Around France

Loire Valley: Château Villandry and Living Large

When the plan was conceived for a 3-day visit to the Loire Valley, I thought the trip would be relatively low-key. It was the first time in years that Nancy McGee’d been away from her business, Absolutely Southern France. Now I know there’s nothing “low-key” about traveling with Nancy, destination planner extraordinaire.

Nancy had smartly planned our lunch stop in Clermont-Ferrand for the long drive from the south of France to our Loire Valley “base” in Amboise.

“I met the merchant during a tour I was offered,” Nancy wrote to me before our trip. “He is one of only 10 cheese merchants in France who ripens his cheeses,” she continued. And yes …” We could get him to prepare a small sampling platter for our dinner on arrival.”

As you learned from the first post in the series, “Hanging out in the Loire Valley,” Clermont-Ferrand, the cheese shop, the boulangerie, and the whole experience was something to remember as much as visiting chateaus and wineries.

That wasn’t all Nancy had up her sleeve. She conjured up a private chef.

“A private chef!” I exclaimed to myself when I read the first lines of Nancy’s email. “That’ll cost a fortune!” I sighed. Then I read the next part of Nancy’s note:

“I spoke to the Chef today. Here is what he has to offer on Sunday evening. He arrives at 7 with everything and leaves at 9. He sets the table, cooks (some things he makes in advance), and does the washing up. He cooks with local produce and uses organic when he can.”

When she added that the menu would feature regional foods, complete with the chef’s choice of local wines — and cost no more than a meal at a moderately upscale restaurant — I was “in.”

But first … Château Villandry

The date set for our private chef to prepare dinner at our “chalet” was Sunday evening.  That meant we had all day to visit one of the extraordinary châteaux we heard, Château Villandry. Believe me, it didn’t disappoint.

Château Villandry in the Loire Valley

Château Villandry in the Loire Valley

Château Villandry was built in the sixteenth century by Jean Le Breton, France’s Controller-General for War under King Francis I. The structure was erected on the site of a feudal castle from which Breton salvaged only the keep (fortified tower) because of its historical significance — the location of the peace treaty signing, “La Paix de Colombiers” (The Peace of Colombiers), between   Henry II of England (Henry Plantagenet) and King Philip Augustus of France.

Château Villandry was confiscated during the French Revolution and acquired by Emperor Napoleon to house his brother, Jérôme Bonaparte. In 1906 the château was purchased by Joachim Carvallo, a Spanish doctor and medical researcher, married to Ann Coleman, an American heiress. The Carvallos piled massive amounts of money and effort into creating a home and showplace,  including resurrecting and installing a magnificent tri-level garden. Enrique Carvallo, the doctor’s great-grandson, and his family live on the château grounds today.

From any angle, the château and gardens are both man’s and nature’s works of art. 

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Gardens at Château Villandry

Gardens at Château Villandry




The day we visited Château Villandry, the sky was overcast and grey. Despite the weather, the garden was colorful and cheerful — flush with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and other seasonal fruits and vegetables. I could only imagine how the same place might look in the summertime with various plants and flowers.


While I admire gardens, it was the interior of the château that, to me, was breathtaking. Especially the dining room.

Dining room at Château Villandry

The dining room at Château Villandry

If you wonder how dinner is served in a château, this setting perfectly shows it off.

Family portraits and live flower arrangements throughout the château created a warm and friendly ambiance. 



Long halls filled with an impressive art collection belonging to the Carvallo family and intricately designed ceilings were reminders that Château Villandry is a grand château worthy of its World Heritage Site designation.


Ceiling decoration at Château Villandry

Ceiling decoration at Château Villandry

Dinner Dimanche 


Back to chalet “chez moi.”  

After a long day visiting the château and gardens at Villandry, we were more than ready for our special treat — dinner with Chef Arnaud.

Chef Arnaud

Chef Arnaud

Le menu

Oeufs Meurette au Chinon (poached eggs in onion and red wine sauce)

Joues de Porc Confites, Purée de Vitelottes  (candied pork cheek and purple potatoes)


Toast de Fromage de Chèvre (goats cheese on toast)


Tarte à la tatin  (apple pie with creme)

For any who thinks eggs poached in wine are weird, just try it. If you cringe at the thought of pork “cheeks,” this Southern Girl has never tasted anything quite like it. The pork was slowly cooked until the meat was deep pink. It was so tender it melted like butter in my mouth, yet there was an outside crust that was crispy and savory.

Along with the meal fixings, Chef Arnaud brought more regional delicacies from his own kitchen that we could buy — pâte, rillettes de porc, and confitures. And believe we did.

Brad even got in on the evening fun!



18 replies »

  1. Beautiful pictures and history of your visit. Pork cheeks are the best cut of meat as the French and Italians know and my personal favorite. Best part of being in Europe is the ability to have a never ending proximity to history, art, cuisine and architecture, thanks for taking us alone in your blog. Bon appetite.

    • Thank you! I’m forever thankful to live in this beautiful country and to share in the good food and remarkable history and resilience of the French people. There are so many places to go and stories to tell, I can’t keep up! I really appreciate your message and knowing that you’re following along.

  2. I am looking for a chef to host a dinner, just like you describe, for an upcoming trip to Villandry. Are you able to share your chef’s contact information?

  3. I can’t decide which were more beautiful – the pics of the chateau or the devine meal – think I’m going for the meal! What a wonderful experience.

    • Who would ever think we would get a chef? It was a highlight of the trip. We could eat a beautiful dinner with no shoes on! I’m definitely going to have to go back to the Loire Valley to see more. Come and go with me!

  4. Great description of your trip to the Loire Deborah – makes me want to go. We’re leaving France tomorrow but I think we will have to return!

    • I’m really going to miss you guys! Thank you so much for contacting me so that I could enjoy your visit to Uzes along with you. Enjoy Italy and let me know about exodus to USA. LOL! Hope to see you in Australia some day. Please keep in touch!

  5. Deborah excellent as usual and loved the Menu!! The food looked perfect and what a desert. Have you gotten back into the swing of our little apartment after visiting all the wonderful huge Chateau’s

    • You and Paula would have loved the chef. What a good idea! Maybe in Corsica? Yes, trying to adjust to the cramped quarters after the chateaux. All is well here and very busy! Miss you guys!

    • I’ll try to keep them short so it won’t be too hard to download if you’re away from wifi. Thanks for letting me know and for traveling with me!

    • It’s hard to say which was my favorite chateau … as if I have to decide. But this one is at the top of the list. I just need to see more! Thanks for your note!

    • I know! Private chef! It was a superb idea, thanks to Nancy, and one I certainly would not have thought about. Sorry you missed the inside of the chateau. Hopefully the photos will help and maybe you were able to enjoy a shiny day in the gardens?

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