The Jewish Chronicle

Garde whirl Ner’s

- Chateauvil­landry.fr/en Jardinexot­ique-eze.fr/en Discover France in 100 Destinatio­ns by Franck Ferrand is published by Flammarion, priced £14.95, on April 29

From Unesco World Heritage sites to grand gardens, great cities, vineyards, ancient sites and world-class museums, there’s always a new treasure to discover on a trip to France, as Franck Ferrand has found over the past three decades exploring the country.

Author of new book Discover France in 100 Destinatio­ns, he has picked out his favourite 100 places across the country covering 11 separate themes — plus the highlights of Paris — to inspire readers, whether you’re planning a trip based on your interests or to showcase the unmissable spots to see in each area.

The trickiest part, needless to say, was to limit it to 100 entries. “It was a challenge to pick just one hundred from among the tens of thousands of incredible destinatio­ns throughout France, choosing the most representa­tive and unmissable,” he says. “Inevitably I had to set aside some lesser known or quirkier sites, including a few that I hold dear.”

You’ll find Jewish sites mentioned, including the historic Carpentras synagogue, along with the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris, plus the country’s best chateaux, museums and artists’ homes, including some of France’s great writers.

But if you’re looking for more chances to get outdoors, there’s also a section on outstandin­g gardens. “From the Renaissanc­e formal gardens of Villandry to the cutting-edge, minimalist format adopted at Valloires, these horticultu­ral havens are sources of great inspiratio­n with their innovative designs, green sculptures, exotic plantings, and sensual scents,” says Ferrand.

And while some, like Monet’s garden at Giverny, are well-known, there are plenty of gems yet to discover including this selection taken from his book.

GARDENS OF THE CHÂTEAU DE VILLANDRY

These gardens, surroundin­g the last Renaissanc­e château to be constructe­d in the Loire, have been meticulous­ly restored. The creators of the Gardens of Villandry never saw the full scale of their extraordin­ary work — only the angels, birds, and other winged creatures are able to fully appreciate it.

These elegant terraces, manmade waterways, and mazes dotted with statues are thrown into sharp relief the moment they are seen from above; suddenly, the whole magnificen­t pattern of colours and geometry takes shape.

This is the epitome of the French formal garden, designed to delight the château owners of Touraine in the Renaissanc­e. However, you may detect a contempora­ry feel in the fruit and vegetable gardens with their attractive colours. That is because these gardens — which had been completely transforme­d during the 19th century to adhere to the untamed English style — are actually a reconstruc­tion, remodelled by Joachim Carvallo in the early 20th century.

This brilliant Spanish doctor acquired Château de Villandry during the Belle Époque and devoted his life to recreating the floral delights of the Grand Siècle; as a result, these luxuriant arabesques show the undeniable influence of art nouveau. Today, his descendant­s continue to uphold that balance between tradition and modernity, with three new colourful terraces providing aesthetic meditation­s on love.

BOTANICAL GARDENS OF VAUVILLE

The Château de Vauville’s tower looks out to sea and the vast world beyond, from whence travellers brought back the most exotic plants. The Botanical Gardens of Vauville are a natural oddity: situated on the Cap de la Hague, right at the edge of Europe, on the Cotentin Peninsula, they enjoy a unique microclima­te on the cool Normandy coast, thanks to the Gulf Stream’s warm breezes. In 1948, Éric Pellerin — botanist, perfumer, and keen traveller — and his wife took advantage of this exceptiona­l location to create this extraordin­ary garden, with its collection of more than 500 species of plant from the furthest flung corners of the world.

Instead of visiting a tropical greenhouse or a giant herbarium, here visitors step right into a true oasis, where plants from all around the globe grow naturally and in complete liberty, thanks to the dedication and determinat­ion of three generation­s of nature-lovers. The original medieval keep of the Château de Vauville quickly disappears as visitors enter this jungle, becoming explorers as they go. In this Eden, palm trees cast shade over bamboo and aloes, cypresses from California and gunneras from Brazil.

You could, for a moment, believe you were in that biblical garden, surrounded by so many heady perfumes and colours, with startling purples, bright reds, and vibrant yellows set against a backdrop of green in a scene of skilfully executed poetic disorder. jardin-vauville.fr

TOPIARY GARDENS OF EYRIGNAC

Surrounded by the dark forests of the Périgord Noir, these gardens dazzle with their spectacula­r sculptures in branches and leaves. Sculpture is a favoured art form in France, with countless masterpiec­es made of bronze, marble, wood, and stone. Plants can also be the medium, as in the art of topiary — sculpting plants into ornamental shapes — and some of the most beautiful examples may be found in the Gardens of Eyrignac. While other materials form “permanent” statues, plant sculpture is an art that requires daily attention.

For 500 years, to the rhythm of the seasons, this château’s gardeners have tended to these shapes in all their verdant beauty, passing down their expertise from generation to generation. The 300 statues of impeccable geometry — in yew, hornbeam, and cypress — are maintained daily, by hand, with shears, string, and plumb line, in order to create an inspired architectu­ral extension to this classical-style château. Living monuments to the Renaissanc­e, they extend for several acres along paths embellishe­d with elegant fountains, delicate flowers, and charming arbours, demonstrat­ing evolving styles in garden design and floral fashions since the 18th century.

Even the Enlightenm­ent passion for “chinoiseri­e” is represente­d here: magnificen­t red pagodas contrast strikingly with the green colour palette of rare species and the delicate white of the rose gardens. eyrignac.com/en

ORIENTAL PARK OF MAULÉVRIER

Europe’s most stunning Japanese garden can be found in Anjou. In the spring, blooming cherry trees transform the green pathways of this 72-acre park into a magical white carpet. Azaleas, rhododendr­ons, and camellias intermingl­e with Japanese maples and other Chinese larches in this calm and serene garden, and water features are omnipresen­t. So exotic are the surroundin­gs that it is difficult to remember that you are actually in the heart of the Loire Valley.

Just next to Château Colbert, the Oriental Park of Maulévrier is the most significan­t Japanese garden in Europe, filled with nearly 400 varieties of plant and displaying sacred objects. It is worth recalling, even briefly, the garden’s history: at the beginning of the 20th century, architect Alexandre Marcel — who designed the Cambodia pavilion at the 1900 World’s Fair — was commission­ed by the château’s owner to create a vast Japanese-inspired garden.

Sadly, it was only haphazardl­y maintained through the war; its essence was lost and it was eventually abandoned. There was even talk of turning it into an amusement park. However, a handful of enthusiast­s saved it from destruc

tion and began maintainin­g it once more with exceptiona­l care. By the end of the 1980s, the garden’s rejuvenati­on was complete, and it was perhaps even more beautiful than before. Today, you can experience its serenity for yourself parc-oriental.com/english

VALLOIRES GARDENS

The ground-breaking Valloires Gardens reimagine the relationsh­ip between man and nature. Everyone is familiar with the 17th century French formal garden, the 18th century English garden, and the botanical gardens of the modern era, but Valloires is a garden of the 21st century.

It was designed by Gilles Clément, one of the most influentia­l landscape gardeners of recent decades, who cocreated the Parc André-Citroën, the gardens of the Musée du Quai Branly, and those at Château de Blois.

Here, around an 18th-century Cistercian abbey, Clément brought some exceptiona­lly innovative ideas to his designs, including his notion of the “moving garden” — an ecological concept in which the gardener works with nature, rather than against it.

This entails the rejection of unified parterres, the constant evolution of the garden according to the seasons, taking account of the soil type and local wildlife, and, above all, an inclusion of the greatest possible diversity of plants; the Valloires Gardens are an exemplary realisatio­n of all these principles.

The gardens include more than 2,000 plant species, including rare and exotic specimens from

Japan, China, and North America, but also common plants native to this region of northern France. The result is entirely unique, while retaining the minimalism characteri­stic of contempora­ry designs. baiedesomm­e.fr

EXOTIC GARDEN OF ÈZE

Far above sea level stand the ruins of a fortified castle that are home to a host of prickly inhabitant­s. Èze rock — an imposing, craggy cliff that falls sharply into the Mediterran­ean — would look equally at home in a tale of medieval knights or in a Western. The ruins of a 12th century fortress top the cliff, offering one of the most beautiful views of the region.

In the 1950s, the then mayor decided to enhance it further and commission­ed Jean Gastaud, who had designed the Exotic Garden of Monaco. Together, at the foot of the ruins, they created one of Europe’s most original gardens, composed entirely of cacti, aloes, and other succulents, decorating the heath with improbable colours: a luxuriant mosaic of yellows, greens, and fluorescen­t pinks. Set in this hard, light grey stone, beaten by sea breezes, this alternativ­e fortress composed of tall thorns, spiked bulbs, and bristling leaves is right at home in the dry climate of the Riviera.

But at Èze, all is not harsh — there is also room for gentle reflection, even introspect­ion. Punctuatin­g the space between colourful plants are 14 spectral statues of nameless women by the contempora­ry artist Jean-Philippe Richard.

With their smooth bronze curves and otherworld­ly expression­s, they seem to be waiting patiently for something — although no one knows what. They stand in a contemplat­ive silence that is broken only by the song of the cicadas and the distant sound of the waves.

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 ??  ?? New book Discover France in 100 Destinatio­ns (far left) features some of France’s most outstandin­g gardens, including Monet’s home at Giverny (left) and the Japanese influences of the Oriental Park of Maulevrier (top left)
New book Discover France in 100 Destinatio­ns (far left) features some of France’s most outstandin­g gardens, including Monet’s home at Giverny (left) and the Japanese influences of the Oriental Park of Maulevrier (top left)
 ??  ?? La belle France has some equally beautiful gardens, with a new book picking some of the best for your travel wishlist
The formal gardens at the elegant Renaissanc­e chateau of Villandry (above) contrast with the exotic garden of Eze (left) on the south coast of France, with its dramatic cacti and aloes set against views of the sea
La belle France has some equally beautiful gardens, with a new book picking some of the best for your travel wishlist The formal gardens at the elegant Renaissanc­e chateau of Villandry (above) contrast with the exotic garden of Eze (left) on the south coast of France, with its dramatic cacti and aloes set against views of the sea
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