This is a love story.
It’s the tale of a couple who fell in love with an abandoned chateau and have spent the last two decades lovingly restoring it and creating the most magical gardens.
Falling in love with a neglected but exquisite Chateau
Normally these stories are about expats who can’t resist an abandoned chateau, but this one is not. French couple Patricia and Eric Laigneau first saw the chateau in 1996. It had been dreadfully neglected and was in urgent need of tender loving care and a lot of work. It was a chateau with an illustrious history, a place where the horses of the French kings were once bred, but its glory days had long since passed.
When they bought the chateau, former art historian Patricia went back to school and studied gardening in Versailles. She does nothing by halves and threw herself into turning the gardens into something magical. Today, those gardens have gained fame for being absolutely gorgeous , they’re like a living fairy tale.
The gardens of the Chateau du Rivau
Patricia admits that the chateau is her passion. “I start at six o’clock in the morning” she says “and often don’t finish before midnight”. Rarely for a garden of this size, the changes in planting are seasonal and constant.
The palette of colours is extraordinary and there are 14 garden areas separated by hedges, flower beds and bushes. They’re joined together by a path that weaves under trees and through secret bowers.
All of the gardens are enchanting – quite literally, because the constant theme here is fairy tale. Adults and kids alike will fall under the spell of Patricia’s imaginative designs and creations. When the five hundred different sorts of roses scent the air in June it’s overwhelming and breath-taking. At other times there are swathes of blue irises, or a host of golden daffodils and in autumn a plethora of pumpkins thrill visitors.
There are sculptures which are quirky and intriguing, firing the imagination and often making you smile. Discover giant Wellington boots and an enormous sake cup with a rather cheeky inside. There’s even a Rapunzel tower complete with rope.
A delicate carousel brings oohs and ah’s. A giant mole, the gardener’s enemy, is a great resting place for an albino peahen called Dame Blanche. It calls to its mate, another gorgeous white peacock. It has a smaller fan of feathers then the colourful peacocks that strut the grounds but the white birds are no less impressive.
Caroline, Patricia’s daughter, who works in the garden with her mother, and who speaks impeccable English, says she has been training the peacocks to respond to her call. She lets out a “cwaac” noise and one of the peacocks named Leon calls back and comes to find in us in the floral chapel. The original building was in such a bad state that it couldn’t be saved so Patricia planted a nave of flowers and covered the walls with roses, it’s peaceful and quite magnificent.
A Loire Valley castle with a captivating history
Everywhere you look there is something to discover, to fall in love with and when you think it can’t get any better – you can go into the chateau which the family have restored beautifully.
Every year an exhibition is held, one year it was monsters another year it was secrets, in 2016 it was ghosts and included works from artists around the world – sculptures, paintings, photos that were quirky, elegant, mysterious and fun and had visitors of all ages enraptured.
In the castle is a room dedicated to Joan of Arc who it is said to have visited the chateau to buy horses when on her campaign to rid France of the English invaders. In a little tower, you can see a kneeling figure dressed in a red cloak, listen carefully and you’ll hear the sound of someone praying earnestly, it’s quite a moving experience. Outside the stables are a reminder of the chateau’s majestic connections and you can watch a film, revealing the history of this illustrious castle.
If you visit the gardens, don’t miss the lovely restaurant in a converted barn or on the pretty terrace. Here you’ll get a delicious lunch made from local produce and vegetables from the castle’s prize winning organic kitchen garden plus delicious local Chinon wines. There’s also cheese and wine tasting – check out the flower bar – it’s truly perfect!
Practical information about the Chateau du Rivau
The Chateau is located about 10 km from Chinon, where the nearest train station is.
The castle is open from March to November.
There is a full programme of events included Roses Days, jousts and heritage days, see the website for details – www.chateaudurivau
More wonderful Loire Valley Chateaux
Chateau de Chenonceau – the “ladies castle” that’s famous for its beauty, gardens and incredible floral displays
Chateau du Clos Lucé – the last home of Leonardo da Vinci
Chateau de Brissac, the tallest castle in France, and the most gorgeous B&B ever!
Chateau de Chambord, the castle that obsessed a king
Chateau de Blois, an incredible architectural time warp