Over twenty years ago I visited the Chateau du Rivau. Then it was in its first stages of renovation by owner Patricia Laigneau, a Versailles trained garden designer with a passion to restore the chateau to its former ancient glory. The chateau remained in my memory as an enchanting place. Reminiscent of fairy tale castles, the gardens were full of secret spaces, tiny arbours, little shining stones hung from tree branches so they bowed down to make delicate arching arms to catch your hair as you ran through the long grass. Wild flowers were allowed to flourish and the garden had a sense of innocence. Nothing like the formality of the major Loire Chateaus, but just a short drive south and often missed on the chateau list. Now the Chateau de Rivau and its gardens, fully renovated, retains that same charm but is an absolute vision of fairy tale prettiness.
Visiting the Chateau du Rivau
Visiting again, we stayed overnight at the nearby lovely town of Richelieu; laid out in a grid, it was a revolutionary style of town created by the famous cardinal. Richelieu is a convenient distance from the Chateau and the Cardinal’s sister was married to Jacques De Beauvau. This powerful marriage liaison connected the Cardinal to monarchy, as the Beauvau family who owned the Chateau de Rivau, had ancient ties, supporting the French royal families during the Hundred Years War with England. The chateau stables were famous for breeding war horses, and in 1429 Joan of Arc chose her steeds from here, to vanquish the English after receiving a vision from God. There is an exhibition all about the stables on site. The Chateau draws on its history with visual and audio images – rooms dedicated to the teenage Saint and others with contemporary paintings.
Beyond the walls the garden is the focal point.
Roses at the Chateau du Rivau
If you come in early summer the front of the chateau is awash with lavender. The courtyard displays the first hint of pumpkins and other vegetables and a few of the famous roses climbing archways. If you’re feeling romantic, you can place a love lock. White peacocks display in the inner courtyard leading to a lovely shadowy seating area where grape vines grow in gnarly splendour.
The rose gardens are now famous. Over 500 varieties are tended here, including ancient roses from Andre Eve, who resurrected many long-lost varieties. Plus there are successive blooming roses by Chelsea flower show winner, David Austin, who from the 1950’s specialized in cultivating roses for their scent. You will find the roses Cardinal Richelieu here, Queen Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn, and more modern vareities– Geoff Hamilton and Alan Titmarsh from the famous UK gardening programmes. Many of the gardens’ flowering changes seasonally and the natural garden almost daily. The gardens are classed as remarkable, due to the predominant planting of ancient species, and many horticultural societies support the chateau.
Fairytales at the Chateau du Rivau
The chateau has several gardens dedicated to its fairy-tale themes. A maze for Alice in Wonderland, a tower sculpture for Sleeping Beauty and gigantic wellies and a flower pot in honour of Gargantua the giant in Rabelais’s novels. The chateau was mentioned in the tale. In the wooded area, giant legs stride through the trees and there is a lovely display of terracotta pot characters for children. Within and without the chateau there are regular exhibitions from contemporary artists, evoking thought provoking messages.
At the back of the gardens there are beehives for the Chateau to produce honey, along with its own Chinon wine. The gardens are botanical, natural and chemical free and produce enough vegetables for the Chateau restaurant’s kitchens. They also use supplies from local farmers for meat and cheese.
The chateau’s annual highlight, apart from the memorable rose displays is the autumn pumpkin festival. 43 varieties are grown here – round, oval, squat, turban and warty ones including the giant orange Cinderella pumpkin. Rouge Vit d’etampes weighs up to 125KG, La Melonette Jaspee, Le Bleu de Hongrie, Pleine de Naples and the Spagetti Longue de Nice. Pumpkin, squash, gourd, all are here. Heirloom ones that are difficult to germinate, have un-uniform shapes but character flavour. More popular pumpkins are used in the Chateau’s restaurant to make soups, gratins, stuffed and sautéed. Grown in full sun, the pumpkins are cured for 10 days to harden their skins and they are good through the winter.
Chateau Du Rivau is a perfect place for a quiet stroll, a light salad lunch, browsing the lovely gifts they sell, learning about roses and gardening. If you visit in summer, escape the heat and sit under the trees. Or relax near the Chateau and listen to medieval music, under the vines.
Compared to some Loire Chateaux this one has less crowds and is a little more relaxing.
Judi Castille is a freelance writer, illustrator and landscape/farm photographer with a passion for gardening and cheese. She lives permanently in Creuse, Limousine in the heart of cow country and blogs at: judicastille.com
Website for the ChateauduRivau