Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lord and Lady of the Manor

ABC.  No it's not the first three letters of the alphabet.  It's the shorthand for a complaint I often hear from my kids: "another bloody church. "  There are also times when it can mean "another bloody castle!"

To be frank, I sometimes share my children's sense of fatigue.  That doesn't mean it's time to stop visiting castles and cathedrals.  Instead, you just have to start looking at them in a different way.  Otherwise, the dates, the locations, the interiors, and the exteriors will start to jumble in your mind like a crazy quilt of people and places. 

Earlier this week I had the occasion to go down to the Loire Valley for the day and visit two different castles known primarily for their gardens:  Villandry, which I had visited before many years ago, and La Chatonniere, which was completely new to me.  Now don't get me wrong.  Both of these places are worth a stop; actually they're even worthy destinations in their own right.  Villandry's gardens have been restored over many years of patient work to recreate the type of garden that was typical in France during the Renaissance.  They are rigid and formalized, all squares and gravel paths, with colors and designs that will simply wow you.  La Chatonniere is an old place with entirely new gardens, riots of color and imagination created from scratch since 1986 from what used to be primarily apple orchards. 

But it wasn't the gardens or the buildings that really captured my imagination.  Instead it was the owners with whom I was fortunate to spend a little bit of time.

Who owns a chateau?  Well it turns out two very different kinds of people who admittedly share similar passions for beauty and history as well as maintaining a family legacy. 

Henri Carvallo, owner of Villandry, is a soft spoken man in his late 40s, the great grandson of a Spanish doctor who purchased the property in 1906.  Slim and tanned in chinos and loafers, he doesn't get a second glance from the hordes of visitors roaming the house and gardens.  But oh the decisions he must make each day.   Each season, 250,000 flowers and vegetables are planted, half of which are prepared in the property's own greenhouses.  Recently, the beams in the chateau's attics were almost entirely replaced; had they not been, the facade might have crumbled into the court of honor.  And that's just the start.  There's the marketing and the planning, and keeping up with the finances, something at which Carvallo clearly excels.  He's been able to keep it all afloat just on gate receipts without a centime of government subsidies.

Béatrice de Andia, owner of La Chatonniere, couldn't be more different.  I'm guessing that she's in her 80s but still bubbles with energy and has a mind that's clearly firing on every cylinder.  She's nothing if not a character, having served for 30 years as general director of artistic action of the city of Paris, a lady who speaks French, English, and Spanish with ease,and once drove a Citroen 2CV from Paris to Saigon, stopping along the way for treks up Kilimanjaro and in the Himalayas. Since inheriting the property from her father, the 8th duke of Talleyrand, she's constructed 12 thematic gardens and has more in the works.   Theater and concerts en plein air are just part of the plan to keep the site interesting to visitors.

Carvallo and de Andia are clearly well grounded in the past.  But don't let their fidelity to history fool you.  You want to get to know them better?  They're both on Facebook.


debbie in toronto said... the pictures and the stories...

Anonymous said...

We lived in Germany as kids, and when the plan was to visit a castle, our question to our folks was always, "Does it have furniture?" If the answer was no, then we were heading to a "ruin" which was always more fun & sometimes presented climbing opportunities!

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

I was able to visit castles (3) in the Loire Valley in June, one of which is inhabited by a young family. I can see how the castles would run together as you added to your viewing inventory. These look worthy of adding to my "must see" list. Thanks for putting the personal touch and story together.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant post!

wandering educators said...

i love this - meeting the people (and history) behind each place makes you want to go - and learn more. thank you!

Related Posts with Thumbnails