Capture the essence of rural and regional French culture as reflected through her gardens: Normandy, Loire, Dordogne and Gironde. A soulful and sensory experience at the peak of the autumn harvest. We travel through river valleys, fertile farmland and mediaeval villages to see the very best chateaux, cloister and kitchen gardens in the country.
Meet Linda Ross at Sydney International Airport for your flight to Paris.
Our tour commences in Rouen France. Travel from Australia with tour leader Linda Ross on 6 September or join at Hotel Bourgtheroulde in Rouen. Meet at our hotel in Rouen for our welcome dinner this evening.
Normandy is the first of our four regions with two exciting gardens today. Jardin Plume has been designed with flair, dynamic plant combinations and outstanding use of ornamental grasses. Trimmed hedges work well with a nod to the ‘garden room’ design of Sissinghurst and to formal French garden design.
Next stop is The Etretat Gardens that overlook the iconic “Needle” rock cliff of the Etretat coast.
Madame Thebault was a good friend of Claude Monet who came regularly to her Villa Roxelane in Etretat to paint. He inspired the famous French actress to create an avant-garde garden in this idyllic clifftop location. Living sculptures give this garden its dimension.
Travel through Normandy this morning to Monet’s Garden at Giverny, where the famous Impressionist painter lived and painted until his death in 1926. Claude Monet drew inspiration for his paintings from his garden. Stroll around the Water Garden with its famous Japanese bridge and through the flower garden, Clos Normand, with roses growing over arches and flowers jostling for space; all in this cleverly engineered garden. Close by is Musee D’Art Americain with a series of colour-themed gardens and restaurant where we will have lunch. The museum was opened in Giverny to explore the historic and aesthetic connections between French and American artists. There was an American artists’ colony here at the turn of the nineteenth century with many artists experimenting with the impressionist aesthetic. Return to Rouen with a walking tour of the old city later this afternoon.
We are travelling to the Loire Valley, the second region of our tour. Lunch stop in Chartres to visit its famous Cathedral, probably the finest example of French Gothic architecture and said by some to be the most beautiful cathedral in France! We are heading to Tours, a regional centre of the Loire Valley, that’s sandwiched between the Loire and its tributary the Cher. Our base for the next three nights will be Hotel Oceania L’Universe in the city centre. Stroll through the old city to see the flower market beneath the plane trees lining Boulevard Béranger, the Belle Epoque City Hall, the opulent Grand Théâtre de Tours, the towering Saint Gatien Cathedral and finish in Place Plumereau.
A treat today at Chateau Villandry, the last great ‘Renaissance’ chateau in the Loire Valley with one of the finest gardens in France. It’s best described as a gigantic kitchen garden planted in symmetrical parterres, arranged on a series of splendid terraces with formal fruit, vegetable and patterned gardens. Successive owners brought about unfortunate changes, in particular, an inappropriate but fashionable (at the time) ‘English’ garden. Dr Joachim Carvallo bought the chateau in 1906 and set about its restoration with a passion, back to its original formal French design. It’s a garden for the intellect with a sense of measure and proportion.
Next stop is the undisputed star of the Loire chateaux, Chenonceaux. The chateau was home to Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medici and Mary Queen of Scots. It’s the most romantic of all the chateaux on the Loire, and one of the prettiest in France. Its famous galleried bridge casts a magnificent reflection in the waters of the River Cher, complimented with parterre gardens, one for Diane de Poitiers and the other Catherine de Medici. Don’t miss the potager and the cutting garden where flowers are grown to decorate every room of the chateau.
We’ll see some of the lovely towns along the River Loire; Blois, Amboise, Chaumont-sur-Loire, Langeais, Saumur and Angers. The whole area is classified by UNESCO as a unique cultural landscape: a complex harmony of architecture, society and gardens. Today the valley is known for chateaux and gardens but for hundreds of years, the Loire was an important trading and transport route. Kings of France settled here in the Middle Ages, attracted by the idyllic landscape and benign climate. The Italian Renaissance took hold and flourished. Free time this afternoon in Tours.
Travel to the eastern end of the Loire Valley today to visit Prieure Notre Dame d’Orsan, gardens of medieval monastic inspiration. Created by architects Sonia Lesot and Patrice Taravella who restored the ancient priory and created a garden, a free and convincing interpretation of the medieval spirit. They laboured over this project like artists over an illuminated manuscript.
Explore this complex of gardens sheltered by the remnants of the ancient abbey, founded in 1107. With its central cloister made of hornbeam and fountain, eleven rooms, each with its own character, function and symbolic resonance, make up the Jardin Clos; herb garden, circular potager, rose garden, fruit garden and parterre planted with wheat and broad beans. We’ll be ready for lunch today, beautifully presented by master chef, Patrice Taravella, with all produce coming from the gardens. Let yourself be transported to a time when gardens foreshadowed heavenly paradise, reflecting the harmony of creation. Travel into Chateauroux for our overnight accommodation.
Stop in the famous Saturday Market before we leave Chateauroux this morning. We are heading into the Dordogne through the Limousin with a peep at Saint-Benoit du Sault, a picturesque village (Plus Beaux Village en France) on a raised hill overlooking the Creuse river. Next stop is Chateau Hautefort, built as a medieval fortress, reconstructed in the 17th century and embellished with a French formal garden. This grand chateau stands in an enviable position overlooking the Auvézère Valley. Our destination is the mediaeval town of Sarlat, well preserved and UNESCO listed, our base to explore the Dordogne and the Perigord, the third region of our itinerary. It’s famous for its mediaeval architecture and its delicious foie gras! Settle into our hotel for the next three nights with dinner included this evening.
Discover the rich heritage of the Perigord today: La Roque-Gageac and Domme. First stop is Vezac and Chateau Marqueyssac in its splendid setting on a spur overlooking the entire Dordogne Valley. The paths are organised into three circuits that lead to the Belvedere, a balcony 192m high and 130m above the river. The imaginative planting of buxus gives a unique softness and romanticism.
This afternoon we’ll explore the beautiful village of Domme, another ‘plus beaux village’, a bastide town overlooking the Dordogne. The ramparts are extremely thick and there remain three of the original entry portes; Porte des Tours with impressive round towers, Porte de la Combe and Porte del Bos. Walk through the pretty streets lined with cottages all in honey-coloured stone distinctive to this region.
Eyrignac Manor, in the picture-perfect Perigord town Salignac, is our first stop this morning. Gardens here were laid out in the 18th century, transformed in the 19th and awarded ‘Grand Prix des Jardins’ in the 20th. The changing light lifts the shadows and accents the design. Spectacular hornbeam walks with buttresses and cylindrical yews; it’s a master class in topiary, a sequence of green spaces impeccably ordered and executed.
Afternoon visit to Terrasson on the River Vezere to Jardins Imaginaire (Gardens of the Imaginary), where you can let your imagination stroll through 13 themed gardens with panoramic views of the beautiful old town. Designed by Kathryn Gustafson in 1990 these gardens are a contemporary interpretation of a classic form of terraced gardens. It’s a journey through the Green Tunnel, Sacred Wood, Theatre of Green, Axis of the Winds, Water Garden and Rose Garden; a harmonious vision to saturate your senses.
Leave the Dordogne (Perigord) and travel into the Gironde to Bordeaux through the food basket of France, where they grow half the kiwi fruit, almost half the strawberries and most of the prunes. We will see potatoes, asparagus and maize. The Gironde department around Bordeaux is home to some of the world’s most celebrated vineyards, such as those in the flat Médoc, west of the Gironde estuary, and east to Saint-Emilion. Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River. Check into our Hotel Burdigala just a short walk from the city centre. Linda will take us for a walk through the old city to get our bearings.
A walking tour through the hilltop town of Saint Emilion that is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With 13th century ramparts, cobblestone streets and rock-faced hermitage, this mediaeval town presides over one of the region’s richest wine districts. Then a tour of one of the premier vineyards to learn of their heritage and wines. Share the ancient craft and history of “Cantenac”, the management of the vineyard until harvest, their approach to winemaking and wine ageing, and finish with an informative wine tasting. Free time this afternoon in Bordeaux.
We have come full circle as we take the fast train (TGV) to Paris. Transfer to our Hotel Westminster well situated a stone’s throw from the Place Vendome, the Opera and the Tuileries gardens. Linda will take us for a walk around the Opera precinct for orientation.
Our finale today at the Autumn Plant Festival at Domaine de Saint-Jean de Beauregard, the beautiful potager of Vicomtesse de Curel, attached to its 17th century-chateau. There are lots of lessons here in fruit and vegetable gardening. But it’s not all about produce; there are wide flower borders, walled garden, grape house and dovecote. Twice a year in spring and autumn, Saint-Jean de Beauregard Plant Fetes attract more than 200 exhibitors, among the best in their respective specialities. Nursery growers and producers from all over Europe have been selected to display at this fair. Enjoy our Farewell Dinner tonight.
Our tour ends in Paris after breakfast. Transfer to Charles de Gaulle for your flight home.
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