April 2014… The landscapes of Le Var and La Côte d’Azur abound with a remarkable variety of flora and an unforgettable palette of color and fragrance. The warm winters, hot, dry summers, ardent sunshine and transparent skies make this an ideal environment for the rich variety of flora on display.
One surprise comes with the austerity of most of the public gardens that are often designed by experts in the vegetation of the garrigue and the maquis. Despite being the centre of the world’s flower and perfume industries, it is not necessarily beautiful blooms that proliferate in the parks and gardens of the region.
The profusion of exotic species underlines the unquenchable thirst for botanical research and genuine genius for acclimatisation. Bougainvillea, lemon, orange and palm trees blend so perfectly into the landscape that many visitors think they have always been there when this is not actually the case. Let’s take a look at some of the gorgeous parks and gardens one may visit throughout Le Var and La Côte d’Azur.
Le Var and her Gardens
National Botanical Mediterranean Conservatory, Porquerolles
Created on Porquerolles Island in 1979, the Botanical Conservatory gained its national status in 1990 and now covers flora of the French Mediterranean regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence-Côte d’Azur. It’s goal is to preserve wild plants so includes the creation of Mediterranean fruit tree collections (fig, olive, peach and blueberry). The collections feature nearly a thousand different varieties and aim to protect heritage and rustic fruit from extinction. Directed by the Port-Cros National Park, the conservatory is in charge of taking an inventory of the flora of natural and semi-natural habitats, in conjunction with a network of scientists (universities, museums, etc.) and botanists. It has close ties with protected area managers and contributes to the conservation of plant diversity. The Conservatory is also in charge of a seed bank and conducts studies on germination and growing conditions.
The Porquerolles seed bank now possesses over 1,780 varieties, divided into over 10,000 seed batches. http://www.cbnmed.fr/pres/index.php
This magnificent property was created in the nineteenth century By M.Riquier who left it to the town on his death in 1868. It was actually an annexe to the aclimatisation garden in Paris. It is made up of greenhouses and aisles of bamboos, agaves, hibiscus and so on… There is also a little zoo here which the children adore for the ponies, the little train etc
Domaine & Garden of Rayol – The Garden of the Mediterranean’s.
The gardens of the Domaine du Rayol offer a spectacular solution to the dilemma between environmental conservation and touristic development. The Domaine du Rayol is a protected coastal area, situated at the centre of the beautiful Corniche des Maures. Covering 17 acres, its mosaic of gardens created by landscape architect Gilles Clément evokes various regions of the world with a Mediterranean climate. 35 out of the 84 acres making up the site are classified as “protected marine areas”, which the Conservatory aims to protect against abusive anchoring, pollution and overfishing. The on-site snorkeling itinerary offers visitors a great opportunity to discover these protected areas and admire the treasures of the Mediterranean Sea. www.domainedurayol.org
On making a film about Renoir, who actually lived in Cagnes-Sur-Mer on the French Riviera, the director Gilles Bourdos had to find a similar house to that of the great painter, as today the residence in Cagnes is used as a museum to the artist. M.Bordos chose the house at the Domaine de Rayol as it so closely resembled the original. The film was made here in 2011 and premiered in France in January 2013 where it has ben as successful as it has abroad.
Jardin d’Alexis Park
A “provençal” Garden.
From “restanques” to rockeries, here is the story of an amazing garden that needs no water. Educational, creative and unique, the beautiful Elie Alexis’ Garden is an ideal place to discover the local flora & its usage. It is situated in Roquebrussanne in the heart of the Green Var near to the Sainte Baume Massif at a height of 400 metres. Not only can you see how plants react to their environment but also it is instructive as to how Elie Alexis lived his life. (1908-1989). He was fascinated by how plants adapted to their conditions, how their colours changed and how they lived with other assistance than rain water. He lived from the land – his plants, small crops and animals, eschewing electricity and running water. The garden is still immensely rich in the number of varieties of plant on display.
The Domaine d’Orvès-Park Garden, La Valette du Var
A beautiful aisle of olive trees peters into an arbour of rose trees with their knarled trunks – all leading to the ochre coloured, seventeenth century ‘bastide’ with its purple shutters. The terrace teams with plantains and palm trees as does the land sink under a sea of pomegranites, rosemary, lemon trees, quince – all exuding a beautiful aroma. Behind the house is another terrace, a chapel and a pond. By the side of the house is a small farm, a gypsum kiln and a threshing area, then higher still cypress trees, olives and almonds leading right to the top of the hill where a natural spring is to be found. http://www.domainedorves.fr/en.html
La Côte d’Azur and her Gardens
Roure, a medieval village situated in the Vallée de la Tinée, has a mountain arboretum located between 1000 and 1700 m, containing broadleaved and mountain conifers from all over the world with additional collections of maples, ancient fruit trees, wild roses and houseleek, not forgetting the Chalet of the Tree with its carpotheque (collection of the fruits of resinous trees) and xylotheque (collection of woods use by cabinet makers).
This is the only European arboretum linked to art, showing visitors the work of many artists who work in the area in their spare time. Once a year these artists leave the confines of the gallery behind and use the open air of Roure as a giant picture rail where the pieces are left to the elements and thus shaped by nature. www.arboretum-roure.org
Saorge – the Monastry Gardens
The Saorge Monastery was completed in the mid-17th century. It is located at 500 m altitude, and dominates the Vallée de la Bendola. Because of the hillside situation and the significance of the slope, the brothers configured the monastery garden in six terraces, supported by walls and arches and supplemented by pergolas for the vines and with the addition of a small oratory. An entire water system, with basins and a wash house, complement the structure of this 3000 m² garden. The Mediterranean micro-climate allows a biodiversity of vegetables and aromatic, medicinal and culinary plants to be cultivated. A themed project is being implemented concerning the ethnobotanical research work on culinary and medicinal plants from the Vallée de la Roya. Guided visits to the garden are available on request. Information: 00 33 (0)4 93 04 55 55
Maeght Foundation Gardens – Saint-Paul de Vence
This year, the Maeght Fondation celebrates its 50th anniversary. Inaugurated on July 28th 1964 by André Malraux, then Minister of Cultural Affairs, this architectural ensemble was entirely conceived and financed by Marguerite and Aimé Maeght to present modern and contemporary art in all its forms. Painters and sculptors collaborated closely in the realisation of this Foundation with Catalan architect Lluís Sert by creating frequently monumental works integrated into the building and gardens: the Giacometti courtyard, one of the world’s most famous ‘in-situ’ works, the Miró labyrinth filled with sculptures and ceramics, the mural mosaics by Chagall and Tal-Coat, the pool and stained glass window by Braque, the Bury fountain…A true museum in nature, the Maeght Foundation is an exceptional site that contains one of the most important collections in Europe, with paintings, sculptures; drawings and graphic works of modern art from the 20th century. www.fondation-maeght.com
The Exotic Garden in Monaco
The Exotic Garden of Monaco has managed to stay unique in its genre since it opened to thepublic in 1933. It brings together a wide variety of plants known as ‘succulents’ in outstanding open-air surroundings. There are almost 6,000 different species on show here.
Succulent plants are ones that have adapted to dry climates in various ways, the most spectacular being the possession of a hypertrophied organ (leaf or stem) to stock water reserves. Cacti (or cactus) make up the most representative family of this group.
The plants acclimatized in this garden come from various dry zones: the South-West of the United-States; Mexico; Central and South America; South Africa; Eastern Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula. www.jardin-exotique.mc/en/
Serre de la Madone Garden
Classified as an historic site, this garden was laid out between 1919 and 1939 by the renowned landscape-gardener Lawrence Johnston, creator of Hidcote Manor, an American born in Paris. His French garden – Serre de la Madone – was designed to lay siege to the house, through doors, windows and arcades; the house being originally a sizeable farmhouse to which Johnston added to large wings. Johnston travelled the world over a thirty-year period seeking plants that he could acclimatise. Here at Serre de la Madone with its twelve gardeners working its seven hectares of terraces, he planted his prizes among the ancient olives. So in pursuit of an extravagant dream he ended up cloaking this age-old land with a fantastical structure and exotica from far-flung lands. Terraces, rockeries, pergolas, ponds and an orange grove, plus a profusion of rare species and perfumed plants make this a really exceptional place. www.serredelamadone.com
NEW for 2014 – TREAT YOURSELF TO THE ENTIRE CÔTE D’AZUR!
….A single electronic pass, the COTEDAZUR-CARD, gives you access to all the best the Côte d’Azur has to offer, and saves you money. It provides access to the Côte d’Azur’s main cultural and tourist sights and an extremely diversified range of sporting, recreational, creative, maritime and mountain activities…from Menton to St-Raphaël including Monaco, from the coast of the Riviera to the peaks of the Mercantour Mountains, over 100 “all-inclusive” activities… as well as exclusive advantages and gifts for you are included. You can visit all the gardens the Côte d’Azur listed above foe example. The Card is available from tourist offices, hotels, campsites , etc all over the region. For further information visit www.cotedazur-tourisme.com
3 consecutive days: €39 (adults) – €21 (children age 4-12)
6 consecutive days: €54 (adults) – €29 (children age 4-12)
And for families, it’s free, from the 3rd child in the same family group (on the basis of 2 adult passes purchased = 2 child passes)