Parks and Gardens

Les Jardins du Manoir d'Eyrignac, Salignac-Eyvigues

The beauty and serenity of Les Jardins du Manoir d'Eyrignac at Salignac-Eyvigues in the Dordogne is quite a surprise. We arrived on a day when the temperature was hitting 30 – a bit too warm for we northern Englanders - so the chance of a Perrier Menthe in the shade was most welcome. But once out in the garden, among the serried ranks of topiary and bush-shaping, the heat was forgotten, exchanged for a chance to marvel at the skills of the small team of gardeners who maintain these lush acres.

As a delightful and most generous bonus, we assembled for lunch in the private gardens of our host and his wife, who live in the honey-coloured mansion in the grounds. It was all very relaxing, and just what we needed before heading for a boat trip on the Dordogne.

Tel: 05 53 28 99 71

Parc Floral les Jardins de Colette, Varetz

This delightful floral park in the municipality of Varetz, opened in 2007, and is an imaginative and developing interpretation of all things floral relating to the French writer, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, best known for her novel Gigi, upon which Lerner and Loewe based the stage and film musical comedies of the same title. The gardens are not far from the Castel-Novel, where she lived (now a 4-star hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant).

I first came here just after the gardens had opened; you might expect them to have been a little bare, but, no, the place was bright with colour as I recall now, going back through my picture library. But what really hung heavily over the place was a mantle of calm and tranquillity, as if Colette herself was present, directing developments.

The gardens offer the visitor a unique and poetic stroll through literature and botany, presented through a series of six landscaped settings that reflect the six main regions that marked the life and writings of this remarkable, and often audacious, woman.

In each garden there are information panels presenting information about their relevance to Colette's life, and presenting short extracts from her books, from which the landscape architects drew inspiration. She was quite a woman by all accounts: thrice married with a lesbian relationship in between with Mathilde de Morny, Marquise de Belbeuf, known as Missy. In 1907, the two performed together in a pantomime entitled Rêve d'Égypte at the Moulin Rouge. Their onstage kiss nearly caused a riot, which the police were called in to suppress.

I first encountered the writings of Colette when I was taking an A-level in French; we were reading Le Blé en Herbe, written by Colette at her property Roz-Ven, between St Malo and Cancale. It tells the story of childhood friends Phil and Vinca who meet every year during the summer holidays. They have always been interested in each other, but Phil meets a much older woman who introduces him to carnal love. Vinca feels the betrayal of her friend. Like much of Colette's outpourings, it was something of a sensation when it was first published in 1923.

You don't have to read Colette to appreciate this garden, but if you do (they have all been translated into English, you don't have to do it the A-level way), it will help you to appreciate all the more, the merits of this spacious and delightful oasis.

For those with time to spare, an hour can be invested in a 5,000m2 labyrinth, ideal for children (while parents enjoy a coffee in the visitor centre!). Guided tours are available (1 hour) and offer floral and literary anecdotes to create a unique experience.

Parc Floral Les Jardins de Colette
Lieu-dit <Lachassagne>, 19240 Varetz
Tel: 05 55 86 75 35

1 April - end of October
April, October and November
Wednesday to Friday 10am-12.30pm, 2-5.30pm, Saturday and Sunday 2-5.30pm
May-June and September
Tuesday to Sunday 10am-12.30pm, 2-6.30pm
July and August
Every day 10am-7pm

Les Jardins de l'Imaginaire, Terrasson

Classed as one of the Notable Gardens of France by the Ministry of Culture, Les Jardins de l'Imaginaire (The Gardens of Imagination) in Terrasson, in the Périgord, are a contemporary creation, designed in 1996 by Franco-American landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson.

This is a 6-hectare park of terraced gardens in the heart of an ancient town, and that alone is a rarity worth seeking out. The gardens tell a story through sensation and emotion, a constant invasion of your senses that is surprisingly refreshing. They seem to counterbalance the older gardens of the Dordogne, and reflect modern artistic trends in landscape gardening.

I was coming to the end of my short visit to France, and starting to feel a bit weary – the temperature had been up around 34°C for most of the day, so I was wilting, appropriately, like a flower. But, on arrival, instead of the familiar herding around the bog standard trail, we were invited to lunch. Not only was it a welcome respite from the heat of mid-day, but it was a charming and gracious interlude with the people who manage the garden, and those, as it turns out, who perform some fascinating feats of magic in the kitchen. It was timed to perfection: lunch...walk!

This is, quite simply, a place of joy, peace and natural beauty, constructed in a way that pays homage to Périgord and its people. Using the eponymous 'imagination', you can listen here to the heartbeat of the world around you, and arouse sensations of anticipation and curiosity: combine the sensory, the dream-like and the extraordinary across a canvas of creative artistry.

Les Jardins de l'Imaginaire are a one-of-a-kind site, in a beautiful location between Sarlat and Lascaux, containing 2,000 rosebushes; 20,000 perennials; 2,500 box hedges; 120 sprays of water; more than 150 plant species; 8,000 trees and bushes including rare species; terraces; a theatre-in-the-green; a hedge tunnel; woodlands; a viewpoint; water gardens; and many other features all overlooking the Vézère river.

It is tempting to think that the town, Terrasson, is just about these gardens. But that would be doing it an injustice. Terrasson is at the far eastern limit of the Dordogne, where the département meets Corrèze and also the region Limousin. Its historic district, is a place of passage offering an age-old opportunity to cross the Vézère. There are prehistoric traces of human occupation here, and during the Gallo-Roman period, "villas" were established in Gaubert, La Boissière, Teyssenat, and beneath the rock of Saint-Sour.

If you want to lose yourself in France, this is a good base from which to disappear into the surrounding countryside...just to find yourself, of course.

Les Jardins de l'Imaginaire
Place de Genouillac, 24120 Terrasson
Tel: 05 53 50 86 82

April-June and September
Daily except Tuesday
10am-11.30am, 2-5.30pm
July and August

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