Ever wonder why the Mona Lisa ended up in France instead of Italy? One of the benefits of travel is you wonder about things like this instead of why you missed the first season of Game of Thrones.
In case you missed Part 1 of this letter, here you go.
And oh all right, Season 1 of Thrones here. Honestly the things I do…
Anyway speaking of thrones, Leonardo came to France in 1516 at the invitation of French King François Ist, who had just whupped Milan in a battle and was feeling expansive. The artist brought La Joconde with him, continuing to work on her during his stay at Clos de Lucé in Amboise, where he died three years later. The royal court at the time was in Chateau d’Amboise. The king bought the painting from Leonardo’s assistant (and boyfriend?), who had inherited it.
Situated on a park by the river, the house includes a swell museum with drawings and replicas of the master’s inventions. Reproductions of his contraptions are also placed around the grounds. It’s all very child- and husband-friendly. Read more about Amboise and Clos Lucé at VirtualTourist.com byVon Otter.
I hope Leonardo would have appreciated his garden being enjoyed by our congenial group of Americans on bicycles, though he might have been horrified by the outfits. Understandably.
While we stopped for coffee, I scribbled a quick sketch.
Moving on. Some of the most famous gardens in France and the world are those at Chateau Villandry.
We were shown around by Henri Cavallo himself, current owner and scion of the family who acquired Villandry in the early 20th century and set about restoring the castle, collecting art and creating the gardens.
What a tremendous, not to mention labor-intensive, legacy Monsieur Cavallo and his family carry on. Here’s the story, also a love story, of the Spanish-born doctor Joachim Carvallo and his American heiress wife née Ann Coleman, a scientist herself, and the beautiful place we have to thank them for.
Did you know formal gardens are meant to be viewed from above? Me either but makes sense.
Owing to the cold spring the gardens were a few weeks behind. I borrowed a few flowery photos from their beautiful website, where I also learned that this week, on July 5 and 6, is the Night of a Thousand Fires – Nuit de Mille Feux–when the gardens are lit by thousands of candles, which must be magnifico, as His Grace (my husband for new readers, and obviously a fluent French speaker) would say.
I also liked the cantaloupe colored dining room.
Cantaloupe is what I kept wanting to call the Pagode de Chanteloup, and judging from some of your comments, you do too. For some reason we just don’t want to put that h in there. Maybe a way to remember it is Hoot, because in the most magnifico of garden folly traditions, this is a beautiful hoot. I can think of worse things to be called.
Fellow traveler and Principessa Carolyne Roehm was charmed by it and took 437 photos, as did her beau Simon.
They have matching jackets.
It is true that she looks perfect at all times.
They were very brave and climbed to the top. I have gotten funny about heights. I think because I am turning into my mother.
Children love coming here to play with the antique wooden games outdoors on the lawn.
The gift shop, housed in this wisteria be-draped little building, is an eccentric mix of books, crafts and antiques. Principessa and I are sometimes more interested in the gift shop than in the museum or castle or whatever. Shocking I know.
We spent one night at the Domaine de la Tortinere, which was so lovely.
Then on to the Chateau du Rivau, also an inn. Also a good gift shop. Before the gift shop, in the 15th and 16th centuries, Rivau was renown for raising and training war horses.
In fact Joan of Arc came here to fetch horses and to prepare for the siege of Orleans in 1429.
We prepared for the siege of another dinner, here under the glassy eyes of game trophies.
A beautiful setting…
The gardens are spectacular here, but again we were a little early–a shame because these are the premier rose gardens in France with some 300+ species and test gardens for David Austin roses among others.
But you couldn’t say the place didn’t have legs.
…among other kooky sculptures and exhibits in the current owners’ “Fairytale Gardens.”
What we missed in roses we made up for in feathers. The peacocks put on quite a show.
Photos by Frances except where noted in the captions.