There are large gardens with a wide variety of styles and plantings in all regions of France. Here is a list of our favorite and unmissable gardens in France.
Monet’s garden in Giverny
In just an hour, you can be whisked into the bucolic French countryside to discover the home and garden of a beloved artist. After painting all over Europe and France, Claude Monet came across a small hamlet in Normandy while taking a train to Paris. In 1883, Monet settled permanently in Giverny with his wife and family and lived there for 43 years, until his death in 1926. The landscaped garden of Giverny was Monet’s muse and inspiration for his most famous paintings. emblematic and most important.
Monet was consumed with his garden and at one point had 12 full-time gardeners to plant and manage the extensive gardens. A few years after Monet moved to Giverny, he bought the land adjacent to the existing property and had a Japanese garden built from scratch. (Monet’s work was heavily influenced by Japanese art and he owned a collection of over 150 Japanese prints, some of which still hang in the house). He imported plants and flowers from Japan, including the famous water lilies, which he obsessively painted, and also created an authentic Japanese green wooden bridge.
The charming house comprises the cheerfully painted yellow dining room, the beautiful kitchen, Monet’s bedroom and his original workshop, transformed into an office with copies of his paintings hanging on the walls.
Pro tips: Trains leave Paris almost every hour for Vernon from Gare Saint Lazare, which is the nearest station. You can take a taxi or a bus to Giverny, which is eight minutes away. Be sure to leave an extra hour or two to wander through the charming village of Giverny and also to visit the Giverny Museum of Impressionisms, which celebrates the distinct painting style created by Monet.
The Gardens of Étretat
The magnificent landscape of Etretat, in Normandy, with its high chalk cliffs overlooking the sea and a beach lined with boulders and boulders, has inspired painters such as Monet, Eugène Boudin and Henri Matisse. Today, Etretat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was recently the backdrop for the hit French TV show, Lupin, on Netflix.
On the crest of one of the cliffs is a special newly planted garden. Villa Roxelane
belonged to a French actress Madame Thébault (named after a character she played) at the end of the 20th century. She was a close friend of Monet’s and was so in love with her work that she created a garden to reflect it. The magnificent view of the cliffs and the beach from the gardens was later painted by artists such as Gustave Courbet, Eugène Delacroix and Edouard Manet.
In 2017, the gardens were completely replanted by landscape designer Alexander Grivko, whose vision was to combine the old classical style garden with contemporary architecture and also to include dotted works of art and sculpture. The result is magical as you stroll the narrow, gravelled alleys of the gardens and discover its delicacies such as sculpted shrubs, enticing topiaries, labyrinths and cascading rows of bushes. Two of the highlights of the gardens are the hanging wind chimes and huge faces sculpted in black resin by artist Samuel Salcedo, which are surrounded by round, sculpted hedges. The Etretat gardens have received enormous accolades and have won international prizes, including the European Garden Award, and ranked among the great gardens of the world.
Pro advice: You either have to walk up several stairs or up a steep road to get to the gardens, but once you get to the top it’s totally worth it. There is also a historic church and monument near the gardens.
Vaux Le Vicomte
The fascinating history of the palace of Vaux Le Vicomte begins in 1658 when Nicolas Fouquet, superintendent of finances to King Louis XV, at just 26 years old, built the most beautiful palace in France, an architectural masterpiece, as well as breathtaking French gardens. Fouquet was the envy of his noble peers and King Louis XV was so jealous and indignant that Fouquet would surpass his own palace in its beauty; he had Fouquet arrested and imprisoned for life. The king confiscated the palace treasures, including furniture, paintings, tapestries and books, and installed them in the Palace of Versailles. Going even further, the king later hired the same architect, Louis Le Vau, to rebuild Versailles, and the same gardener, André Le Nôtre, to develop the gardens. Vaux Le Vicomte is still privately owned and has belonged to the same family since 1875. Today, Jean-Charles and Alexandre de Vogüé are the fifth generation to own and operate the grand château and the estate.
André Le Nôtre designed the French gardens reflecting the symmetrical architecture of the palace. The enormous garden stretches for almost 2.5 km and Le Notre has installed water basins, canals, fountains, gravel paths, open lawns and grounds flowerbeds (plant beds). As you descend the main staircase, you will be greeted by rows of shrubs, avenues, flower beds, pools, caves, and immaculate, symmetrical statues.
Vaux Le Vicomte is open all year round and celebrates the seasons and the holidays with special events and activities. In the summer there are candlelit evenings, outdoor laser light shows and fireworks, and during the Christmas season Vaux Vicomte goes all out with decorations, activities and festivities from holidays.
Pro advice: Vaux Le Vicomte is about 35 minutes by train from Gare de l’Est. Once you arrive at Verneuil l’Etang station, a shuttle will take you to the palace. Trains leave almost every hour.
Of course, we had to list at least one garden in Paris, and we picked the locals’ favorite, the beloved Luxembourg Gardens. Located on the Left Bank, near the Saint Germain des Prés district, the Jardin du Luxembourg is a public park of nearly 60 hectares. In 1612, Queen Marie de Medici, widow of King Henry IV, failed to live in her home in Florence, Italy, the Pitti Palace and the New Luxembourg Palace was built. She commissioned her architect, Salamon Brosse, to design the new house to resemble her old palace as closely as possible.
The Queen also enlisted a landscape artist from Florence, Tommaso Francini, to design a substantial garden. He installed 2,000 elms, plus flower beds and railings, and a circular water basin. One of the singularly special features was the Medici Fountain, a cave and fountain, which still stands today. The gardens were later extended to 75 acres, but were later reduced to 60 acres when they became a public park. The Luxembourg Palace and Gardens is now owned and managed by the senate, the French Senate.
The Luxembourg Gardens have many features and activities, including statuary with notable personalities who have lived in the region, running trails, flower gardens, rental of mini sailboats for the basin, a playground, a kiosk at music for concerts, bee hive, museum, basketball, tennis courts, bowling green, cafes, puppet theater, pony rides and food kiosks.
Villandry castle and gardens
Villandry is one of the great châteaux of the Loire Valley, just 2.5 hours from Paris. Jean Le Breton, the former Minister of Finance of King François I, buys a fortress and has it demolished to make way for a new castle. Breton was well acquainted with chateau design, having overseen the construction of the Loire Valley royal chateau, Chambord, for many years. Villandry’s architectural style is an unusual blend of Italian Renaissance and medieval style, with characteristic objects such as turrets and bell towers. Gardening was a passion of Breton and he studied gardening when he was Ambassador to Rome.
After 1791, there were many owners, including Jérôme Bonaparte, the younger brother of Napoleon I. In 1906, Villandry was bought by Joachim Carvallo, and he found the original garden design replaced by English gardens. He wanted the gardens to match the Renaissance style of the castle again, and from 1908 he spent the next 10 years carefully rebuilding the gardens to restore them to their former glory. In the late 1900s and early 2000s, various gardens were redone and in 2008 they went organic. Currently, there are six specific gardens on the Villandry estate, including a vegetable garden, a water garden, an aromatic herb garden, a labyrinth and the Jardin du Soleil.
Pro advice: In July and August, Villandry hosts the Nuits des Mille Lumières, where the castle and gardens are illuminated by 2,000 candles. Villandry also sponsors Bat Night on August 25, where guests can learn about the fascinating creatures.