Largely forgotten until recently, nestled in lush greenery amidst ancient stones, the royal estate of Château Gaillard is spread out over close to 40 acres in the heart of Amboise. The small Italian palace surrounded by early French Renaissance gardens has been rediscovered and is now open for the first time to the general public.

The history of Château Gaillard is closely linked to the reign of King Charles VIII. Primed to conquer, Anne of Brittany’s husband conducted an initial Italian campaign in 1496 with 30,000 soldiers at his beck and call. Overawed by the quattrocento, by the Italian cities and by his discovery of previously unimagined beauty, he returned to Amboise accompanied by 22 Italian artists, with whom he went on to found the French Renaissance. One of the persons he brought along was the monk, gardener and botanist, Dom Pacello de Mercogliano, who was considered as “the greatest gardener in Europe”, and it was in the valley of Château Gaillard that he realized his dream of heaven on earth.

It was in Château Gaillard that Dom Pacello acclimated orange trees for the first time ever in France. He built the Limonaia orangery and created orange crates. An honest-to-goodness open-air experimental laboratory, the “Jardins du Roy” (king’s gardens) came into being. Nowadays, the “7 pathways of paradise” are conducive to discovery of the park and the hillside forest where does and migratory birds of the Loire may be espied. Dom Pacello was also responsible for the creation of a famous French plum, greengage (la Reine Claude), which he dedicated and offered to Claude of France, the wife of François I. Pacello’s techniques were original and innovative. His “packets” were adorned with colored minerals and his alleys with holly hedges, while his fruit trees were artistically shaped, and aligned in rows defining and drawing a perspective.

When François I offered Château Gaillard to “(my) dear and beloved  Pacello” in exchange for a yearly bouquet of orange blossoms, it represented a highly rare gift from a sovereign to a servant. Having arrived in France at the age of 50 and having been the architect of royal gardens for three kings of France,  Charles VIII, Louis XII and François I, Dom Pacello passed away at the age of 87.

In addition to the gardens, the visitor is invited to discover the luxuriously furnished château, representative of a 16th-century art of living. Its ornate double mullion structures adorned with 8000 stained glass windows and 36 polychrome medallions in the pure tradition of 16th-century master glassworkers (magical mouth-blown St Just glasses…) recount in telling detail the history of the  château. Indeed, the castle  served as theater for numerous historic events such as Mary Stuart’s honeymoon and the consultations of Catherine de Medici aimed at forestalling the Amboise conspiracy (also known as the Tumult of Amboise). To sum up,  Château Gaillard tells the story of the royal city of Amboise, as viewed from the royal gardens.

Following five years of restoration, Château Gaillard and its royal gardens have come back to life and now afford an initiatory journey in the lost paradise of the Italo-French Renaissance. As a conservatory for thousand-year-old fruit species, the estate showcases some 160 orange and lemon trees derived from 60 unusual varieties.



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