The following itinerary describes a range of museums and gardens which we plan to visit. Many are accessible to the public, but others require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure in 2018. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight schedules and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & evening meals indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=evening meals.
Rouen - 6 nights
Day 1: Saturday 1 September, Paris CDG – Lyons-la-Forêt – Rouen
- Afternoon tea in Lyons-la-Forêt village
- Welcome dinner
Today we set out from Paris Charles-de-Gaulle Airport to the magnificent regional city of Rouen, to begin our journey through the gardens, great houses, villages and historic monuments of Northern France.
En route we stop in Lyons-la-Forêt, one of France’s most picturesque villages, for an afternoon tea in the Hôtel Les Lions de Beauclerc. Most of its houses, many of which have façades featuring intricate wooden frames, are from the 17th century, but Lyons was once a Roman settlement and afterwards site of a castle built by Henry I of England, son of William the Conqueror. Kings were attracted to the region by its magnificent hunting grounds in the nearby beech forest. Lyons also has an excellent covered market from the 18th century, which was used in both Jean Renoir’s and Claude Chabrol’s films of Madame Bovary. We shall also pass the house of one of France’s greatest musicians, Ravel. Ravel, Debussy and Erik Satie all derived inspiration from Normandy’s beautiful landscapes.
After stopping in Lyons-la-Forêt we continue our journey to Rouen, arriving in the evening. After checking into our hotel, and some time at leisure, we shall have a brief introductory meeting followed by a welcome dinner at the Brasserie Paul, near our hotel. (Overnight Rouen) D
Day 2: Sunday 2 September, Rouen – St Georges-de-Boscherville – St Pierre-de-Manneville – Rouen
- Romanesque Abbey of St Georges-de-Boscherville
- Manoir et Parc de Villers, St Pierre-de-Manneville
- Orientation walk of Rouen
- Evening meal at restaurant La Couronne
Our excursion from Rouen takes us first to the Abbey St Georges-de-Boscherville. A Celtic shrine existed here for several centuries until in the 7th century a chapel dedicated to St George was built over it. In the 11th century the great chamberlain Raoul de Tancarville founded here a college for canons that was transformed into a magnificent Benedictine abbey. We shall visit the abbey with its fine Romanesque carvings and explore its garden, dedicated to plants believed by the monks to cure souls.
After lunch we visit one of the magnificent country manor houses of Normandy, the Manoir de Villers, a beautiful half-timbered manor house begun in the time of Charles VII (1403-1461) and added to for three centuries. A special delight will be a guided tour of the manor’s interior in which the owners M. and Mme Robert Mery de Bellegarde will show you the magnificent family furniture collection. It is surrounded by themed gardens where we shall enjoy a light lunch prepared by our hosts.
We then return to Rouen for an orientation tour of this beautiful historic city. The city grew up as an important centre of Roman Gaul, called ‘Rotomagus’, a derivation of the Celtic name ‘Ratuma’. It became an important ecclesiastical centre from the 3rd century and part of the Duchy of Normandy and then the Norman kingdom (1066), until lost to the French by King John in 1204. Rouen surrendered to Henry V of England in 1419 after a protracted siege, but was reclaimed by France in 1449. By the end of the 15th century it had become a centre of the French Renaissance.
Rouen has some of the finest Gothic architecture in France. The façade of its cathedral fascinated Monet, who painted it at different times of the day. Other churches include the 15th-century church of St Ouen and the church of St Maclou (1437), both notable examples of French flamboyant architecture. The Gros-Horloge is a Renaissance pavilion containing a 15th-century clock, and the Tour Jeanne d’Arc is where the Saint was imprisoned before her execution. The Hôtel de Bourgheroulde (1501-37) is the best example of the city’s medieval domestic architecture.
Tonight we dine together at restaurant La Couronne. Housed in a superbly preserved half-timbered home, it is considered the oldest inn in France, dating from 1345. (Overnight Rouen) BLD
Day 3: Monday 3 September, Rouen – Buchy – Bosc-Roger-sur-Buchy – Montmain – Rouen
- Buchy village market
- Le Jardin de Valérianes, Bosc-Roger-sur-Buchy
- Les Jardins d’Angélique, Montmain
A second day trip from Rouen takes us first to the small village of Buchy where we shop for our lunch in the Monday market. Like so many local markets in Normandy, Buchy’s Monday market features exclusively local produce. Many of local farms specialise in organic products. The medieval covered market hall has fixed wooden tables that were originally butchers’ blocks.
Three kilometres outside Buchy, Le Jardin de Valérianes, tucked away in a corner of the countryside, was created by a couple of passionate gardeners, Michel and Maryline Tissait, who named the garden after their two daughters. This English-style garden of over 4000 square metres offers much visual pleasure with its combination of perennials, roses, trees and bushes.
Next, we travel to Montmain to visit the Jardins d’Angélique, which comprise two wonderful gardens. Originally created by Gloria and Yves Le Bellegard in memory of their daughter Angelica, the two separate gardens are distinct in character. South of the manor house is a formal garden with walkways and clipped hedges, Italianate in style with box-edged beds of perennials and ornamental grasses, punctuated by yew topiary and a central fountain. It is designed to complement not only the rear elevations of the house, but to provide marvellous panoramas of the surrounding countryside. To the north is a flowing ‘English-style’ garden: dreamy, romantic, with grassy paths winding between hundreds of shrubs, plants and trees.
In the late afternoon we return to Rouen, where the evening is at leisure. (Overnight Rouen) B
Day 4: Tuesday 4 September, Rouen – Giverny – Auzouville-sur-Ry – Rouen
- Monet’s House and Gardens, Giverny
- Le Jardin Plume, Auzouville-sur-Ry
This morning we depart Rouen for Giverny, in the heart of Normandy, where the great Impressionist Claude Monet lived for forty-three years. We visit the artist’s beautiful home and garden, a dominant theme of his later paintings, created when as an old man he was unable to travel. The water-lily pond and wisteria-covered Japanese bridge were of his own design and his favourite motifs. Monet’s house, ‘Le Pressoir’, and its gardens have been faithfully restored and opened to the public. Your visit to his house will include a stroll through the garden with its thousands of flowers, including the Nympheas. You cross the Japanese bridge hung with wisteria to a dreamy setting of weeping willows and rhododendrons. Monet’s studio barge floated on the pond. In September the lawns are typically full of pink colchicums. The dahlias are eye-catching, and there are usually roses and nasturtiums in bloom at the house garden. No wisteria flowers, but the vine covers the bridge, and the pond is surrounded by greenery and impatiens.
In the afternoon we drive to Auzouville-sur-Ry to visit Le Jardin Plume, where owners Sylvie and Patrick Quibel have converted their orchard into a parterre. There is also a spring garden, summer garden and autumn garden. The summer garden is a kind of modern knot garden with a very formal layout of clipped box in a square edged pattern. Each ‘box’ is then filled with a very natural planting of grasses and perennials but the colours are superb – lots of golden yellow, deep red and burning oranges. The overall mix of formal and informal, the sombre green of the box and the jewel-like colours of the flowers is really superb. In September the box hedges are typically filled with vibrantly coloured flowers, interspersed with grasses. Favourite plants here are dahlias, crocosmias, heleniums, kniphofias and of course grasses – giving the plumes the garden is named for. (Overnight Rouen) B
Day 5: Wednesday 5 September, Rouen – Varengeville-sur-Mer – Tourville-sur-Arques – Rouen
- The Shamrock Garden, Varengeville-sur-Mer
- Le Bois des Moutiers, Varengeville-sur-Mer
- Church & Sailor’s cemetery, Varengeville-sur-Mer
- Château de Miromesnil, Tourville-sur-Arques
Today we head north to the coastal village of Varengeville-sur-mer where we shall visit two gardens owned by the Mallet family.
We will start with Le Bois des Moutiers. The residence and garden have been in the family’s possession since 1898. At that time, a young English architect, Edwin Luytens, who was to become famous for his houses and for the layout and architecture of imperial New Delhi, was asked to modify both the residence and the garden. Luytens designed Munstead Wood for Gertrude Jekyll, and the influence of both of these great English designers is evident in the gardens of Le Bois des Moutiers. The influence of Gertrude Jekyll is seen everywhere, including the design and plantings of the front garden, which slopes toward the sea.
After a picnic lunch in the garden, we drive a short distance to Varengeville-sur-Mer Church and sailors’ cemetery. Varengeville is an astonishing commune perched atop white limestone cliffs. It has attracted many artists including Claude Monet, and is famous for its church, with its stained-glass windows by Georges Braque. From the sailors’ cemetery, where Georges Braque, Albert Roussel and Porto-Riche are buried, there is a superb view of Dieppe and the cliffs towards Le Tréport.
We then head back to the village to visit the second garden of the Mallet family, the Shamrock Garden. Created in 1984 by Corinne Mallet, it displays a wonderful Hydrangea Collection including 2000 plants from over 1200 varieties. It has been since given the status of French National Collection .
In the late afternoon we continue to the Château de Miromesnil at Tourville-sur-Arques, a splendid 17th-century (Louis XIII) château, where Guy de Maupassant was born. It is located within a large plantation dominated by a two hundred-year-old cedar of Lebanon, and contains a very fine kitchen garden. Its vegetable plots are surrounded by a bewildering variety of flowers. The park is enclosed by old brick walls and features fruit trees, rose trees, magnolias, arborescent peonies and a magnificent variety of clematis. Following a light buffet dinner at the Château de Miromesnil we return to Rouen for the night. (Overnight Rouen) BD
Day 6: Thursday 6 September, Rouen – Le Neubourg – Rouen
- Château Champ de Bataille, Le Neubourg
- Afternoon at leisure in Rouen
This morning we depart Rouen and travel south to Le Neubourg to visit the Château Champ de Bataille, belonging to interior decorator Jacques Garcia. Garcia has completely renovated the 18th-century castle and gardens over the past 20 years. The château boasts a magnificent garden based in part on the classic French style and heavily influenced by drawings by the French designer Le Nôtre – hence its inclusion in Monty Don‘s first programme of his new BBC2 series, French Gardens, which aired on 1 February 2013. Monty was exploring Gardens of Power and Passion in and around Paris, with emphasis on those designed by André Le Nôtre, the son of Louis XVIII’s gardener at Les Tuileries. The original gardens at Champ de Bataille fell into disrepair and had virtually disappeared when the present owner, Jacques Garcia, took it upon himself to recreate a garden in the grounds of the château. An outline plan of the former gardens had survived, which revealed the basic outline and terraces of the missing garden. This was used only as a general guideline, rather than copied slavishly. The resulting garden (which was begun in 1993 and took 12 years to complete) is a masterful blend of classical French and Italian design and inspiration, with modern influences. Parterres, follies, classical temples, fountains, lakes – 43 hectares of park and garden in all, crowned by a stunning view that stretches over a mile down the garden from the main terrace of the Château du Champ de Bataille.
After a light lunch in restaurant Le Café Garcia, located in the former stables of the château, we return to Rouen for an afternoon at leisure. (Overnight Rouen) BL
Honfleur - 2 nights
Day 7: Friday 7 September, Rouen – Varengeville-sur-Mer – Honfleur
- L’Etang de Launay, Varengeville-sur-Mer
- Lunch at Le Piment Bleu, Varengeville-sur-Mer
- Le Jardin du Vastérival, Ste Marguerite-sur-Mer
This morning we leave Rouen to visit L’Etang de Launay, the recently created private gardens of Jean-Louis Dantec, with its highly-pruned specimen trees leading to a lake and ponds, with extensive woodland planting beyond. Only 20 years in the making, this very private garden has already gained a reputation as one of the finest woodland gardens in Europe.
After a lunch at Le Piment Bleu, located in the grounds of the Château de Varengeville, we drive to Marguerite-sur-Mer to visit the gardens of Vastérival, residence of the late Princess Sturdza. Vastérival is acclaimed as containing one of the finest plant collections in all France. The gardens are very informal, consisting of some twenty acres surrounded by a natural woodland. Cleverly designed paths wander throughout the garden, through the rich under plantings of the woodlands, and issue into glades with countless surprises. The garden is world-famous for its collections of rhododendrons, hydrangeas, maples, birches, viburnums and camellias.
In the late afternoon we make our way to the old trading and fishing port of Honfleur, situated at the mouth of the Seine, where we shall spend two nights. (Overnight Honfleur) BL
Day 8: Saturday 8 September, Honfleur – Le Havre – Honfleur
- Morning at leisure: Old Port of Honfleur and Saturday Market
- Musée d’Art Moderne André Malraux, Le Havre
- Evening meal in Honfleur
This morning there will be time at leisure to explore Honfleur with its old, picturesque port, characterised by its houses with slate-covered frontages, painted by many artists including Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin and Claude Monet. Honfleur is also famous for its Saturday market, taking place around the lovely Sainte Catherine church, the largest church made out of timber in France.
After lunch, we drive south to Le Havre, situated on the right bank of the estuary of the river Seine on the English Channel. Here we visit the André Malraux Modern Art Museum, which contains the second-most extensive collection of Impressionist paintings in France. There are paintings by Claude Monet and other artists who lived and worked in Normandy including Camille Corot, Eugène Boudin (with the largest collection of his works in the world), Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, Paul Sérusier and Édouard Vuillard. Modern art is also well represented with works by artists such as Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet, Raoul Dufy, Kees van Dongen, Fernand Léger, Alexej von Jawlensky and Nicolas de Staël.
We meet tonight for a group evening meal in Honfleur. (Overnight Honfleur) BD
Bayeux - 3 nights
Day 9: Sunday 9 September, Honfleur – Bénerville-sur-Mer – Ouilly-le-Vicomte – Mézidon-Canon – Bayeux
- La Datcha – the private gardens of Pierre Bergé, Bénerville-sur-Mer
- Château de Boutemont, Ouilly-le-Vicomte
- Château de Canon, Mézidon-Canon
This morning we depart Honfleur and travel south to Bénerville-sur-Mer for a very special visit to the private gardens of La Datcha (subject to confirmation closer to the date) – created some 25 years ago as a picturesque folly for Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent by designer Jacques Grange.
This weekend retreat is nestled in a garden that Bergé calls “one of the most important parts of the house”. The American garden designer Madison Cox enclosed the site with a stockade fence and forested the perimeter with oak, ash, maple, and dogwood trees. His chef d’oeuvre is the hydrangea walk, where more than 60 varieties of the luxurious shrub – Saint Laurent’s beloved Proust compared its fading blossoms to “bouquets of dead turquoises” – bloom spectacularly in late summer and fall, when Bergé and his guests use the retreat most. “La Datcha was already beautiful, but Madison knew how to make it into a paradise”, the businessman confides, adding, with a look of unmistakable pride, “It’s like no place else on earth”. (by Robert Murphy, Condé Nast, March 2014).
We continue our exploration of Normandy with a visit to the Château de Boutemont. Dating back to the 12th century, this fortified half-timbered manor is a great example of castles built along the coastline after the Norman victory of Hastings in 1066. It is today surrounded by an 11-hectare park listed as “Jardin Remarquable”. The French gardens designed by Achille Duchène at the beginning of the 20th century have since been completed by landscape architect Georges Hayat’s creations, including a Renaissance Italian garden, rose trees-decorated arches and a small “scent garden”.
Our final visit for the day is to the gardens of the Château de Canon, residence of M. Alain de Mezerac. Here, an 18th-century house is surrounded by contemporary gardens and a park, created by Jean-Baptise-Jacques Elie de Beaumont and his wife Anne-Louise. The family has owned this property since the Middle Ages. Their alteration of the house to the Neoclassical style, which brought on a lawsuit, resulted in a splendid two-storey structure, while pavilions and statuary in the garden landscape are English in style.
In the late afternoon we continue our drive to Bayeux, our next base in Normandy, which is famous above all for its tapestry. (Overnight Bayeux) B
Day 10: Monday 10 September, Bayeux – Brécy – Bayeux
- Cathedral Notre-Dame & historic centre of Bayeux
- Bayeux Tapestry Museum
- Château de Brécy, St-Gabriel-Brécy
Our program begins today with a walking tour of Bayeux’s historic centre and fine Cathedral of Notre-Dame. This gem of Norman architecture was consecrated on 14 July 1077 by Bishop Odo of Conteville, in the presence of his illustrious brother, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England.
Mid-morning, we visit the special museum dedicated to the Tapisserie de Bayeux which chronicles the Norman invasion of England. This Anglo-Saxon work, presented by la Reine Mathilde (Queen Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror), to Bishop Odo in c.1080, was inspired by manuscript scrolls and the continuous narratives of the antique columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius in Rome. It chronicles events from the promise of Harold Godwin to bequeath his kingdom to William to the death of the Saxon king on the field at Hastings; it is fascinating for its detailed depictions of arms and the 11th-century methods and machinery of warfare.
After lunch at leisure, we drive to the Château de Brécy, residence of M. and Mme Didier Wirth. This will be a perfect introduction to the formal French garden; intimate in scale and exquisite in detail. Set in a wooded hamlet, the château would resemble a Norman farmhouse were it not for the pedimented entrance. The house dates from the 17th century, when it belonged to the Le Bas family, friends and associates of the great French architect after whom the distinctive pitched roof is named, François Mansart. The house bears many hallmarks of Mansart’s architecture. The garden, which is immediately behind the house, consists of five terraces, fine stone work, elegant parterres, pools, topiary and wrought-iron gates that provide views into Normandy’s countryside. (Overnight Bayeux) B
Day 11: Tuesday 11 September, Bayeux – Saint-Maurice-en-Cotentin – Castillon-Plantbessin – Bayeux
- Le Jardin de la Bizerie, Saint-Maurice-en-Cotentin
- Les Jardins de Plantbessin, Castillon
This morning we drive across the Cotentin Peninsula to visit the private gardens of La Bizerie. Benefiting from the Cotentin micro-climate, Jérôme Goutier has transformed a damp valley into a unique garden, filled with mediterranean plants as well as semi-tropical species usually found in the southern hemisphere.
After lunch, we return to Bayeux via Castillon to visit the Jardins de Plantbessin, created by Colette Sainte Beuve as a water garden to complement her plant nursery. Here you will find a marvellous treasure trove of plants that includes beautiful samples of Japanese plants as well as herbs and heather, situated on a site which measures less than a quarter of an acre. (Overnight Bayeux) B
Silly-en-Gouffern - 2 nights
Day 12: Wednesday 12 September, Bayeux – Caen – Silly-en-Gouffern
- Fine Arts Museum, Caen
- Abbaye-aux-Hommes & its abbatial church St Étienne, Caen
This morning we depart Bayeux to visit the excellent small art museum of Caen (with works by Van der Weyden, Perugino, Poussin and Veronese), which is built within the ruined walls of William the Conqueror’s castle.
After lunch at leisure in Caen, we explore the Abbaye-aux-Hommes, and its church St Étienne. This masterpiece of Romanesque church architecture, which survived the 1944 Allied bombardment, was begun by William the Conqueror as his mausoleum. One reason for the finesse of this building, which influenced many later Romanesque churches, was the abundance of good building stone in the region.
We stay for the next two nights in a typical half-timbered Norman manor, south of Caen. Located in the heart of the forest, this former 18th century hunting lodge is surrounded by an 80 hectare-park. We shall enjoy our meals from the Michelin Guide-listed restaurant, overlooking the woods. (Overnight Silly-en-Gouffern) BD
Day 13: Thursday 13 September, Silly-en-Gouffern – Sassy – St-Céneri-le-Gérei – St-Christophe-le-Jajolet – Silly-en-Gouffern
- Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei village & lunch at the Auberge de la Vallée
- Jardins et Terrasses du Château de Sassy, Saint-Christophe-Le-Jajolet
A day trip today takes us to yet more lovely Norman villages and gardens. We begin with a visit of the village of Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei. In the 6th century an Italian anchorite, Céneri, established a hermitage here and this grew into the village of Saint-Céneri which is now considered one of the most beautiful villages of France. In the 19th century, its stone houses, Romanesque church with beautiful frescoes of the 12th and 14th centuries and its small stone bridge attracted many artists, including Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet and Eugène Boudin. We shall have lunch at the charming Auberge de la Vallée and take a guided tour of the village before making our way to Saint-Christophe-Le-Jajolet.
We drive through the majestic Forêt d’Écouves to the gardens and terraces of the Château de Sassy. This is a spectacular formal garden, a benchmark of the French formal style, featuring clipped yews. It was designed in the first decades of the 20th century by the famous Achille Duchêne for Etienne d’Audriffet. The designer took his inspiration from the great Le Nôtre, who was responsible for the gardens of Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte. The garden, which rolls out like a great carpet below an 18th-century château, is located in the Pays d’Argentan between hedged farmlands and the vast plains of the north. Its strict formality beautifully counterpoints a pastoral landscape of hedges and clumps of fruit trees where thoroughbred horses graze. A deep perspective of terraces with intricate broderies (‘boxwood embroideries’) planted in the shapes of Arabesques passes tiers of moats and features a round pool. A lovely small pavilion flanked by two monumental fastigiate yews and rows of shaped lindens forms the perspective’s centrepiece. (Overnight Silly-en-Gouffern) BLD
Vannes - 2 nights
Day 14: Friday 14 September, Silly-en-Gouffern – St-Biez-en-Belin – Vannes
- Le Jardin d’Atmosphère du Petit Bordeaux, Saint-Biez-en-Berlin
Today we drive out of Normandy toward the Maine region. Our first visit is to Le Jardin d’Atmosphère du Petit Bordeaux, in the town of Saint-Biez-en-Berlin. This delightful garden was voted the ‘Preferred garden of the French’ in the Pays-de-Loire region in 2014 by viewers of the France 2 television channel. It was also awarded the ‘Jardin Remarquable’ label in 2007 by the French Minister of Culture. This private garden, which covers 1.5 hectares, has been created since 1987. A wonderfully mature garden, it is full of trees under planted with hydrangeas, day lillies, hostas, ancient roses, acers and dogwood. Every season has its own interest and two large ponds provide focal points in the garden. There are more than 4000 different plants including collections of Acers, Hydrangeas, Cornus (including the beautiful Cornus kousa ‘Salomi’), roses and grasses.
After lunch we travel west to the south coast of Brittany. Nestled in the Gulf of Morbihan, in one of the world’s most beautiful bays, Vannes boasts all the discreet charm of a fortified town with two thousand years of history. There you will have the opportunity to sample Far Breton and Kouign-Amman – two of the region’s famous specialities. Far Breton is a traditional custard cake with prunes, while Kouign-Amann (pronounced “queen a-mahn”), is made with flaky, buttery, caramelised pastry. (Overnight Vannes) BL
Day 15: Saturday 15 September, Vannes – Carnac – Auray – Vannes
- Guided tour of Carnac: stone alignments and circles
- Lunch at Crêperie Saint Sauveur, Auray
- Guided tour of the walled town of Vannes incl. Saint-Pierre Cathedral
This morning we travel to Carnac to explore the largest Neolithic alignment in the world (3500-3000 BC), with almost 3000 upright stones arranged in 11 almost parallel lines over several kilometres, and consider the various explanations which have been offered for their purpose and function.
We then head for lunch to the pretty town of Auray which features the picture-postcard ancient quarter of St-Goustan, with its delightful 15th and 16th-century houses. The bend in the River Loch was a natural setting for the town and it soon became one of the busiest ports in Brittany. In 1776, Benjamin Franklin landed here on his way to seek the help of Louis XVI in the American War of Independence. Here we shall eat together at a local crêperie. The word crêpe is French for pancake and is derived from the Latin crispus meaning ‘curled’. Crêpes originated in Brittany and were once called galettes, meaning flat cakes.
We return to Vannes in the afternoon for a guided tour of its remarkable old quarter, home to the impressive Saint-Pierre Cathedral. We also take a walk along the town’s ramparts. These 13th-century fortifications, which were regularly remodelled until the 17th century, provide wonderful views of the city’s formal gardens and its cathedral. (Overnight Vannes) BL
Perros-Guirec - 3 nights
Day 16: Sunday 16 September, Vannes – Pont-Aven – Les Monts d’Arrée– Perros-Guirec
- Pont-Aven Museum
- Eco-musée des Monts d’Arrée, Natural Regional Park of Armorique
This morning we leave Vannes for Pont-Aven, a small and picturesque Breton village which owes its fame to the artistic life that flourished here between 1860 and the mid-20th century. There we shall visit the world’s first gallery devoted to the work of the Pont-Aven School. Reopened in 2016 after having been completely renovated, the museum hosts paintings from post-Impressionist Gauguin and his fellow-artists. You will then have time at leisure to explore the village, walk along the River Aven and sample the town’s “galettes” – butter biscuits invented here in 1920.
From Pont-Aven we continue our journey inland, travelling through the Natural Regional Park of Armorique. We shall drive up to the highest and oldest hills of Brittany, Les Monts d’Arrée, stopping in the town of Saint-Rivoal where we shall visit the eco-museum and be introduced to the Park’s unique fauna and flora by our local guide.
In the late afternoon we continue to our hotel located outside the town of Perros-Guirec, on the northern coast of Brittany at the centre of the ‘Coast of Pink Granite’. The combination of pink rocks, blue sea and a few islands on the horizon make this area very picturesque. While based in Perros-Guirec we shall visit a number of private gardens as we journey through the area’s rocky coastline, deep-cut inlets and inland wooded valleys. (Overnight Perros-Guirec) BLD
Day 17: Monday 17 September, Perros-Guirec – Trédarzec – Penvénan – Perros-Guirec
- Les Jardins de Kerdalo, Trédarzec
- Lunch at L’Abri des Barges, Trédarzec
- Jardins de Pellinec, Penvénan
We begin this morning with a visit to the gardens of Kerdalo. The garden, in a valley near the Brittany coast, was the subject of a book by its owner-designer, Prince Peter Wolkonsky: “Kerdalo: Un Jardin d’Exception” (Paris, 1995). He began to create the garden in 1965. Originally a manor farm in its enclosed valley with natural springs, the formal garden merges into a wooded valley with a lake, pools and grotto with a rich collection of trees and shrubs. Since his death in 1997, his daughter Isabelle and her husband Timothy have restored the garden. They both trained as horticulturalists at RHS Garden Wisley.
A short drive will take us to L’Abri des Barges, a friendly bistro housed in a 16th-century mill overlooking the Jaudy estuary. The chef, a former food photographer, specialises in dishes made from local seafood and seasonal vegetables.
After lunch we will explore a private manor house garden, Le Jardin du Pellinec. Inspired by the gardens at Kerdalo, the seven-acre garden on the Pellinec estuary that has excellent soils was started in 1997. The microclimate has enabled Monsieur Jean to grow a huge diversity of plants laid out in visual harmony. The view is ever changing; at high tide, the sea laps at the garden edges creating a spectacular sight. This superb garden was awarded 1st prize ‘Bonpland’ in 2008. (Overnight Perros-Guirec) BL
Day 18: Tuesday 18 September, Perros-Guirec – Ploëzal – Guingamp – Lanrivain – Pontrieux – Perros-Guirec
- Château de la Roche-Jagu, Ploëzal
- Lunch in Guingamp
- Le Grand Launay, Lanrivain
- Boat tour of Pontrieux’s washhouses
This morning we travel to Ploëzal to visit Le Château de La Roche-Jagu, which is surrounded by a contemporary garden in a magnificent setting overlooking the River Trieux. Inspired by medieval gardens, it features a kitchen garden, a medicinal garden and a flower garden. There are wonderful walks in the woodlands, where you can find areas of palms and camellias and water features.
Following some time at leisure for lunch in the market town of Guingamp we continue our journey inland to Le Grand Launay, a remarkable garden located in Lanrivain featuring a unique design, perfectly shaped topiary and beautiful hedging. The garden was designed by its owners, Jean and Jacqueline Shalit, in collaboration with the landscape designer Gael Boedec. Their work resulted in a beautiful, modern garden with mostly green plants and some white climbing hydrangea here and there. The garden itself is built around an old castle which gives it a specific charm. One of the most fascinating parts of the garden is the so-called ‘garden of temptation’, where boxwood snakes climb the apple tree as in the garden of Eden.
In the late afternoon we return to Perros-Guirec via the small town of Pontrieux which is nestled deep in an estuary. Listed as one of the ‘small cities of character’ in Brittany, the town features fifty or so beautifully restored and flower-decked washhouses which adorn the banks of the River Trieux. We take a short tour by boat to view these charming washhouses and dine at a local restaurant. (Overnight Perros-Guirec) BD
Dinan - 2 nights
Day 19: Wednesday 19 September, Perros-Guirec – Mûr-de-Bretagne – Bazouges-la-Pérouse – Dinan
- Les Jardins du Botrain, Mûr-de-Bretagne
- Château de la Ballue, Bazouges-la-Pérouse
This morning we depart Perros-Guirec for Les Jardins du Botrain located outside the small town of Mûr-de-Bretagne. Inspired by English garden design, this romantic garden in the centre of Brittany is a place of relaxation and contemplation. Surrounding an eighteenth-century manor house with its unique apiary, the gardens consist of many rooms including a Japanese garden, a rose garden, an iris garden, an area of hostas, acers, a pond and even a small lake.
We then drive east toward the Château de la Ballue, located between Brittany and Normandy, in a unique rural setting with mild hills and woods. This 17th-century château, which once welcomed guests such as Balzac and Victor Hugo, is surrounded by dramatic theatrical gardens. When the castle was built in 1620, it was surrounded by Italian-style gardens. They were abandoned in 1942 and could have remained fields of potatoes if the editor Claude Arthaud had not bought the property in the 1970s. Thanks to his inspiration the architects Paul Maymont and François Hébert-Stevens created a classic garden and a mannerist garden before the gardens were discovered again by Marie-France Barrière and Alain Schrotter. The new owners have redesigned and reinterpreted the gardens with a modern twist. There are neat traditional geometric terraces, and a lush fernery and scented groves.
In the late afternoon we continue to Dinan. Once a fortified stronghold of the Dukes of Brittany, Dinan is one of the prettiest and best-preserved towns in the region. It’s noted for its ‘maisons à piliers’, medieval half-timbered houses built on stilts over the sidewalks. For centuries the town has served as a hub of cultural and commercial activity, from the original merchants and traders to today’s artists and craftspeople. (Overnight Dinan) BL
Day 20: Thursday 20 September, Dinan – Mont-Saint-Michel – Dinan
- Mont Saint-Michel
- Time at leisure to explore the medieval town of Dinan
- Farewell Evening Meal at Le Bistrot du Viaduc
One of the highlights of the tour is a visit to the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, which perches upon a great, isolated granite cone rising from the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel, the sands of which are bared at low tide. There are quicksands here from which, according to a depiction in the Bayeux Tapestry, Harold Godwin saved some Norman soldiers. Believed by the Celts to be a resting place to which the departed were ferried on an invisible boat, it became the site of a hermitage after an apparition of St Michael to St Aubert, Bishop of Avranches (708). A Carolingian church was built in the 10th century, followed by a Romanesque basilica in the 17th century. Count Richard I of Normandy established a Benedictine Abbey here in 966 and it became a major seat of learning in the 11th century. It was progressively fortified in the Middle Ages. We shall visit the small village below the Mount and then participate in a tour of the Abbey, visiting its church, refectory, ancient scriptorium, and cloister.
We return to Dinan in the early afternoon, for some time at leisure. The centre of town is dominated by an impressive castle and surrounded by ramparts. The 2700 metres of ramparts once protected the medieval citadel, which spread over thirty hectares. The ramparts were built in the 13th century when Dinan became a duchy and were continually improved until the Wars of Religion of the 16th century, after which they lost their defensive role. You may wish to take a lovely circular walk along the ramparts, starting from the castle. Tonight we enjoy an evening farewell meal in a local restaurant. (Overnight Dinan) BD
Day 21: Friday 21 September, Dinan – Paris (tour ends)
- Transfer to Paris CDG airport
Our tour ends today with a coach transfer from Dinan to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, via Rennes TGV station. B