Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

At last

Since 2008 I’ve made several attempts to visit the gardens of the Château de Valmer, in the village of Chançay, north of Vouvray. During our first Loire Valley tour in 1999 we had driven up to the castle gate; an old wooden structure that was firmly locked. The ground around the gate was overgrown with weeds and the place looked deserted. We peeked through the holes between the worn wooden boards, but didn’t see much. So we turned the car and set off to our next destination.

In the spring of 2008 I read about the castle grounds being open to the public. There was no castle, though. The owners had decided to tear it down after it had been damaged beyond recovery by a violent fire in 1948. After the fire the family moved into one of the outbuildings, today known as the ‘Petit Valmer’, built in 1647. On the exact spot where the former main castle used to stand, the current owner, Alix de Saint Venant, who is a keen gardener, has recreated the shape of the castle using a series of huge yew bushes. The bushes are carefully trimmed showing the spots where the door and the windows used to be. It looks very elegant, yet a bit spooky. I don’t think I would feel comfortable being around there alone at night.

Le 'Petit Valmer' seen from the vegetable garden.

Moreover, next to the ‘mock’ château you’ll find an even spookier troglodyte chapel that was carved into the white limestone rock in 1542. The ceiling is showing large patches of green moss. Over the entrance stands a small statue of Saint Roch.

On the right you can just make out the stairs leading up to the orginal castle and part of the yew hedge 'symbolising' it.

During this year’s tour I finally managed to visit the Château de Valmer. Three earlier attempts, in 2008, 2009 and 2010 had failed because in spring – May and June – the gardens are only open on Sunday. You have to wait till July or August if you want to discover the grounds during the week. There had always been a good ‘excuse’ not to go there on Sunday, the day of our arrival. But this year I was determined not to miss the opportunity.

Entrance to the troglodyte chapel.

So after our excellent meal at the Lion d’Or we set out for Chançay. However, when we opened the door of the car, my friends suddenly took a sudden step back and exclaimed: “There is a dead goat in the car!” Of course there wasn’t an actual dead animal in the car; it was just the strong smell of the goat’s cheese that we had bought earlier that day at the market. Despite the fact that we had put it in the cool box, the typical smell had invaded the car. We left all four doors open for a while before getting into the car. For the rest of our stay we would always refer to the cheese as ‘the dead goat’: “Is there any dead goat left for tonight?” – “Pass me the dead goat please!” – Can I cut you a piece of dead goat?” And on the morning on which we left: “I suppose we can throw the last bit of the dead goat away.” We all agreed on that last one, because none of us felt like driving 550 km with the pungent smell hanging in the car.

Not a stinky goat, but one of the two lions guarding the entrance to the vegetable gardens. Must be a hell of a job because it looks really bloodthirsty.

Arriving at Valmer we found the castle grounds full with people. That particular weekend was the annual ‘Rendez-vous aux Jardins’ in La Touraine, and the entrance fee was only 7.50 euro instead of the usual 8.50 euro. There would be a guided tour by Alix de Saint Venant at 4 p.m. but we decided against it, wanting to discover the gardens on our own, using the leaflet for reference. These are some of the many photos I shot. I’ll be posting some more tomorrow about another special event at Valmer on that same day.


Susan said...

Alix de Saint Venant is quite a woman I think. We've never met her, but hear from friends that she is rather remarkable.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Ha ha that is funny about your cheese. Nigel and I bought some cheese in France on a cycling tour many years back. When we stopped at the B & B in the UK on our return trip we had to apologise for the smell in the room LOL. Diane

ladybird said...

Susan, I've seen her in a short video clip on the website of the Touraine tourist board, and she has a great deal of class and presence indeed.

Diane, Personally, I don't mind smelly cheeses. As long as they taste good I'll put up with the 'aroma'. ;)