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
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
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!"