Driving through the countryside around Azay-le-Rideau we had often noticed a signpost indicating the way to ‘La Chatonnière’. Each year, when planning our holiday, I pencilled it in as a possible visit. We finally got to see it in 2006.
The Chatonnière is an enchanting castle, surrounded by twelve exquisite gardens. They are the pride and joy of the owner Béatrice de Andia who, with her award winning head gardener Ahmed Azéroual, have created this amazing gem. The castle is surrounded by sweeping, almost endless wheat fields dotted with bright red poppies.
Apart from the carefully planted and tended vegetable garden, one of the most striking features is the rose garden with no less than 2.000 rose plants. The ingenious combination of subtle pink, lively yellow and soft orange coloured roses make a breathtaking sight. When we were there in June the roses were in full bloom and their fragrance was almost overwhelming.
We arrived at the château just before and were delighted to see that some picnic tables had been set up in the woody part of the park. Several gardeners were clipping the hedge. By the gatehouse a lady was waiting for us to collect the entrance fee. Having seen the picnic tables, we asked her if we could have our lunch there. No problem, as long as we kept the place tidy and put our wrapping paper, empty wine bottle and other unwanted leftovers in the bin.
By the door of the gatehouse stood a stack of crates containing freshly picked cherries. To our surprise the lady handed us a ramekin of cherries. When we asked her how much we owed her, she simply told us that they came with the entrance ticket and that they would make a nice dessert to our picnic!
Sitting in the shade of the old chestnut trees, we enjoyed our traditional picnic lunch. After cleaning away the leftovers, we walked around the gardens, shooting several pictures of the colourful sights.
We were about to leave when an elegant lady, dressed in a bright green cotton skirt and a white linen blouse, came out of the castle and walked over to us. She introduced herself as the lady of the house and asked us where we were from. As she had seen us picnicking in the park, she wanted to know whether we had enjoyed it. We thanked her for taking an interest in us and told her that we had liked the gardens very much indeed. We chatted for a while before taking our leave, shaking hands. She walked us to the gatehouse and offered us more cherries. We declined as we already had more cherries than we could eat.
The Château de la Chatonnière itself is not open to the public, but the gardens are definitely worth a visit. There’s even a chance that you too will run into the ‘châtelaine’.