Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The château and gardens at Villandry

After my friend C. and I left Azay-le-Rideau, we drove the short distance to the castle at Villandry which is know more for its elaborate gardens than anything else. The gardens are done in the French style: vast geometric parterres framed with intricately shaped hedges and filled with colorful flowers and plants. The gardens are separated by majestic allées and occupy several different levels of the riverbank.

Looking east over the vast kitchen garden toward the château at Villandry.

The grounds include six distinct gardens and a section of woodland. The largest garden is, I believe, the potager (kitchen garden) that, at this time of year, is filled with leeks, artichokes, colorful cabbages and chards, squash and pumpkins, and herbs of every variety. What you see in the photo above is part of the potager with the castle as a backdrop. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Low clouds and fog

Back in San Francisco, nearly every weather forecast was the same: patchy morning low clouds and fog, clearing to the coast by mid-day. Day after day. Actual rain was a big news event, even more so in times of drought. We don't have that problem here. But, like clockwork, the November fog is upon us.

Fog forms in the vineyard at sunrise. On this day, it didn't get very thick and it burned off quickly.

It's not at all like San Francisco fog in that it's not borne in by wind. The air is still when the fog forms at sunrise, often after a crystal clear night. High pressure keeps it tacked to the ground for most, if not all, of the day.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What's going on

If you noticed the newsiness section last week, you saw that our hedges got trimmed. Ever since I did my back in doing them myself a few years ago, I've contracted the job out. I think this is the third year that a local gardener has done them. The gardener's employees, two or three younger guys, arrive with all the proper equipment to tackle the hedges: several trimmers, including one on a very long pole to reach across the hedge, and a mobile scaffolding that allows easy access to the top of the hedge without using ladders.

The rounded shrub behind the transformer box is a laurier-sauce (bay laurel) which provides the flavorful bay leaves that we use in cooking.

The guys do great work, have the whole job done over two short days, and clean up and haul away the debris when they're done. It's hard to tell from the photo, but this section of hedge is about eight feet high and is, in places, nearly five feet across. The rest of the hedge (see the photo below) is only about four feet tall -- the guys cut it down for me two years ago. I continue to trim those sections myself since there is no ladder work involved.

You can see the difference in height between the short and tall sections from outside our back gate.

So, the job is done again for another year. I'm thinking that next year I will ask the gardener to cut down another large section of the hedge to four feet (the part to the left of the transformer box in the top photo and a similar section on the other side of the house). That will leave only the section along the road at eight feet high. Maybe one day we'll have that cut down to size as well.

The shorter hedge was very bare the first year after it was cut down, but since then it's filled in nicely.

I just thought I'd throw in a third photo because I like it. It's the same sections of the hedge on either side of the gate seen from a different angle. You can barely see the gate, but the difference in height of the two hedge sections is quite dramatic.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lunch break

By the time my friend C. and I left the château d'Azay-le-Rideau, it was lunch time. There was a festival/flea market set up in the streets of town and we saw a wide variety of street food available, including big steaming pans of paëlla and choucroute. But it was a little too chilly and damp for eating outside and I think we both felt like a sit-down meal indoors. We walked up the street to the main square in town and found a restaurant that looked inviting. They advertised moules et frites (steamed mussles and French fries) for a decent price and that instantly appealed to us both.

View from inside the restaurant La Salamandre in Azay-le-Rideau. Lots of appetizing choices.

And it was very, very good. We had a nice leisurely lunch, including some local Azay-le-Rideau rosé wine, and finished up with a coffee before heading back to the car. Our next stop: the château and gardens at Villandry.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

More than a castle

The town of Azay-le-Rideau is very nice. These days it's all done up for the tourist trade because the château is a big draw. There are all manner of shops with crafts and artsy things, specialty foods, and trinkets for any budget. And there are restaurants to please everybody.

On our way to the castle gates.

This is the street that leads from the main square in town to the gates of the château. I was attracted to a few of the shops, but we had a castle to see, so on we went.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Close up

As you climb the main staircase in the château d'Azay-le-Rideau, there is a balcony on each level that is open to the courtyard below. This is part of the western wing seen from the highest level. The castle is shaped like an "L." I read somewhere (I don't remember where, now) that one of the owners had plans to add to the castle to make it a square, enclosing the courtyard, but the plans were never carried through.

A portion of the western wing and its round corner tower.

There are two options for seeing the interior: a guided tour or a self-guided tour. Visitors can rent headsets to hear descriptions of the rooms for the self-guided tour, or they can do what we did: wander around just looking. There is descriptive information posted in each room, but you have to wait for the person ahead of you to finish reading. At one point in our wandering, we bumped up against a guided tour that had the whole place blocked up. We stood, with other wanderers, in a tiny spiral stairwell for about five minutes before we were able to push and shove our way through to get ahead of them.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Renaissance window

Back in the days before modern techniques made large plate glass windows possible, smaller glass panes were normally fitted between leaded mullions to create intricately patterned windows that, while they let light in, did not provide the clearest of views toward the outside. Stained glass windows are a common example, but clearer glass would be used in the renaissance residences of the aristocracy.

Small pieces of relatively clear glass, but with lots of distortion, allow a decent amount of light into the castle's main stairway.

This is an example of that kind of window at the château d'Azay-le-Rideau. I don't know enough about the castle to tell you whether this is an original window or a reproduction made during one of the many renovations/restorations that have been undertaken over the centuries. Still, it's quite pretty.