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Loire Valley gardens, pot snails and giant moles

Posted by Dawn Isaac on 02 Oct 2012 at 12:49 PM


Rivau - maze Rivau - Hammock RIvau - castle Rivau- giraffe Rivau - pumpkin writing Rivau - snail Rivau - mirror Rivau - mole Rivau - peacock
"Christian!  NON!"

There is something almost pleasurable about hearing a child reprimanded when you know that, for once, it's got nothing to do with you.  Instead I was able to smile knowingly at Christian's beleaguered parents in the gardens at Villandry with a look that I hoped conveyed just enough "I feel your pain" sympathy and not too much of the "...but I'm so pleased he's not with me".

Yes, last weekend I was in France on a four day, child-free press trip to the Loire Valley. It's OK. You’re allowed to hate me.

I had explained to the family that this was work but the looks that came my way made it very clear that no-one was buying this story and that if I didn't come back with at least their bodyweight in chocolate, I would not be welcome.

To add insult to injury I was planning to write a piece on child-friendly gardens in the region but without actually taking any of my kids with me.

As it turns out, the gardens we visited were historically fascinating (Chateau de Chenonceau) and beautifully atmospheric (Chateau de Valmer), boasted world leading plant collections (Chateau de Bourdaisiere) and the most impressively vast and downright gorgeous potager I've ever seen (Chateau de Villandry), but child-friendly?  Not so much.

It’s not that children wouldn’t be welcome – they most certainly would.  And, of course, these gardens all offered plenty of space for running around and screaming in a manner designed to fray the nerves of anyone in earshot – always one of the top five favourite activities for my own kids.  However, they were all just a bit too... grown up.

Thankfully, we were also taken to Chateau du Rivau – somewhere I’d written about before, but which I’d never had the chance to visit  - and here, most unusually, keeping the kids entertained seems to be top of the agenda.

First of all, it could easily be mistaken for Sleeping Beauty’s palace – it’s reminiscent of the Disney Castle, but without the worry that a seven foot tall Goofy may round the corner at any minute. And if the kids needed to get more in the mood, you can even hire princess and knight costumes in the Chateau’s shop.

Everywhere there are things for children to spot.  Some of the ‘art’ and installations might not be to everyone’s taste, but the garden itself creates enough intrigue to keep kids entertained for hours. Beginning with a courtyard which married squash and pumpkin displays with giant moles and real life strutting peacocks, you walked through garden after garden, each with something to thrill the under 10s: plant pot snails, tree necklaces, hammocks galore, ogres' hideaways, giraffe see saws, Rapunzel's tower, giant legs walking through the woods, Alice in Wonderland's maze and garden looking glasses, gnomes at home, oversized wellies and gigantic plant pots.

Best of all, it's very near to most of the other Loire Valley gardens and only 40km from Villandry.  If only all parents knew, things could be so different.

"Christian! NON! Nous tu permettrons d'aller au château du Rivau. Maintenant, relâchez le chou. EN CE MOMENT!"



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