The spectacular Château de la Bourdaisière in the Loire Valley is always an exciting rediscovery. Here, a handsome prince, dubbed “The Prince Gardener”, is carving a path of biodiversity, growing 650 different kinds of organic tomatoes. A trowel and straw hat have become his coat of arms. Meet the man behind Brand de Broglie and one of my favourite events: September’s Festival of Tomatoes and Flavours.
Prince Louis Albert de Broglie (family motto: “Towards the future”) bought the 14th-century Château de la Bourdaisière in 1991, at the age of 29. A seven-year career in investment banking with BNP had taken him from London to India and South America, but, returning to his roots, La Bourdaisière’s 19th-century vegetable garden inspired him to change the course of his commitments, turning the crumbling château into a chic 32-room boutique hotel-cum-cabinet of curiosities showcasing his eclectic collections and souvenirs of his world travels.
In 2013 de Broglie launched a five-year experiment into small-scale farming to improve efficiency and benefits – a model he hopes will be replicated. “I want to create a precedent that will become the definitive guide for microfarm start-ups, in France and globally,” he says. More than 650 red, green, yellow, black, plum and purple tomatoes grow in the microclimate at La Bourdaisière. Each has a story and an identity, from Money Maker, which was a gift from an Israeli kibbutz, to Erica d’Australie. (The Prince has a preference for Orange Coeur de Boeuf.)
Today, the 140-acre estate is a temple of sustainable development that enables visitors to combine rest, pleasure and outdoor challenges. Bespoke packages (prices on request), including Romance at the Château, Wellness, Gourmet and Adventure, are especially popular. “From garden to plate” is the mantra at the château’s tomato-centric al fresco bistro – try the freshly pressed tomato juices and wines from the château vineyards, tomato or vegetable-based recipes according to the season, and the Verna Orange tomato ice cream with a few meringues. The boutique is stocked with the Prince’s signature “lifestyle collection” of garden furniture, tools and accessories, made from natural material and fibres – I love the secateurs (€145), champagne coolers (€90) and organic tomato jam (€6).
This year’s 17th Festival of Tomatoes and Flavours (September 12-13, €7.50) celebrates both La Bourdaisière’s wonderful gardens and The National Tomato Conservatory, created by the Prince in 1996. Local like-minded growers set up stalls in the grounds and provide tomato-growing tips, demonstrations, tastings and cookery classes. “This year the theme is ‘waste not, want not’,” says the Prince. “I want people to understand and learn about the challenge of preserving this biodiversity in order to transmit the species to future generations.”