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Gardens of the Loire Valley

Belle France recommendations for garden visits – our top 9

What makes a good garden? Or rather more specifically, what makes a good garden to stroll around while on holiday? Well start with a dramatic setting, preferably with views and ‘borrowed horizons’. Add a stunning layout or design, some stupendous planting of course and some thoughtful spots to sit and peruse someone else’s labours.

Then there are more extraneous ingredients: a garden is all the more interesting if it comes with a story. As when an exuberant clematis enlivens a perfectly ordinary apple tree, a garden’s interest is all the greater when entwined with a colourful personality from the past, or perhaps has played a noteworthy role in history.

All these desirable elements of a good garden come together in the Loire Valley. Not for nothing has it long been known as the Garden of France: a happy combination of fertile soil, plentiful water and lots of sunshine. Green fingered enthusiasts flock here in search of gardening inspiration, tips and advice, and, undoubtedly, a pleasant place to sit with a coffee and a pastry.  

Gardens of Versailles

The lure of the châteaux

Of course, here there are countless grand châteaux which effortlessly combine historical interest with sprawling gardens and grounds. There are vast woodlands and Capability Brown style parks (landscaped centuries ago to demonstrates man’s power over nature) and sometimes over the top formal gardens dating from the Renaissance and the time of the Sun King, Louis IV.

Château de Villandry 

Possibly the best known, Villandry is probably more visited for its gardens than its adjoining château. The vegetable gardens are a re-creation of the 16th century layout with geometric design and immaculate hedging, accompanied by medicinal garden, labyrinth and the celebrated Garden of Love.

Château de Villandry

Château de Chaumont

Perched high above the Loire, this is another château which is probably more rewarding for its gardens than its interiors. The annual garden festival here draws an international crowd and is known for offering an eclectic take on design, celebrating the quirky and the arty and being less traditionalist than the Chelsea Flower Show. Often, the participating designers are not even gardeners, resulting in surprising and unimagined results.

Château de Chaumont

Château de Chenonceau

A smaller-scale château with elegant gardens that are easily navigable, and not too arduous. The formal gardens running along the riverside give wonderful views of the château, while the kitchen gardens are fascinating.

Château de Cheverny

Famed as the inspiration for Château de Moulinsart of Tintin fame, the park-like grounds are pleasant for strolling, while the formal plantings, striking topiary and structural layouts lie behind the imposing house. 

Château de Cheverny

Château de Chambord

With vast grounds, home to deer and wild boar, this most majestic of all royal châteaux has long been a surprise in lacking true gardens. The reality was that the original formal gardens had long since deteriorated, eventually reverting to a blank canvas of grass. March 2017 saw the opening of the completely remodelled formal gardens on two sides of the château. These works see the replanting of the 18th century layout and is a triumph.  

Château de Chambord

The public gardens – Parc Floral de la Source

The Parc Floral de la Source in Orléans is a popular destination with a range of themed plantings designed to offer constantly changing flowering interest. Dahlias, irises, roses all have their own spotlight and there is a prairie garden, kitchen garden, rock garden, sculptures, topiary and even a butterfly area. And a café! 

The private garden – Jardin du Plessis-Sasnières

Jardin du Plessis-Sasnières is a gem of a garden, north of Blois and drawing inspiration from the Prince of Wales’s gardens at Highgrove. The owner herself describes it as ‘not quite an English garden, but not quite a French one either’. A charming spot for those who love their gardens authentic and unusual. 

The home of the rose - Chemins de la Rose

Doué la Fontaine, lying west of Saumur, is the centre of rose-growing in France and you’ll find rose growers, rose gardens and nurseries all jostling for attention. Chemins de la Rose is a garden dedicated to the rose, with thousands of varieties spilling out in colourful, scented profusion: English roses, old roses, musk roses and more. 

When the whole village is a garden - Chédigny

More or less throughout this colourful region you can just pass through villages and small towns bursting with extravagant gardens. Often, even the central reservations and roundabouts are delightfully planted. In particular, Chédigny is a riot of roses: more roses (700) than inhabitants (550) apparently. This little village lies just south of Chenonceaux and is well worth a short detour to stroll along the quiet streets. It is remarkable in being the only village in France to be designated a ‘jardin remarquable’ (alongside illustrious châteaux gardens and others). 

5 Best of the Loire