French culture is well-known for its emphasis on aesthetic harmony and elegance. It’s probably no surprise, then, that France harbours some of the world’s most stunning green spaces, enchanting for their lush colours and landscapes, meticulously planned paths, fountains and trellises, and inviting you to moments of meditation and calm. If you’re after a high-end holiday in France that includes some time strolling, picnicking and even staying overnight around havens of greenery and relaxation, read on. These are 6 of the most beautiful gardens in France– from nearby Paris to Normandy, the romantic Loire Valley and Provence. We also offer tips on remarkable places to stay, potentially allowing you to create an even more relaxed and luxury-filled getaway.
Any list of magnificent French jardins starts with Versailles, a true masterpiece of formal landscape architecture from the 17th century. A short day trip from Paris, the Palace of Versailles is the symbol of French royalty and power at its pinnacle– this was, of course, the home of “Sun King” Louis XIV. He commissioned gardens that would emblematise his power and his riches; later, the ill-fated Queen Marie Antoinette would create further green spaces to offer privacy away from the stress of courtly life– and to satisfy her whims, too.
After thoroughly exploring the Palace itself, reserve two or three hours to roam the extensive gardens– marvels of Cartesian symmetry and beauty, many designed by the acclaimed landscape architect André Le Notre. Abundant with fountains, parterres, sculptures, ponds, and dozens of species of plants, the gardens are celebrated for good reason.
Highlights at Versailles include what is known as the “Grande Perspective”: best viewed from inside the Palace, you can see the central “Water Parterre” and the stunning greenery beyond, punctuated by opulent pools and fountains.
Also make sure to explore the North and South parterres, filled with their own delights including bronze statues and reflective pools. In the north, the Pyramid Fountain from sculptor Charles le Brun is breathtaking. Moving south, admire the two bronze sphinx statues that were moved here from another garden during the 17th century.
For anyone interested in elaborate 17th century French formal garden design, Leto’s Parterre is an essential stop at the gardens. Le Notre’s seemingly effortless talent for symmetry and harmony emerges in this enormous, rigorously planned garden, famous for its curl and fan patterns. The central fountain is also arresting and features images from Ovid’s The Metamorphoses.
Also make sure to see the gardens around the Grand Trianon, commissioned by the Sun King as a private residence and a place to entertained his favourites (consorts); the Petit Trianon, meanwhile, was one of Queen Marie Antoinette’s favourite places to escape the scrutiny of the court and the people. Finally, the rather Disneyland-like medievalist folly of her Hamlet, meant to resemble a peasant’s cottage surrounded by farm animals, offers an intriguing glimpse into the Queen’s mind– particularly her desire for escape from the pressures of ruling during a Revolutionary time.
Where to Stay?
To almost match the grandeur of Versailles, we recommend a luxurious sojourn at Cazaudehore la Forestière, a renowned Relais & Chateaux-listed hotel in nearby Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Nestled in a hundred-year oak forest, the cozy yet sumptuous hotel features impeccably appointed rooms and suites, its own stunning and quiet garden with private nooks, renowned onsite jazz bar where performances add spark to your evening, and an onsite gastronomic restaurant whose menu melds tradition and innovation.
Also situated nearby Paris, Monet’s world-renowned gardens and house at Giverny are in fact located at the gateway of Normandy. Whether you wish to focus your bespoke tour around one or both of these regions, a stop at the green haven that has been immortalised in countless Impressionist paintings from a great master is always inspiring– and calming.
Claude Monet lived at Giverny in the latter part of his life, commissioning the construction of a Japanese-style garden complete with footbridges, ponds filled with waterlilies and teeming flower beds surrounding his simple two-story house. The play of light changes constantly depending on what time of the day you visit, and you’ll feel as if you stepped right into one of the breathtaking works of art inspired by the gardens.
Peace, aesthetic harmony and serenity abound in these unique green spaces, which harbour dozens of species of flowers and trees. The willow trees, Japanese cherry trees, waterlilies and dahlias are especially iconic. Stroll through the lovely water garden, passing over the Japanese bridge, before witnessing the “Clos Normand” with its abundant flowers bursting with colours. Many report feeling as if they’d been transported to another time.
Where to Stay?
Giverny is a lovely, sleepy town that feels authentically French despite high rates of tourism, and we especially recommend an overnight stay at the Jardin des Plumes, a rustic but luxurious country inn in an old Anglo-Norman style building. Surrounded by lush greenery, a relaxing terrace and gastronomic Michelin-starred restaurant headed by Chef Eric Guérin, this is another haven of peace in close reach of Monet’s own.
Nestled in the heart of the Loire Valley, the breathtaking Chateau de Chenonceau is a Renaissance-era triumph of architecture and landscaping. Not only are its dozens of rooms filled with elaborate floral arrangements bursting with colour and delicious scents– hand-created by the onsite expert florist– but it boasts two of the most refined gardens in the region. Each in close reach of the Cher river, they provide magnificent views over the river and the valley beyond.
They also have a rather scandalous history. Flanking the elegant chateau are two formal gardens: one for Catherine de Medici, wife of Henry II, and another created for Diane de Poitiers, his mistress.
Catherine’s garden is filled with winsome paths that afford some of the most beautiful views over the Chateau’s west facade. Its five green lawns are assembled around a central circular basin. On the eastern side, lush roses cover trellises, and you can walk down a path overlooking the dramatic 16th-century moat. There’ also abundant and fragrant lavender and an Orangerie filled with exotic plants.
Diane’s garden, meanwhile, is often considered even more beautiful (scandalously so). It features an enormous “floating” parterre criscrossed by numerous paths, and bordered with elaborately geometric shrubbery. A breathtaking fountain draws the eye toward the centre of the garden.
Raised terraces decorated with elegant basins and flower beds add to the charm of the garden, bring out its elaborate symmetries and also protect against river flooding. The iceberg roses that climb the terrace walls are especially lush and gorgeous.
Where to Stay?
If you wish to stay nearby, you have no shortage of luxe-filled possibilities. One romantic choice we recommend is the Manoir St-Thomas, a fantasy-filled manor converted into a high-end hotel. Its elegant rooms appointed with lavish French-style furniture, outdoor pool, pretty gardens and spa services make for a relaxing stay after a day roaming the Loire.
While Versailles gets most of the attention from visitors to Paris in search of a dose of royal splendour, they’re in fact overlooking one of the finest examples of French 17th century formal gardens. The Chateau Vaux-le-Vicompte and its harmonious, incredibly elaborate gardens were designed by André Le Notre, who would later go on to create the much more famous counterparts at Versailles.
After visiting the sumptuous palace, which was purchased by a young Parliamentarian, Nicolas Fouquet in 1641, spend a good hour or two strolling through the gardens. Le Notre created them out of 100 acres of woodlands, studding them with beautiful fountains, parterres, statuary, and hidden nooks. While much smaller than Versailles, there’s a romantic quality to the gardens here, since they were designed to play in perfect harmony with their natural surroundings.
Where to Stay?
We recommend staying in Paris at one of the city’s finest palace hotels. After enjoying a day out at the Chateau and gardens, enjoy fine cuisine at some of the most-coveted tables in Paris, take a dip on a rooftop pool, or enjoy a drink at one of the finest cocktail bars in the city.
If you prefer a more bucolic setting, there are numerous charming domaines and luxury properties offering 5-star amenities nearby the Chateau. Take a look at some of the possibilities to see which interest and inspire you the most. Whether you prefer the excitement of the city or the peace and quiet of the countryside, we’ll ensure your bespoke tour of the Parisian region is your version of idyllic.
The Domaine du Chaumont-sur-Loire is another of the most breathtaking Loire Valley castles: a fairytale fortress with dramatic turrets, it was built around 1000 to guard over the surrounding territories. In addition to its lush formal gardens that can be enjoyed year-round, the Domaine also hosts a much-anticipated International Garden Festival.
The annual festival brings together renowned landscape designers and botanists from across the world to showcase ephemeral gardens around specific themes, competing for top prizes. Visitors can enjoy these for six months out of the year, generally between late spring and late summer. A recent theme was “Gardens of Thought”: for this competition, designers unveiled magical and conceptually remarkable green spaces, from an experimental Japanese meditation garden to a green space whose highlight was a sculptural book made entirely of sand. The organisers described the competitions’ entries as “plant-based poetry”.
Where to Stay?
A lovely choice for an overnight sojourn in the area is Les Hauts de Loire, a luxury hotel based in a 19th-century hunting lodge, in close reach of the Loire wine trail and the banks of the river.
The romantic lodge, whose walls are adorned with climbing vines, offers a breath of fresh air and unspoiled wild nature. The grounds harbour ponds frequented by numerous species of wild birds endemic to the Loire, and the guestrooms offer a rare combination of rustic authenticity and genuine luxury. The 2-star Michelin restaurant headed by Rémy Giraud serves some of the very best cuisine in the region. You’ll also be able to taste a wide variety of sublime Loire Valley wines from the cellar here. This hotel would make an ideal setting for a romantic honeymoon in France.
Situated right across the river from the splendid Gallo-Roman city of Avignon in Provence is this magnificent 10th-century Abbey and its overwhelmingly beautiful, antique-style gardens. Measuring only 2 hectares, the gardens nevertheless offer a panoply of botanical delights, with over 100 varieties of plants and flowers teeming amid the remains of a Roman civilisation that once flourished in the area. A pond with waterlilies, elegant bridges, and many pathways for walking complete the scenery.
The Abbey is itself situated within the medieval-era Fort Saint André, overlooking the river and the old city on the other side of it.
Stroll through the numerous thematic gardens and appreciate the distinctive beauty of each. The Italian-style garden harbours lush and fragrant roses, laurel, and cliimbing wisteria, offering a Mediterranean-style harmony that’s unbeatable.
The sprawling Mediterranean garden, which offers gorgeous views from its terraces, abounds with olive trees and other typical Mediterranean plants that grow in the wild. The effect is untamed and romantic, with centuries of history lying just below the natural species that spring forward continually with new life.
Where to Stay?
For style, incredible comfort and haute luxe (high luxury), we especially recommend a stay at the 5-star Le Prieuré La Baumanière in Avignon. The breathtaking “Chateaux et Relais” property, itself home to lush gardens frequented by colorful butterflies and birds, offers a secretive haven of prestige and beauty. Its top-of-the-line rooms, Michelin-starred restaurant featuring remarkable Provencal cuisine, outdoor pool and spa guarantee a true getaway for the senses. It’s also in close range of winemaking areas such as the prestigious Chateauneuf-du-Pape, making the possibility of a private French wine-tasting session during your trip an effortless one.
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