21 July 2024

Eclectic France

Observations on the sites, sounds and events around France


Renaissance Gardens at Chateau de Valmer

Many of the chateaux on the Loire have interesting and beautiful gardens. But few can boast the heritage of those found at the Chateau de Valmer near to Chançay. These gardens are an exceptional example of the Italian Renaissance style. They date from the 1640s and are rare in France from this period.

The gardens are a mix of terraced and formal areas that have evolved over the past five centuries. Most of the sections have the familiar rectangular shape with gravel or grass paths around the edges and across the centres. Each has something different to offer. Start at the High Terrace to get a good view of the whole site and its layout. The largest areas are the Terrasse de Leda, the potager, and the verger.

View of the Potager at Chateau de Valmer
View of the Potager at Chateau de Valmer

Impressive Potager and Verger

The potager (kitchen garden) is likely to be the most impressive. It is around a hectare in size and split into four main squares. The garden contains a huge range of vegetable and fruit varieties. The adjacent verger (orchard) is home to a good selection of fruit trees including plums, peaches, and figs. During our visit, we were fortunate to see a female red-legged partridge and her group of young (cheepers) rambling in and out of some long grass by the fruit trees. They seemed unconcerned with our presence.

Partridges at Chateau de Valmer
Partridges at Chateau de Valmer

Don’t miss the semi-sunken Douves garden: it’s almost hidden in plain sight. The chateau created this garden as recently as 1979 in part of the ancient moat. Its borders contain a selection of hydrangeas – some very large – as well as choisyas and lilacs. It was very colourful.

Some areas of the gardens were looking a little tired during our visit (July 2020) with a few too many weeds and not enough dead-heading. We put this down to the covid emergency which perhaps meant fewer people were able to work. Nevertheless, it didn’t spoil the gardens. There was, in any case, plenty to see, enjoy, and discuss. The Ministry of Culture has designated the gardens a “Remarkable Garden” since it launched its scheme in 2004.

More About The Buildings

The chateau itself is pretty but it’s not the reason to visit. Sieur Jean Binet built the original chateau in the early 16th century. Has one of Francois Premier’s advisors. A fire destroyed this large building in 1948. You can see a few of the remains today. The current chateau is known as the Petit Valmer. Sieur Thomas Bonneau, another royal advisor, to Louis XIII, built it in 1640. The stone gateway and many of the other buildings on the site date from the same time. The chateau is still a private residence and it’s not possible to visit the house itself. The site was designated as a historic monument in the 1930s.

Polychrome altar at Chateau de Valmer
Polychrome altar at Chateau de Valmer

Something not to miss is the troglodyte chapel, another rarity. Excavated from the tuffeau stone underneath the High Terrace, it dates from 1524. It’s small and intimate. The main feature of interest is a tomb with a triptych polychrome altarpiece. This Historic Monument was restored recently and the work certainly paid off. Other features in the chapel include a Romanesque baptismal font and statue of Saint Martin. Both incorporate some impressive and intricate stone carving. Look out too for the small stained glass windows dating from the 16th century. These depict the healing of the possessed woman and the miracle of the spider.

The Chateau de Valmer has its own vineyard and the vines surround the site. The vineyard is in the AC Vouvray area. Its terroir allows it to produce four different types of Chenin wine: dry, semi-dry, sweet white and sparkling. The chateau offers tastings during visits and there are also special “apero” events on Tuesday evenings in July and August.