30 minutes before it closes. We recommend making Château de Villandry your last stop of the day, arriving about an hour before the interior’s closing.
That will give you time for a fairly brisk tour of the interior, followed by at least an hour in the gardens. We say “at least” an hour, because there’s a good chance you’ll have more time…
During our visit, Château de Villandry closed at 6 p.m., with a sunrise time of around 8:45 p.m. Given that, our assumption was that we would not be able to see or photograph the sunset here. After all, that’s potentially 3 hours after closing for peak color in the case of a good sunset.
Our original plan was to finish at Villandry and immediately race to Chambord to shoot sunset there. Since our last visit to Château de Chambord, the refurbishment had been completed, and the photos we saw of the new gardens look stunning.
Unfortunately, reality set in…as it often does with our plans. Chambord is over an hour from Villandry, which is about an hour from where we were staying in Amboise. As great as photographing Chambord at sunset would’ve been, that was a lot of driving. Moreover, we weren’t even sure whether it’s accessible for sunset. As we noted in our previous post, a sunset view “presumably” should be available as it’s outside of the main gate, but who knows whether that’s actually the case.
Given all of that, we decided to play it conservative, and just see how long we could stick around Château de Villandry after the interior closed. At the very least, we should be able to get some golden hour light.
When 6 p.m. rolled around we exited the interior of the château, and there were still a ton of people in the gardens. So, we lingered around, taking some photos as areas cleared, and then finding a nice bench to sit and bide our time until the light improved.
Every so often, I’d get up to snap a few photos to hedge my bets, just in case a staffer showed up and told us to get lost.
By the time 7:30 p.m. rolled around, we were the only ones remaining at Château de Villandry, and it was obvious we’d be allowed to stay as long as we wanted.
We had stumbled upon an ‘after hours’ exit gate in the corner of the garden, which was clearly how we were supposed to show ourselves out.
We found this to be a really nice–and very trusting–gesture. This is an international tourist destination with some lavish gardens that are within stomping distance of guests, so it’s surprising that everyone would just go home and let guests linger. Then again, maybe they don’t. Maybe there’s someone inside watching a plethora of hidden cameras, ready to pounce the moment someone trudges into a flower bed.
After a lot more waiting, there was a brief period of gorgeous light around 8 p.m. I started rushing around, trying to snap as many photos as possible. It looked like the sun was going to disappear below the building-line shortly after this, so unless the sky lit up, that was the peak light we’d have in Villandry’s gardens.
The clouds started to thicken after this, and the sky went overcast. It also got surprisingly chilly. With about an hour of waiting for a potential sunset and the temperature decreasing while our hunger was increasing, we had to choose whether to continue playing the waiting game, or just call it a night.
Thinking with our stomaches rather than our eyes (neither of which are cognitive organs, but whatever), we opted to head out. It was a tough decision to make, especially with Château de Villandry’s gardens being so gorgeous, but the probability of a colorful sky seemed low.
While there were a number of restaurants in the immediate (walking distance) vicinity of Villandry, we did a quick Google search and found a highly-rated restaurant on a nearby farm called L’Epicerie Gourmande. As we walked inside, this place looked fantastic–quaint and intimate.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have any availability. Even though we didn’t dine there, I’d “recommend” trying to get reservations or score a walk-up table. The restaurant looked like a welcoming environment, and it smelled delightful.
After getting all excited about that restaurant, where we ended up eating–Mamie Bigoude–was fine. The environment is probably best described as 50s Prime Time Cafe if it were designed by Thomas Wolfe. The design was Americana, but with a warped sense of abstraction to it. Ambiance-wise, it was really cool, but the food was only okay.
Other than timing your visit at the end of the day and finding a good place for dinner nearby, I’m not sure what tips you might need for Château de Villandry. Parking is free and abundant and the audio guide is worth getting (especially if you need to kill time outside!)…that’s about it.
Overall, Château de Villandry ranks as one of my favorite spots in the Loire Valley, and it’s almost entirely for the beautiful gardens outside. While I think there’s more charm and unique character to Chambord and Chenonceau (and to a lesser degree, even Montpoupon), there is a ton to be said for those meticulously maintained gardens. Château de Villandry also scores some serious points for our experience in having a leisurely evening with the grounds entirely to ourselves, as we awaited the sunset. While this was obviously at least partially unique to us, I’d strongly encourage anyone reading this to try replicating that experience. Even without that, Villandry still easily ranks as a must-do for anyone with even only one day to spend in Loire Valley.
Planning your own trip to France? Check out our France posts, which cover a variety of places, from Normandy to the Loire Valley. In addition to these posts, I recommend planning with the Rick Steves France and Loire Valley Eyewitness guidebooks.
Have you visited Château de Villandry? What did you think of the experience? Were you as impressed with it as I was? How much time did you spend exploring the gardens of Villandry? Any tips or thoughts to add? If you haven’t visited, is this a spot that appeals to you? Any questions? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share any remarks you have in the comments!