top of page
  • Writer's pictureMme Vanessa Williamson

6 Gardens of France-Self Drive Holiday

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

In summer we enjoy our French garden and love each new spring as it evolves with more flowers. A wonderful long deep green garden, our very own petite park. When exploring and travelling in France, it is impossible to avoid lovely gardens. Every village competing for the national award as a petite city of flowers is adorned with hanging baskets overflowing with geraniums and petunias in hot pink to purple. As you drive French garden walls are lined with banks of Hydrangeas. The countryside drives take you past old orchards big and small, and wildflowers grow in abandonment along the roadside. When visiting a Chateau or private garden you can only be inspired to make things grow. I love travel experiences outside museums, enjoying moving through t French landscape, villages and chateaux, and touring the regions as a living museum. Summer has inspired me to share with you my favourite gardens all located within 3.5rs of our home in Mayenne. Emblematic of the epochs when they were created; they are the gardens of the Kings and Queens & Empress of France, an artist, and the mother of one of France's most famous fashion designers. I have created an easy self-drive holiday touring 6 French Gardens, a relaxed-paced holiday touring Western France. There is no need to travel vast distances to experience two of the most famous gardens in the world.

Commence your holiday in Paris, then Normandy, Pays de Loire and the ancient land of Brittany. A circuit leaves you time to add other destinations and to enjoy long lunches. On completion of your stay in Mayenne, we recommend you tour on into the Loire Valley to Chinon, Angers, Saumur and Tour or in an afternoon you can be back in Paris.

The Gardens

1. Jardin de Luxembourg You begin in the green heart of beautiful Paris, on the fascinating Left Bank. The Jardins de Luxembourg was created in 16thc for the Queen of France, Marie de Medici. Her private escape from court, a small palace and gardens. I discovered the Jardin de Luxembourg long ago on my first visit to Paris. I still book a hotel close to or in the 6th Arrondissement, within walking distance of the Jardin de Luxembourg, and I recommend you do too. One of my favourite Paris museums the Musée de Cluny is close by and Paris's most famous English language bookshop Shakespeare & Co. Parisians regard the 21 hectares of gardens as the most beautiful verdant refuge in the 'city of light'. The garden wraps around the palace, now the France Senate. It features a huge central circular pool and fountain surrounded by benches, popular with children to hire toy sailboats to play in the fountains pool. The Jardins are an open-air sculpture gallery, with 106 artworks. Framed by high 19thc iron fences and trees keeping any thought of the city at bay. This garden is free and easy to access and designed and available for all to enjoy.

2. Chateau Malmaison Home of Josephine Beauharnais Bonaparte

Only 10 kilometres from central Paris is the town of Rueil Malmaison, where Empress Josephine chose a country chateau as her private escape from the demands of life at Louvre Palace. The Chateau and 260-hectare estate were purchased by Josephine at a vast fortune in 1799, using a loan from a friend. Napoleon paid off the loan with funds from his looting in the Italian Campaign. Josephine's Malmaison Estate expanded at its height to encompass a 726-hectare estate with 70 hectares of enclosed parkland and English-style gardens. Josephine's vision for the estate was "the most beautiful and curious garden in Europe, a model of good culture." A French National museum since 1906, the Chateau and gardens are a homage to Josephine, and today only a 6-hectare park remains of the original estate. The Chateau architecture is a charming mix of the old regime and early 19th neoclassic architecture. The interiors are a time capsule of the height of the Napoleonic style. I find it enchanting and evocative to visit and a perfect place to stop on our way home from Paris. Close by and open to visitors is Château de Malmaison Pavilions, also once part of the original estate.

Chateau Malmaison is a rare example of feminine history. The house and garden are linked exclusively to the life of one woman, whose ownership and impact of her individual taste shaped the Chateau's interior décor, furnishings, garden, and history. The location and modest size of the Chateau and garden make this a relaxing very accessible visit of a few hours. The informality of the gardens expresses the personality of Josephine, who rejected Napoleon's desire for ridged Imperial formality. This was only possible as the Chateau was her private home and away from public view. The garden today is essentially about roses, a homage to Josephine’s passion and skill as a rose cultivar and the gardeners have reintroduced ancient peonies and species of old roses bred by Josephine. The garden vistas from the Chateau are well preserved and feature vast Plane, Chestnut, Tulip and purple Beech trees. Flower beds bursting with perennials, annuals and biennials, colourful informal mixed borders capture Josephine’s love of an unstructured garden. The flower gardens are set into vast manicured and wildflower lawns; left to support native flowers and insect biodiversity. This is an estate I love and will continue to revisit. Next a 1-hour drive to the royal city of Versailles.

3. Chateau Versailles Les Jardins Ultimate Royal Garden

We like to book a hotel or B&B within walking distance of the Chateau in the town centre, do check if your accommodation has available parking. This makes for a relaxing stay as you can walk to the Chateau Versailles each day to visit. Chateau Versailles is an extraordinary and unsurpassed experience and well deserves its fame as the most famous 17th-18th century French Chateau with a vast landscape of formal gardens, waterways and fountains. It's a perfect contrast to France's next most famous garden Giverny. The vision of architect André Le Notre embodies the high point of France's ancient regime, the gardens are the pinnacle of European formal garden design against which all other gardens are measured. Exceptional in scale, harnessing design that demonstrates man's mastering of nature, landscape and water. Versailles gardens are the gardens that inspired Europe, transforming garden design for centuries to come. If you visit just once, you will understand every other garden in Europe you ever visit. Take at least 2-3 days a day each to see the Palace, the vast gardens, Versailles town and the Chateau stables. The morning after your Versailles visit is over, it's a 1.30m drive into Normandy to Giverny, for an afternoon visit and stay in a local B&B / Chambre d'Hote.

4. Monet’s Garden Giverny

A beautiful late 19th-century private garden created with the eye of an artist and the income of a wealthy man. Consisting of two distinct gardens; the house flower garden 'Clos Normand' and the Japanese-inspired Water Garden. Clos Normand is set around the house, and features fruit & ornamental trees, climbing roses, hollyhocks and masses of annuals from daisies to rare collected poppies, tulips & iris. The water garden created 10 years later, was born in purposely acquired adjacent fields. The local council was reluctant to give Monet planning permission. This garden is today one of the most famous gardens in the world. Famous as the epitome of inspiration for impressionist art, inspired by Japan which was highly influential on early 20th-century design. The two gardens are of exceptional beauty, with one of the most iconic garden vistas, the Japanese bridge draped with wisteria, over a vast pond of white-water lilies, surrounded by weeping willows. The path to the water garden is a journey through a deep green tall bamboo forest, the path passes a rushing stream. A light sound, & smell sensuous experience. Never before had an artist first created his inspiration from nature before painting it. This is France’s most inspirational garden and visitors leave arms laden with books to recreate a little of Giverny in gardens across the world.

The morning after visiting Monet's Gardens you may wish to return to Giverny to tour the Art galleries and shops and enjoy a lunch locally. Then we recommend a 3-hour drive into the beautiful Pays de Loir countryside arriving at the town of Mayenne. The Mayenne department, is soft rolling farmland, dairy farm countryside and home to the largest global brands of French cheese. Book a stay with us at L' Hotel de Hercé, B&B located on a green square in the 18th quarter. Dating to c.1720 a Baron's residence with stunning original interiors, warm English-speaking hospitality and of course a classic walled French garden. You can plan your next two garden tours as Private Guided Tours and let us escort you, taking care of the driving & directions and you can relax back & simply enjoy. Or of course, continue your self-drive touring

5. Musée Christian Dior, Granville my favourite French garden

I visited Musée Christian Dior for the first time last September to view the Princess Grace exhibit. But what totally enchanted me was Madame Dior's garden. A domestic Belle Époque garden, of a wealthily Parisian Industrialist family. Wrapped around a summer villa situated on the high cliffs of Ville de Granville facing the Chanel Islands. The late 19th-century pink house is centred in a totally private landscape of the garden. It is easy to picture languid hot summer days, as you wander wide meandering paths past lawn, tall trees & beds of roses, rhododendrons & azaleas and of course the vast coastal views. Acquired by the Dior family in 1906 as a holiday house, the garden became a lifelong influence on fashion designer Christian Dior. A garden he sorts to replicate and reimagine in his own home later in his life. The villa colours of pink and grey were chosen as the signature colours of the House of Dior. The roses and Lily of the Valley repeated design themes in Dior gowns and house perfumes. His mother Madeleine had a passion for the garden and over two years transformed it, cultivating an English-style garden, sculpting a landscape of garden beds and terraces. In 1925 a rectangular reflection pool was added, framed by a flower-laden pergola walk and used as a summer outdoor living room. The pergola was extended and more rose gardens were added, sheltered along the wall of the coastal path. Visitors today can enjoy the mature garden with its soaring trees, deep shade and sunshine and enjoy the La Bonne Adventure Salon du Thé, encircled by fragrant rose beds. Oh and of course don't miss the Musée.

A unique experience, one that so impressed us we created a guided tour. The Le Parc Botanique du Haute Bretagne is set into the grounds of Chateau de la Foltiere creating an inspired landscape of gardens of the world. Over an afternoon visit, you move from monumental landscape to another, losing any sense of place, completely immersed in nature, colour, texture and constantly evolving vistas. 25 hectares of international gardens are linked by the theme of water, flowing through the park.

Each garden contains flowers and botanic specimens, capturing the essence of their continent. The contemporary designers of the 24 thematic gardens, were inspired by poems, travel memories and garden history. The park has been described as "a dream garden labyrinth set against the Breton landscape". In early spring, the gardens display 500 varieties of camellias, magnolias, flowering plumb, narcissus, and Crocuses. April features azaleas and Chiles Fire Tree. June- July old roses set against the ethereal blue of hydrangeas & agapanthus. October-November the Japanese gardens blaze with red foliage of Maple, Cypress, and Ginkgo Biloba. Our visit transported us into another world; beginning with the French Water garden, then the majesty of the Bamboo Forest; think 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon', the green textures of the Japanese Gardens and layered landscape were memorizing. The gardens are on a majestic scale and on our top ten list of sites to visit in our region. Link to our Hercé Guided Tour.

Author Vanessa Williamson 2020

Photographs Vanessa Williamson


Contact or Comment Email.

320 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page