Last updated on November 19th, 2023
Featured image: Monet’s Garden, one of the many beautiful gardens in France | Photo by RossHelen on Envato
Beautiful gardens in France waiting to be explored
by Leyla Alyanak
The mere phrase “French garden” is enough to spark our imagination and fill it with manicured alleys of beautifully multicoloured blossoms and graceful branches. Much of France’s garden tradition grew around royalty, with gardens used as a symbol of authority and power over nature, a mastery obvious in gardens such as those of Versailles.
Five Beautiful Gardens in France
Exploring gardens is a wonderful way of breaking up a day of sightseeing, but some gardens in France are more than interludes – they are so spectacular they become the destination. France has many of these, and here are five that stand out.
1. The Gardens of Versailles
A visit to the Château de Versailles is one of those essential experiences while visiting France, and if the palace’s interior is spectacular, so are its gardens, the most visited in France, and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the rest of the Versailles estate.
One of the most striking features of the Versailles gardens is their size – at 800 hectares, they are huge, so it’s no wonder so many visitors rent bicycles or golf carts during their visit, pausing at any of its 600 fountains.
From the Grande Perspective, which stretches as far as the eye can see, to the delicately sculptured Orangerie’s citrus trees, the thinking involved in creating these gardens is obvious in every corner. Their designer, André Le Nôtre, was a gardener to King Louis XIV, and his name became synonymous with landscaping excellence.
For three quite different settings, visit the Grand Trianon (built by Louis XIV as a summer chalet and to pursue his affair with Mme de Montespan), the Petit Trianon (by Louis XV, but the gardens were redesigned by Marie-Antoinette), and the lakeside Queen’s Hamlet, a working farm built by Marie-Antoinette to escape the rigors of the Versailles court.
2. Villandry Gardens
The Loire Valley, another UNESCO World Heritage site, is home to hundreds of medieval and Renaissance castles, with gardens of various sizes or complexity.
Perhaps one of the more spectacular castle gardens in the Loire Valley is Villandry, and while the chateau is lovely, the gardens are a work of art.
The early gardens date back to the 16th century but the stunning parterres and hedged boxes we know today only came about in the early 20th century, when the castle was purchased by a Spanish doctor and his wife, an American scientist. Working together, they would transform both the building and its gardens and restore these to their Renaissance glory. Today, their descendants continue to enhance the gardens.
Perhaps the best-known of the castle’s six gardens is the Vegetable (or Kitchen) Garden, whose colour-coordinated boxes are among France’s most photographed. This in no way diminishes the attractiveness of the garden’s other corners – the golden Sun Garden, the Ornamental Garden and its topiary, and the Water Garden with its water features and fountains.
As you wander, make your way to the Belvedere for the best sweeping view of the gardens.
Villandry Gardens, Chateau Villandry / Photo by baccus7 from Pixabay
3. Monet Gardens Giverny
Whenever visitors to Paris want to get out of the city, the Monet Gardens at Giverny are high on their list.
A visit here is a bit like stepping directly into a Monet painting, bedazzling with coloured brushstrokes. This is where Claude Monet would spend 43 years of his life and where he would get his final inspiration.
The excitement begins right in front of Monet’s house, with the Clos Normand, whose flowers bloom at different times of year, but the pièce de résistance is the Water Garden, which you’ll recognize immediately from his paintings. And yes, those water lilies look familiar because you’ve seen them so often on canvas.
Over the years, Monet would improve his garden, then paint it, and then improve it some more, a symbiosis between an artist and his environment.
The Monet gardens at Giverny / Photo by Rainhard Wiesinger from Pixabay
4. Marqueyssac Gardens
If you’re in the Dordogne area and can only see one garden, make it Marqueyssac, although once you enter, you might think you’ve stepped into a science fiction novel.
These gardens are located on a rocky promontory and are well-known for their hand-pruned boxwoods, some over 300 years old, which are sculpted into whimsical round shapes nature never intended. From a distance, the rounded shapes look so soft you might be tempted to stroke them as you would a fur coat…
Looking at them in the distance, you might get the feeling you’re discovering a new landscape that is neither field nor forest nor hill – just something new you’ve never seen before.
There’s something for everyone here – the gardens of course, but also 6 km of paths for strolling, and a Via Ferrata along the cliff’s face.
The gardens date back to the 17th century but the boxwoods were planted two centuries later, along with trees and plants from Italy, all designed to make strolling a pleasure.
Finally, head for the Belvedere, a panoramic balcony with a breathtaking view of the Dordogne Valley and river 130 meters below.
And don’t be surprised if a loud honk makes you jump – there are peacocks!
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The well-sculpted Marqueyssac Gardens / Photo by garnoteldelphine from Pixabay
5. Gardens of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
Perhaps my favourite of all is the garden at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, in Cap Ferrat in southern France. It’s not as large or as blossomy as some of the others, but it is unique.
The villa is a treasure of the Belle Epoque, but the nine different gardens – French, Spanish, Florentine, Stone, Japanese, Exotic, Rose, and Provençal – may steal your heart.
You’ll first see the French Garden sweeping up from the villa towards the Temple of Love, past a large basin with musical fountains.
You can vary from flamboyant to arid in the Mexican Garden or relax in the serenity of the Japanese Garden while you watch the koi. The Spanish Garden is bright with ochre, and its patio is a reminder of the Moors. My least favourite was the Florentine Garden, which is rather small, and the Stone Garden which is, predictably, filled with stone sculptures, but it really is a question of personal taste. As for the Provençal Garden – well, it looked just like Provence.
Each garden changes with the seasons. I visited in winter, and while some gardens were in hibernation, others were still pushing toward their beauty. To see the Rose Garden in full bloom, visit in May or June if you can.
Gardens of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild / Photo by Jean-Elie Trujillo from Pixabay
A garden for every mood
Whether you’re a budding botanist, an avid gardener, or simply someone who loves a leisurely stroll amid nature’s splendours, these enchanting gardens in France will be among the highlights of your trip.
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