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 2016. 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 - 5 nights
Day 1: Saturday 3 September, Paris CDG – Lyons-La-Forêt – Rouen
- Afternoon tea in Lyons-la-Forêt village
- Welcome dinner at the Brasserie Paul, in Rouen
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 seventeenth 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 eighteenth 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 4 September, Rouen – St-Georges de Boscherville – St-Pierre de Manneville – Montmain – Rouen
- Romanesque Abbey of St-Georges de Boscherville
- Manoir et Parc de Villers, St-Pierre de Manneville
- Le Jardin d’Angélique, Montmain
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 seventh century a chapel dedicated to St George was built over it. In the eleventh 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.
The remainder of the day is devoted to visiting some magnificent country manor houses in Normandy. Our first visit is to the nearby 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.
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) BL
Day 3: Monday 5 June, Rouen – Buchy – Bosc-Roger-sur-Buchy – Beaumont-le-Hareng – Rouen
- Buchy village market
- Le Jardin de Valérianes, Bosc-Roger-sur-Buchy
- Le Jardin de Bellevue, Beaumont-le-Hareng
- Evening meal at restaurant La Couronne
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.
We then drive on to Beaumont-le-Hareng, where we visit Le Jardin de Bellevue. Le Jardin de Bellevue was created by the purist Martine Lemonnier in the 1980s and is famous for its collection of Hellebores (winter and Lenten roses). The gardens have been laid out in a very natural style with a walk through various styles of garden including a golden garden, a summer garden, a hydrangea garden and an alley of yews. A lot of thought has been given to making the gardens interesting throughout the year and there is something to see no matter when you choose to visit. Some of the highlights are the hellebores in winter, the magnolias and rhododendrons in spring, the hydrangeas in summer and the wonderful berries and leaf colour in the autumn.
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) BD
Day 4: Tuesday 6 September, Rouen – Ste Marguerite-sur-Mer – Varengeville-sur-Mer – Rouen
- Le Jardin du Vastérival, Ste Marguerite-sur-Mer
- L’Etang de Launay, Varengeville-sur-Mer
- Church & Sailor’s cemetery, Varengeville-sur-Mer
This morning 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.
Following lunch at the restaurant Le Piment Bleu, located in the grounds of the Château de Varengeville, we 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, created by owner Jean-Louis Dantec, has already gained a reputation as one of the finest woodland gardens in Europe.
Next, we drive a short distance to the 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. (Overnight Rouen) BL
Day 5: Wednesday 7 September, Rouen – Le Neubourg – Rouen
- Château Champ de Bataille, Le Neubourg
- Guided walking tour of Rouen
This morning we depart Rouen and travel south to Le Neubourg to visit Château Champ de Bataille, belonging to interior decorator Jacques Garcia. Garcia has completely renovated the eighteenth-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 where we meet our guide for a walking 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 third 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 fifteenth 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 fifteenth-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 fifteenth-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. The remainder of the afternoon is free for you to explore Rouen at leisure. (Overnight Rouen) BL
Day 6: Thursday 8 September, Rouen – Auzouville-sur-Ry – Varengeville-sur-Mer – Tourville-sur-Arques – Rouen
- Le Jardin Plume, Auzouville-sur-Ry
- Le Bois des Moutiers, Varengeville-sur-Mer
- Château de Miromesnil, Tourville-sur-Arques
This morning 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.
Further north, we visit the house, park and gardens of Le Bois des Moutiers. The residence and garden have been in the possession of the Mallet family 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.
In the late afternoon we continue to the Château de Miromesnil at Tourville-sur-Arques, a splendid seventeenth-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 7: Friday 9 September, Rouen – Giverny – Grigneuseville – Rouen
- Monet’s House and Gardens, Giverny
- Les Jardins d’Agapanthe, Grigneuseville
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.
This afternoon we journey to Grigneuseville to visit Les Jardins d’Agapanthe, created and owned by landscape architect Alexandre Thomas. These gardens are an imaginative blend of traditional and experimental design with surprises at every turn, and are described by Vivian Russell in her article ‘Secret gardens of Normandy': “The tone of this stylish garden is set from the moment you pass through the gate in the boundary hedge and step into the garden pavilion, the walls of which are covered with red Toile de Jouy fabric. A labyrinth of narrow paths flanked by lush vegetation weaves its way around corners, over bridges, up and down steps, through a long pergola, opening out here and there into clearings of what can best be described as imaginative garden tableaux. You might suddenly find yourself stepping into a Mediterranean garden with beach pebbles and dwarf pines, or peering into a pond so swampy that a pair of glinting crocodile eyes wouldn’t be out of place, or stepping down into the sunken lavender theatre ornamented with stone portals and a fountain, set against a raised backdrop of clipped yews of various heights and shapes”. (Overnight Rouen) B
Bayeux - 3 nights
Day 8: Saturday 10 September, Rouen – Le Havre – Honfleur – Bayeux
- Musée d’Art Moderne André Malraux, Le Havre
- Time at leisure: Old Port of Honfleur
If you plot the landscapes painted by the Impressionists on a map of France, their locations correspond to the railway lines that led out from Paris along such corridors as the valley of the Seine, for the Impressionists were creatures of the bourgeoisie’s discovery of rural and coastal France, made available to it for the first time by steam trains. The landscapes of middle-class recreation were also reached by the new railways. One aspect of the bourgeois discovery of France was the development of seaside resorts, and one of the greatest painters of the beach was Eugène Boudin.
This morning we depart Rouen for 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.
At approximately 1.00pm we continue to Honfleur, where many Parisians spent their holidays. There will be time at leisure for lunch and to explore the old, picturesque port, characterised by its houses with slate-covered frontages, painted by many artists including Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin and Claude Monet. The Sainte Catherine church, which has a bell tower separate from the principal building, is the largest church made out of timber in France.
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 9: Sunday 11 September, Bayeux – Castillon – Bayeux
- Cathedral Notre-Dame & historic centre of Bayeux
- Bayeux Tapestry Museum
- Time at leisure in Bayeux
- Jardins de Plantbessin, Castillon
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 eleventh-century methods and machinery of warfare.
Following some time at leisure, our day ends with a drive to 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
Day 10: Monday 12 September, Bayeux – Caen – St-Gabriel-Brécy – Bayeux
- Abbaye-aux-Hommes & its abbatial church St Étienne, Caen
- Le Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen
- Château de Brécy, St-Gabriel-Brécy
This morning we drive to Caen to visit the excellent small art museum (with works by Van der Weyden, Perugino, Poussin and Veronese), which is built within the ruined walls of William the Conqueror’s castle, and 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.
After some time at leisure in Caen for lunch, we return to Bayeux via the gardens of 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 seventeenth 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
Bagnoles-de-L'Orne - 2 nights
Day 11: Tuesday 13 September, Bayeux – Benerville-sur-Mer – Cambremer – Mézidon-Canon – Bagnoles-de-l’Orne
- La Datcha – the private gardens of Pierre Bergé, Benerville-sur-Mer
- Les Jardins de Pays d’Auge, Cambremer
- Parc & Jardins du Château de Canon, Mézidon-Canon
This morning we depart Bayeux and travel to Benerville-sur-Mer for a very special visit to the private gardens of La Datcha – created some 25 years ago as a picturesque folly for Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent by designer Jacques Grange.
This week-end 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).
Next we explore the heart of the Pays d’Auge, with its stunning half-timbered farms, manors and châteaux and lovely agricultural landscape dominated by such elements as orchards and hedgerows. The Pays d’Auge is best known as the heart of production for some of Normandy’s best food products, including the rich and aromatic cheeses of Camembert, Pont l’Évêque, and Livarot. It is also famous for its alcoholic cider and for its calvados, an apple brandy created from cider in the same manner that cognac is made from wine; through double distillation in copper stills. The brandy, which is 70 percent alcohol, is aged from 3 to 25 years in oak casks and then bottled.
We follow the designated ‘Route du Cidre’ to Les Jardins de Pays d’Auge, located outside the village of Cambremer. This series of themed gardens is situated around a seventeenth-century farmhouse and other half-timbered buildings, typical of Norman architecture. Listed as a ‘Jardin Remarquable’ in the Calvados region, this verdant 3-hectare estate lies adjacent to the Calvados Huet distillery.
Our final visit for the day is to the gardens of the Château de Canon, residence of M. Alain de Mezerac. Here, an eighteenth-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-storied structure, while pavilions and statuary in the garden landscape are English in style.
We stay for the next two nights in a lovely small heritage hotel, Le Manoir du Lys, at Bagnoles-de-l’Orne owned by a family noted for their fine cuisine. We shall enjoy our evening meals from their 1-Michelin star restaurant. The hotel is set in a pretty garden on the edge of the Andaine Forest. (Overnight Bagnoles-de-l’Orne) BLD
Day 12: Wednesday 14 September, Bagnoles-de-l’Orne – Saint-Christophe-Le-Jajolet – St-Céneri-le-Gérei – Bagnoles-de-l’Orne
- Jardins et Terrasses du Château de Sassy, Saint-Christophe-Le-Jajolet
- Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei village & lunch at the Auberge de la Vallée
- Free time in Bagnoles-de-l’Orne
A day trip today takes us to yet more lovely Norman villages and another garden. We begin with the gardens and terraces of the Château de Sassy at Saint-Christophe-Le-Jajolet. 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 twentieth 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 the surrounding 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.
We next drive through the majestic Forêt d’Écouves to the village of Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei. In the sixth 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 nineteenth century its stone houses, Romanesque church with beautiful frescoes of the twelfth and fourteenth 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 leisurely walk through the village before making our way to the spa town of Bagnoles-de-l’Orne for some time at leisure. The ‘Belle Époque’ Quarter in Bagnoles-de-l’Orne constitutes a rather well-preserved example of what could be classed as a typical early twentieth-century French bourgeoise residential area. Built between 1886 and 1914 and located in the southern part of the town, it is filled with superb villas with polychrome façades, bow windows and unique roofing. (Overnight Bagnoles-de-l’Orne) BLD
Le Mans - 2 nights
Day 13: Thursday 15 September, Bagnoles-de-l’Orne – Ballon – Le Mans
- Jardins du Donjon de Ballon
- Le Mans: Guided tour of Old Plantagenet City incl. Saint Julien Cathedral
Today we drive out of Normandy toward the Loire Valley. Our first visit is to the gardens of the Donjon de Ballon, an important frontier fortress built by Guillaume Ier de Bellême in 1005, the first to be encountered by the Normans in their attempts to expand their territory. It was seized by William the Conqueror in 1064, two years before he invaded England; and in the eleventh century it changed hands twenty-five times! In the twelfth century the family of Chources, allies of the Kings of England, established control of the fortress which was to endure three centuries. During the Hundred Years’ War the castle was controlled by armed bands and contested by the English and French until the companions of Joan of Arc, Olivier de Prez, châtelain of Ballon, and his nephew Ambroise de Loré finally subdued it and its territory. The development of artillery rendered this type of fortress, composed of a high keep and prominent towers, outmoded.
The gardens of Ballon have been created since 1960 by the a’Weng-Guéroult family. They are made up of a number of parts. The Alley of the Linden Trees, with large rectangular beds, leads to the Court of the Lions named for the lions which guard the donjon’s drawbridge. The Jardin Clos sits within the ramparts and is in the transitional Medieval/Renaissance style. It is made up of three sections: the geometrical Jardin du Puits which surrounds the forty-five metre well which supplied the castle with water; Le Jardin du Milieu, inspired by Renaissance gardens, with ancient standard roses, aromatic plants such as hyssop, kitchen and medicinal herbs, and plants for dyes such as rose madder; La Motte Féodale (the feudal moat) which leads to the location of the very first wooden fortress, precursor to the stone donjon. There are beech groves here and the moats themselves are planted with fruit trees from around the world. This garden section, high on the castle crag, commands stunning panoramas of the forests of Normandy and Maine. Below this is the rose garden and surrounding the whole complex is a beautiful wood.
Following a light lunch in the Donjon de Ballon, we next drive a short distance to the city of Le Mans which lies on the banks of the River Sarthe. We are now in the region of Maine, of which Le Mans is the old capital. Surrounded by the modern city, the historic centre is dominated by the magnificent cathedral of Saint Julien. This building has a Romanesque nave and west end and a marvellously light Gothic east end with some of the most magnificent flying buttresses in France. The cathedral also has excellent stained glass from the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is surrounded by a lovely precinct of timbered houses whose façades boast intricate patterns and some excellent carving. At points along the Sarthe are to be seen remnants of the city’s Gallo-Roman walls, Le Mans having been an important Celtic town before Julius Caesar invaded, and Augustus pacified Gaul. A local specialty is the famous ‘Rillettes du Mans’, made with pork meat cooked in its fat and best served simply with a farmhouse loaf. (Overnight Le Mans) BL
Day 14: Friday 16 September, Le Mans – Louplande – Saint-Biez-en-Berlin – Le Mans
- Gardens of the Château de Villaines, Louplande
- Le Jardin d’Atmosphère du Petit Bordeaux, Saint-Biez-en-Berlin
This morning we drive to the Château de Villaines, built on the ruins of a twelfth-century castle, of which all that remains is part of the defensive moat on the southern side. The present buildings date from the mid-seventeenth century and the Château de Villaines is typical of châteaux from that period, oriented with the main façades facing precisely north and south, and being long and slim to allow light to penetrate from windows on both sides, making it very light and airy. The main buildings comprise the château itself, the orangery in the northwest corner of the garden, and a large dovecote to the southwest.
Marc and Marie-José Forissier have been the owners since 1997 and are responsible for developing the garden as it appears today. Before they began work there was an English landscape garden in front of the house; this has been replaced by a formal French garden with clipped box topiary and lawns. To the right of the house is a recently planted orchard, to the south the remains of a large moat and many newly planted trees. However, its main feature is an extraordinary ‘potager en carrés’, a highly formalised and decorative fruit and vegetable garden divided into dozens of raised square beds and surrounded by a high wall. This garden, covering 2.5 acres, was restored by the present owners and includes a fine array of peonies, espaliered pear trees and apple trees trained in cordons. An attractive collection of Old Climbing Roses trail across arches giving the garden height. In 2005 it was awarded the prize for best potager garden in France by the French Horticultural Society (Société Nationale d’Horticulture de France).
Following a light lunch at the Château de Villaines, hosted by the owners, we continue to the town of Saint-Biez-en-Berlin to visit Le Jardin d’Atmosphère du Petit Bordeaux. 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 by its owners. 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. (Overnight Le Mans) BL
Carnac - 1 night
Day 15: Saturday 17 September, Le Mans – Vannes – Carnac – Auray – Carnac
- Guided tour of the walled town of Vannes incl. Saint-Pierre Cathedral
- Guided tour of Carnac: stone alignments and circles
- Evening meal at Crêperie Saint Sauveur, Auray
We depart early this morning and 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!
Following some time at leisure for lunch we take 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 thirteenth-century fortifications, which were regularly remodelled until the seventeenth century, provide wonderful views of the city’s formal gardens and its cathedral.
Mid-afternoon we travel to Carnac to explore the largest Neolithic alignment in the world (3500-3000 BC), with almost three thousand upright stones arranged in eleven almost parallel lines over several kilometres, and consider the various explanations which have been offered for their purpose and function.
After checking into our hotel in Carnac, we head for a pre-dinner stroll to the pretty town of Auray which features the picture-postcard ancient quarter of St-Goustan, with its delightful fifteenth and sixteenth-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 dine 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. Around the 12th century buckwheat was introduced in Brittany from the east. Buckwheat thrived on the desolate and rocky Breton moors and is called ‘sarrasin’ or ‘blé noir’ (black wheat) due to the dark specks that are often found in it. It is high in fibre and is an excellent plant source of easily digestible protein and contains all eight essential amino acids. Another benefit is that it is gluten free. White flour crêpes appeared only at the turn of the 20th century; at this time white wheat flour, which formerly had been as expensive as sugar, honey or meat, became affordable. White flour crêpes are as thin as buckwheat crêpes but softer as a result of the eggs, milk, and butter used to make them. (Overnight Carnac) BD
Perros-Guirec - 3 nights
Day 16: Sunday 18 September, Carnac – Pont-Aven – Les Monts d’Arrée – Perros-Guirec
- Visit of the musée de Pont-Aven
- Eco-musée des Monts d’Arrée, Natural Regional Park of Armorique
This morning we leave Carnac 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 this year 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 at the eco-museum of Saint-Rivoal. We shall be served the region’s speciality for lunch: the Kig Ha Fars, a pork and beef stew cooked with vegetable and crumbled buckwheat flour. In the afternoon, 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 19 September, Perros-Guirec – Penvénan – Tréguier – Trédarzec – Perros-Guirec
- Jardins de Pellinec, Penvénan
- Les Jardins de Kerdalo, Trédarzec
- Evening meal at L’Abri des Barges, Trédarzec
We begin this morning with a visit to 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.
Midday there will be time at leisure to explore the old town of Tréguier, which dates from the sixth century. The port and harbour are picturesque, containing many pretty waterfront restaurants and crêperies. There are dramatic views of the quayside.
In the afternoon we visit 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.
Before returning to Perros-Guirec we dine together at 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. (Overnight Perros-Guirec) BD
Day 18: Tuesday 20 September, Perros-Guirec – Ploëzal – Lanrivain – Pontrieux – Perros-Guirec
- Château de la Roche-Jagu, Ploëzal
- Le Grand Launay, Lanrivain
- Boat tour of Pontrieux’s washhouses
This morning we travel to Ploëzal to visit Le Chateau 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 21 September, Perros-Guirec – Saint-Malo – Bazouges-la-Pérouse – Dinan
- Time at leisure in Saint-Malo
- Château de la Ballue, Bazouges-la-Pérouse
We depart Perros-Guirec early this morning and travel along the north coast of Brittany to the port city of Saint-Malo. Encircled by its strong granite ramparts, this corsair city was destroyed in August 1944, but has been so well restored that its centre exudes an austere yet characterful harmony. Here we shall have some time at leisure for lunch and to explore the city’s ramparts.
In the afternoon we continue to the Château de la Ballue, located between Brittany and Normandy, in a unique rural setting with mild hills and woods. This seventeenth-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) B
Day 20: Thursday 22 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 tenth century, followed by a Romanesque basilica in the eleventh. Count Richard I of Normandy established a Benedictine Abbey here in 966 and it became a major seat of learning in the eleventh 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, with its medieval half-timbered houses, 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 thirteenth century when Dinan became a duchy and were continually improved until the Wars of Religion of the sixteenth 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 23 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