Sandra visits an unassuming garden, come vineyard, come olive grove in the south of France. Hopefully its summery warmth will warm us up today.
A modest sunburnt terracotta toolshed? Packed gravel pathways, corners stuffed with rusty watering cans, flashes of French lavender, rows of vegetables, tomato trellises, a blaze of bleached agave… could this humble garden be mine? But this one grows under blue skies and strong sunshine of Provence. And don’t we all need a pick-me-up visit to the south of France?
Mid-winter in Sydney, and my dreams turn to the heat wave in France. Inspired by the Tour de France scenery over the last few weeks, a visit to this relatively unknown vineyard garden is looking pretty attractive right now. At the very least we can let the warm summery images warm us up today.
In the middle of Provence lies this sweet-smelling garden assembled out of ancient Roman stone and sheltered by hills from the angry Mistral winds. Conceived in 1978 by Cecile Chancel and her trusted landscape designer Tobbie Loup de Viane, the garden is a reimagining of a 19th Century garden, built down three wide stone terraces.
We are a short drive north of Aix-en-Provence and east of Avignon in the southern part of the Rhone Valley, famous for its red wine Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a blend containing up to 19 varieties of wine grapes (ten red and nine white) as permitted by the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC rules. This vineyard is renowned worldwide for its spectacular grounds, and as we head through the cellar door, a sunbaked garden opens up before us – part potager, part flower garden, but completely enchanting.
Chateau Val Joanis wine estate is surrounded by vines and ancient olives. Lines of elegant Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) and clipped pillars of common oak are planted alongside lavender set against delicious flowers and vegetables. Since 2005, the gardens have been ranked as “Outstanding Gardens” by the French Ministry of Culture and were awarded “Garden of the Year” in 2008 by the French Association of Horticulture and Garden journalists.
If you’re a Meg Ryan fan, you might be interested to learn that it was here the movie ‘French Kiss’ was filmed. In a little more Hollywood history, in the spring of 2008 Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie apparently dropped in by helicopter for a wine tasting while house-hunting in the area! Rumours started that they wanted to buy Val Joanis, but they ended up renting down the road!
We love the domestic scale of the garden and its sculptural pieces of art, pieces that we would put in our own garden such as scarecrows, bird boxes, snail sculptures, and entwined branches, timber pots with cute metal hats, woven willow cages and watering cans.
Word on the grape vine is that Italian visitors think there are too many flowers and the English think there are not enough! Ha! We think the garden – a mix of edible vegetables and beautiful flowers, surrounded by vines and olives – is just right.
… Sit beneath the boughs of the Plane trees in the courtyard for a lazy afternoon wine tasting Val Joanis wine.
Summer’s display of lavender, orange roses, yellow yarrow, tomatoes, and roses seem as hot as the Provincial landscape.
Open: April – October, Daily 9 – 5
Tel: +33 (0)490792077
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