Updated: Jul 16
In summer we enjoy our French garden and each year its evolving with more flowers, it is a wonderful long deep green garden, our very own petite park. When exploring and travelling in France, it is impossible to avoid lovey gardens. Every village has hanging baskets overflowing with geraniums and petunias in hot pinks to purple, garden walls are lined with banks of Hydrangeas. There are old orchards big and small, and wildflowers grow in abandon along the country roadside. When visiting a Chateau or private garden you can only be inspired to make things grow. I love to travel outside the museum, taking in the landscapes, chateaux and touring across the regions of France as a living museum. Summer has inspired me to share with you my favourite gardens all located within 3.5rs of our home in Mayenne. Emblematic of the epochs when they were created; the gardens of the Kings and Queens & Empress of France, an artist, and the mother of one of France most famous fashion designers. I have created a easy self-drive holiday touring 6 French Gardens, a relaxed paced holiday touring Western France. There is no need to travel vast distances, your tour includes two of the most famous gardens in the world. Commence your holiday in Paris, then tour Normandy, Pays de Loire and ancient land of Brittany. A circuit leaving you time to add other destinations and to enjoy long lunches. On completion in Mayenne, we recommend you continue on into the Loire Valley, or its only a afternoon drive back to Paris.
1. Jardin de Luxembourg You begin in the green heart of beautiful Paris, on the fascinating Left Bank. The Jardins de Luxembourg were created in 16thc for the Queen of France, Marie de Medici. Her private escape from court, a small palace and gardens. I discovered the Jardin de Luxembourg on my first visit to Paris, today I still book my hotel close to or in the in 6th Arrondissement , but always within walking distance, and I recommend you do too. One of my my favourite Paris museums the Musée de Cluny is close by and Paris's most famous bookshop Shakespeare & Co. Today Parisians regard the 21 hectares of garden as the most beautiful verdant refuge of the 'city of light'. Set around the palace that today is France Senate, featuring huge central circular pool and fountain surround by benches, where today children still hire sail boats to play in the fountains pool. The Jardins are an open-air sculpture gallery, with 106 artworks. frames by high 19thc iron fences and trees keeping any thought of the city at bay. This garden is free, and easy to access and designed and available for all to enjoy.
2. Chateau Malmaison Home of Josephine Beauharnais Bonaparte
Only 10 kilometres from central Paris is the town of Rueil Malmaison, the where Empress Josephine chose a country chateau as her private escape from the demands of life at Louvre Palace. The Chateau and 260 hectare estate were purchased by Josephine at a vast fortune in 1799, using a loan from a friend, Napoleon paid off the loan with funds from his looting in the Italian Campaign. Josephine's Malmaison Estate expanded at its height to encompass a 726-hectare estate with 70 hectares enclosed parkland and English style gardens. Josephine's vision for the estate was as "the most beautiful and curious garden in Europe, a model of good culture." A French National museum since 1906, the Chateau and gardens are a homage to Josephine, and today only a 6-hectare park remains of the original estate. The Chateau architecture is charming mix of old regime and early 19thc neo classic architecture. The interiors a time capsule of the height of Napoleonic neo Classic style. I find it enchanting and evocative to visit and a perfect place to stop on our way home from Paris. Close by and open to visitors is Château de Malmaison Pavilions, once part of the original estate.
Chateau Malmaison is a rare example of feminine history. The house and garden are tied exclusively to the life one woman, whose ownership and impact of her individual taste shaped the Chateau's interior décor, furnishings, garden, and history. The location and modest size of the Chateau and garden make this a relaxing very accessible visit of a few hours. The informality of the gardens express the personality of Josephine, who rejected Napoleons desire for ridged Imperial formality. This was only only possible as the Chateau was her private and away from public view. The garden today is essentially about roses, a homage to Josephine’s passion and skill as rose cultivar and the gardeners have reintroduced ancient peony and species of old roses bred by Josephine. The garden vistas from the Chateau well preserved and shaped by vast Plane, Chestnut, Tulip and purple Beech trees. Flower beds burst with perennial, annual and biennials, colourful informal mixed borders capturing Josephine’s love of an unstructured garden. The flower gardens are set into vast manicured and wildflower lawns; left to support native flowers and insect biodiversity. This is an estate I love and will continue to revisit. Next a 1 hour drive to the town of Versailles.
3. Chateau Versailles Les Jardins Ultimate Royal Garden
We like to book a hotel or B&B within walking distance of the Chateau and town centre ensure you have parking. This makes for a easy more relaxing stay as you just walk to the Chateau Versailles to begin your first day visiting. An extraordinary and unsurpassed experience to visit the most famous 17-18thcentury French Chateau and landscape of formal gardens, waterways and fountains. In comparison to France next most famous garden at Giverny; the vision of architect André Le Notre could not be more different. Embodying the high point of France ancient regime, the gardens of Chateau Versailles are the pinnacle of European formal garden design against which all other gardens are measured. Exceptional in scale, unique design demonstrating mans mastering of nature, landscape and water. Versailles gardens are the gardens that inspired Europe transforming garden design, with vista’s from the palace that disappear into the horizon. If you visit just once, you will understand every other garden in Europe you ever visit. Take at least 2-3 days to see the Palace and the vast gardens and stables. The moring after your Versailles visit is over, its a 1.30m drive into Normandy to Giverny, plan an afternoon visit and book and local B&B.
4. Monet’s Garden Giverny
A beautiful late 19thc private garden created with the eye of an artist and income of a wealthy man. Consisting of two distinct gardens; the house flower garden 'Clos Normand' and the Japanese inspired Water Garden. 'Clos Normand is set around the house, features fruit & ornamental trees, climbing roses, hollyhocks and the masses of annuals from daisies to rare collected poppies, tulips & iris. The water garden created 10 years later, was born in purposely acquired adjacent fields. The local council was in fact reluctant to give Monet planning permission. This garden is today one of the most famous gardens in the world. Famous as the epitome of impressionist art, inspired Japan influential on early 20thc design. The two gardens are of exceptional beauty, with one of the most iconic garden vistas, the Japanese bridge draped with wisteria, over vast pond of white-water lilies, surrounded by the weeping willows. The path to the water garden is a journey through a deep green tall bamboo forest, the path passes a rushing stream. A light sound, & smell sensuous experience. Never before had an artist first created his inspiration from nature before painting it. This is France’s most inspirational garden and visitors leave with laden with books to recreate a little of Giverny in gardens across the world.
The moring after visiting Monet's Gardens you may wish to return to Giverny to tour the Art galleries and shops, and enjoy a lunch locally. Then we recommend 3 hour drive into the beautiful Pays de Loir countryside arriving at the town of Mayenne. The Mayenne department, is soft rolling farmland, your in dairy country and home to the largest global brands of French cheese. Book at stay with us at L' Hotel de Hercé, B&B located on a green square in the 18thc quarter. Dating to c.1720 a Barons residence with stunning original interiors, warm English speaking hospitality and of course a classic walled French garden. You can plan your next two garden tours as Private Guided Tours and let us escort you, taking care of the driving & directions and you can relax back & simply enjoy. Or of course continue your self drive touring
5. Musée Christian Dior, Granville my favourite French garden
I visited Musée Christian Dior for the first-time last September to view the Princess Grace exhibit. But what totally enchanted me was Madame Dior's garden. A domestic Belle Époque garden, of a wealthily Parisian Industrialist family. Wrapped around summer villa situated on high cliffs of Ville de Grandville facing the Chanel Islands. The late 19thc pink house is centred in a totally private landscape of garden. Its easy to imagine languid hot summer days, as you wander wide meandering paths past lawn, tall trees & beds of roses, rhododendrons & azaleas and of course the vast coastal views. Acquired by the Dior family in 1906 as a holiday house, the garden became a lifelong influence on fashion designer Christian Dior. A garden he sort to replicate and reimagine in his own home later in his life. The villa colours of pink and grey chosen as the signature colours of the House of Dior. The roses and Lily of the Valley repeated design themes in Dior gowns and house perfumes. His mother Madeleine had a passion for the garden and over two years transformed it, cultivating an English style garden, sculpting a new landscape of garden beds and terraces. In 1925 a rectangular reflection pool was added, framed by a flower laden pergola walk and used as a summer outdoor living room. The pergola was extended and more rose gardens added, sheltered along the wall of the coastal path. Visitors today can enjoy the mature garden with its soaring trees, deep shade and sunshine and enjoy the La Bonne Adventure Salon du Thé, encircled by fragrant rose beds. Oh and of course don't miss the Musée.
A unique experience, one that so impressed us we created a guided tour. The Le Parc Bontanique du Haute Bretagne is set into the grounds of Chateau de la Foltiere creating an inspired landscape of gardens of the world. Over an afternoon visit you move from monumental landscape to another, losing any sense of place, completely immersed in nature, colour, texture and constantly evolving vistas. 25 hectares of international gardens are linked by the theme of water, flowing through the park.
Each garden contains flowers and botanic specimens, capturing the essence of their continent. The contemporary designers of the 24 thematic gardens, were inspired by poems, travel memories and garden history. The park has been described as "a dream garden labyrinth set against the Breton landscape". In early spring, the gardens display 500 varieties of camellias, magnolias, flowering plumb, narcissus, and Crocuses. April features azaleas and Chiles Fire Tree. June- July old roses set against ethereal blue of hydrangeas & agapanthus. October-November the Japanese gardens blaze with red foliage of maple, cypress, and ginkgo biloba. Our visit transported us into another world; beginning with the French Water garden, then the majesty of the Bamboo Forest; think 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon', the green textures of the Japanese Gardens and layered landscape was memorizing. The gardens are on a majestic scale and on our top ten list of sites to visit in our region. Link to our Herce Guided Tour.