On July 4, 1189, in the keep of a feudal fortress on the banks of the Loire River, Henry Plantagenet admitted defeat to King Philip Augustus of France and signed the treaty known as “Le Paix de Colombiers”
In 1539, Jean Le Breton, Minister of Finance to François I, bought the feudal fortress, razed all but the famous keep to the ground and built Le Château de Villandry.
Le Breton had already overseen several of François Premier’s building projects, including the Château de Chambord and he brought all this experience to bear on Villandry. But instead of repeating or extending the style of other Loire chateaux, Le Breton simplified and refined it. The result was the distinctive, symmetrical harmonious French Renaissance style that was to provide the inspiration for later châteaux like Fontainebleau.
During his time as ambassador to Rome Jean Le Breton had developed a keen interest in gardening and he established the beautiful ornamental gardens at Villandry which, in the style of the times, made a gentle transition between the chateau and its natural surroundings.
The Le Breton family held onto the Château de Villandry for more than two hundred years, before it was sold to the Marquis de Castellane. It was confiscated during the French Revolution but fortunately survived in reasonable condition. Early in the 19th century, the Emperor Napoleon gifted the château to his brother Joseph.
In 1906, Joachim Cavallo bought Villandry and began the work of restoring it to its 18th century glory. The château is amazing, both as an example of French Renaissance architecture as well as a glimpse into the fascinating lives of several generations of Cavallos.
The Villandry gardens, however, are truly a work of wonder. Hailed by many as the finest Renaissance gardens in the world, they include water gardens, herb gardens, vineyards and French formal parterre style gardens. Best of all in my opinion is the jardin potager, or kitchen garden which, laid out in patterned plantings contained within low box hedges, extends like a patchwork quilt beside the chateau.
In 1934, le Château de Villandry was designated a “Monument Historique”. Like the other châteaux of the Loire, it is a World Heritage site.
Finally and remarkably, Villandry is still owned by the Cavallo family.