Nestled on a hillside overlooking the Brenne Valley resides the Château de Valmer, a Renaissance estate encircled by 60 hectares of flawlessly preened gardens. Built over the 16th and 17th centuries, the original château was devastated by a fire in 1948. Only its foundations and two sets of stone steps survived, yet the gardens have since been fully restored to their Renaissance glory. A series of terraced gardens mould to the hillside’s gradient, along two axes which trace the natural lines of the landscape and drop onto several different levels. Punctuated by brick balustrades, statues, stone staircases and fountains, these gardens have become the estate’s chief attraction. Visitors spend hours ambling along its sandy paths, winding between the flora and fauna ever-changing with the seasons.
On arrival at the park gates, a stately avenue of chestnut trees leads you towards the main entrance’s half-moon iron railings where you’ll cut across the cobbled forecourt and climb a series of steps towards the estate’s current residence, a stately home named the Petit Valmer. Crossing a stone bridge suspended over a 15 metre-deep moat, marvel at the Florentine Fountain Terrace’s cascading jets of water before discovering the château’s original site, marked by a large rectangle of yew trees.
Next you’ll find the Léda Terrace, recently restored to its 17th century design and linked to the Petit Valmer by an undulating hornbeam hedge. Descend a majestic flight of steps to the Mediterranean-style Terrace of Anduzian Vases, embellished with terracotta urns and trellised pink crape myrtles. Last is the sculptured vegetable garden, where fruit trees preside over gooseberry, raspberry and strawberry shrubs. Artichokes and asparagus grow side by side with vibrant tulips and carnations.
The first of Valmer’s flowers to bloom each spring is the fragrant clematis in the Florentine Fountain Terrace, soon followed by a peony shrub planted on the estate over 100 years ago. Then blossoms the headily perfumed wisteria, pink climbing roses burst open and the entire estate begins to brim with the bright hues of summertime from a myriad of sweet-scented flowers: dahlias, blue sage, anthemis, and cleome. Towering silver birch trees’ branches droop towards the deep moat, heavy bunches of white blossom rippling the water’s surface in the heat of midsummer. Autumn brings a new richness of colour as oak and chestnut trees fade to gold, and box hedges shield the earthy vegetable and flower gardens as colder months approach.
THE ART OF WINE
The Château de Valmer is equally famous for its Vouvray winery as it is for its grounds. A prestigious heritage of over 200 years of winemaking is upheld today by the Saint Venant father-and-son team who dedicate themselves to preserving one of the only wine cellars left in the region. Specialising in delicate dry and medium-dry whites, the vineyard also produces a small selection of fine rosé wines and brut.
The estate invites visitors from May to late September, with free wine tastings and discounted bottles for sale at the vineyard. This only embellishes a visit to the charming Valmer gardens, whose understated splendour blends flawlessly with the rolling valley surrounding them. Tinted with nostalgia and historical legacy, this working estate combines horticultural artistry with the protection of one of the region’s most ancient industries.
From May to June and in September: Open from Tuesday to Sunday and public holidays from 10am to 8pm. Closed on Mondays except public holidays. Closing times of the ticket office and the boutique are 12-2pm and at 6pm.
From July to August: Open from Tuesday to Sunday and public holidays from 10am to 8pm without interruption. Closed on Mondays. Closing time of the ticket office and boutique at 6pm.
From October to December: Open from Monday to Friday except public holidays from 10am to 12pm and from 2pm to 4pm. Last admission at 4pm, open exit. Closed on Monday November 1.
Visit www.chateaudevalmer.com for further details.