Amazing gardens, Stunning coastlines, 'Postcard' villages, Mont St Michel and the traditions of the Breton culture
12 days from Paris
This tour begins and ends in Paris. SGT recommends enhancing your touring adventure by spending some independent pre/post-tour time exploring more of this wonderful capital city. Paris is well connected via the TGV train with Brussels and the Eurostar train with London. We are happy to assist you with incoming journey if you wish. Please ask us for details.
Depart 9am from our Paris meeting point in the neighbourhood of Montparnasse. This area is well known for its art and literary heritage but this is also the city’s ‘Breton’ neighbourhood so a great place to start our touring adventure!
The Palace of Versailles is our first destination, Louis XIV’s greatest example of regal indulgence, was the seat of French Royal Court for 100 years until its demise in the French Revolution. Visit this UNESCO World Heritage site, experiencing the overwhelming opulence of the park and gardens. The Gardens of Versailles cover some 800 hectares of land, much of which is landscaped in the classic French Garden style featuring meticulous manicured lawns, parterres of flowers and the famous fountains.
Chartres Cathedral is another place of interest today. While not a garden, how can we pass up such an opportunity! Pilgrims have been coming here for eight centuries to admire and seek inspiration from the most magnificent, and certainly most extensive stained glass windows to be seen anywhere in the world.
If we've any spare time, we may choose a short stop in the medieval town of Vitre, which features a castle and half timbered houses. This is a lovely place to wander around the medieval streets of the photogenic old town, to admire the impressive remains of the city gates and fortified walls.
Stay: Chateaubourg/Rennes area
Property Suggestion: Ar Milin or similar www.armilin.com
Mont St Michel, Chateau De La Foltiere
Mont St-Michel may not still be the ‘Mount in Peril’ from the sea, this 10000 year old religious complex still appears to rise from the surrounding waters. During your time here at one of one of the most popular attractions in France, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can climb the 8th century abbey, meander through the ancient narrow streets and enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding landscape over the bay.
Near Fougeres, the strange street layout described in Balzac’s novel of the revolution The Chouans, is another place of interest, Chateau De La Foltiere/Le Parc Botanique de Haute Bretagne. This property is 24 botanical gardens, a 50-acre park offering a vast collection of rare trees and plants.
Stay: in/near Rennes, same property as above
Domaine Montmarin, St Malo, Château de la Ballue
Enjoy another day out in stunning scenery from our base today. A full day of blossoms and blooms! Château de la Ballue itself is perfectly preserved on the exterior, grand and elegant on the interior. Situated among dramatic theatrical gardens, the beautiful 17th century château is a symphony of classical architecture. In the past, la Ballue welcomed Balzac, Victor Hugo and other prestigious visitors. The different green rooms create a variety of surprising scenes further enhanced by the visual effects of the ever changing light. Separated from the classical garden by an alley of wisteria trailing over yew columns, the gardens were created by the architects François-Hébert Stevens and Paul Maymont in the pure mannerist style.
The only malouinière on the left bank of Rance is Domaine Montmarin, built in 1760 by A. Magon displays beautiful gardens and terraces that dominate the Rance river. The 6 hectares park is classified both as a Historical Monument and a Remarkable Garden and it presents a French garden and an English park. The domain includes a vineyard and olive plantation. A special treat, this is a small winery so we can sample their local wares!
Historic St Malo is sure to delight too, step back in time into its maritime past, but beware of pirates! Should we manage any extra time, perhaps a short visit to the Roseraie Sainte-Anne, home to 150 varieties of roses and 2500 rose bushes.
Stay: in/near Rennes, same property as above
Yves Rocher Gardens, Foret de Paimpont/Hotensia Trail, Josslin
We move towards the coast, via some fairy tale places! Is Brittany really the legendary King Arthur’s home? It is up to you to decide! Today we visit the area of Foret de Paimpont, part of the Forest of Broceliande and the last remaining part of the ancient forests that once covered Brittany. This is a place drenched in the legends of King Arthur. Here discover a garden trail unique in France, a circuit featuring many varieties of Brittany’s symbolic plant, the hydrangea. Opened in 2000, the Hortensia Trail has 5500 hortensias (aka hydrangea) with around 550 different varieties!
Firstly, the Botanical Garden of the house of Yves Rocher is a place where more than 1100 species of plants are studied for their positive uses. Here are plants for cosmetics and perfumes of the Yves Rocher collection; see the bamboo garden, the ethno-botanical and exotic collections, the arboretum and the collection of mugworts, which is recognised as a “national collection”.
Later spend time in the ‘story book’ village of Josselin, a wonderful collection of half-timbered houses and cobbled market squares. Here you can choose to visit the 14th century Josselin Castle, still home to the Rohan family after 1000 years, an enormous chateau with three ‘witch hat’ turrets dominating over the river Oust. There are some wonderful cafes to enjoy the views and quaint shops to peruse.
The far corner of Brittany is known as Finistère, the ‘end of the land’ (or ‘Land’s End’ like in Cornwall) but in the Breton language, they call it Penn ar Bed, ‘beginning of the world.’ It is here that Breton survives most strongly as a spoken language. The north coast is rugged and wild, fringed by the English Channel while the south faces the Atlantic with sunny bays and wooded valleys. This is our base for the next few days.
Property Suggestion: Hotel Europe or similar http://en.hoteleurope-morlaix.com/
Full day around Morlaix
We have a full day to relax and explore our base. Morlaix is a town with a 19th century viaduct towering above the old town, where you can see unusual ‘lantern houses’ with spiral staircases and galleries where lamps used to glow. Among them is the house of Anne de Bretagne, the duchess dear to the heart of every Breton. Your tour guide is on hand for a walking tour plus assistance and advice, you have the entire day to do as your choose.
Exploring Morlaix typically includes a few steep climbs to gain panoramic views, glimpses of gardens filled with lilac and wisteria, ancient chapels and even a lovely fountain or two. The town centre has several ancient timbered houses of a style unique to Morlaix, embellished with carvings and still looking down passers-by with an elegant air of benevolence. Make your way through the cobbled streets and enjoy the market stalls, the tiny boutiques and fascinating shops that combine to create the charm and originality of this harbour town. Every Wednesday in July and August, Morlaix plays host to street theatre artists and circus stars from all over the world. This is sure to be a lovely day soaking in the local culture!
Stay: Morlaix, same property as above
la Roche-Jagu, Jardin Kerdalo
Today explore some wonderful garden properties set in remarkable landscapes. Standing high on the side of the wooded Trieux River, Château de la Roche-Jagu is the only survivor of some ten fortresses that once oversaw stretches of this valley in medieval times. Recently restored, it still guards the way to the pretty river port of Pontrieux. The grand hall on the ground floor was where functions were traditionally held; exhibitions today focus on themes to do with Côtes d’Armor, for instance the county’s hidden treasures, or its maritime riches. The grounds have been beautifully replanted in the mediaeval style, and awarded the status of Jardin Remarquable. We may also call into the charming riverside town of Pontrieux itself, this ‘Petite Cité de Caractère’ is full of craft shops, boathouses and washhouses of yesteryear.
The Jardins de Kerdalo is a beautiful garden covering 18 hectares, one of the star features is the grotto surrounded by giant leaves of gunnera. Another favourite is this wisteria covered pergola. This garden was created in 1965 and is reputed to be one of the best gardens created in Europe since WWII. Its inspirations are Italian, Chinese and there is even a part which invokes a tropical jungle. The gardens had become somewhat abandoned but upon the death of designer Peter Wolkonsky, but thankfully his daughter Isabelle Vaugham, a horiculturist who trained at the RHS Wisley, lovingly brought it back to life. Today it enjoys "jardin remarquable" and "des Monuments Historiques" status.
Stay: Morlaix, same property as above
Plouézoc’h, Rose Granite coast incl Ploumanac'h Lighthouse
More amazing sites to discover today in Finistère! This northerly coast holds the legend of Celtic monk St Pol, here he defeated a dragon to become one of Brittany’s founding saints. In this very mild coastal climate, be surrounded by amazing landscapes, a wealth of nature and a unique historic heritage. If we’re lucky we’ll see birds and seals thanks to the nearby nature reserve. The Pink/Rose Granite Coast is so-called because of the colour of its rocks, renowned for its unusual rock formations. Encounter the weather-beaten rocks, some as high as 65ft/20m, including those resembling Napoleon’s hat, a witch, a rabbit and more, all changing colour with the light. This is one of the most beautiful stretches of Brittany’s coastline; we can walk the highlights near the scenic lighthouse. The low hills behind the coast are often covered with hydrangeas, pine trees, gorse, lavender, mimosa, heather and a wide range of wild flowers.
Also during our day see the Cairn de Barnenez in Plouézoc’h, classed as a National Monument, this is Europe’s largest burial chamber and probably the world’s oldest monument. Overlooking the seas, it has a magnificent 75-metre corridor measuring 28 metres wide that is estimated to date from 5000 BC. This makes it an incredible 2000 years older than the Egyptian Pyramids!
ON Morlaix, same property as above
Rosscoff Tropical Gardens, Elorn Valley churchyards, Daoulas Abbey
Some very unique spaces are our focus today, as we make our way to Quimper. Perched on a pile of granite rocks some 18m high, Jardin Exotique et Botanique de Roscoff offers a panoramic view of Morlaix bay. Giant rockeries, water features, waterfalls, ponds and fountains guarantee a complete change of scenery. Created in 1987 by Daniel Person, a Roscoff hotelier, this exotic garden is spread over 1.6 hectares and boasts more than 3,400 different plants: exotic species from the southern hemisphere, cacti from Mexico, palm trees from China and more. This garden houses several well-known national collections plus eucalyptus trees, arborescent ferns, and South African bulbs.
Making our way via the Elorn Valley, we will route through some of the ‘enclos paroissaiaux’ villages, intricately decorated stone carved churches from the 16th and 17th centuries. Financed by the prosperous trade in flax and hemp, the stunning workmanship was provided by local craftsmen. Each is unique and truly beautiful. Get your cameras ready!
Daoulas Abbey Gardens was originally founded in 1167 by the regular Saint Augustin canons, now only a Romanesque church and cloister remain. In the park, the garden of medicinal herbs designed on the model of Middle Age abbey gardens has been opened to the conservation of exotic, magic, rare and disappearing plants.
If we’ve time, a short stop in Locranan, a charming town devoid of any modern buildings, with hidden electricity wires so it looks exactly as it did in the 18th century. This pilgrimage site, known for its religious processions every 6 years, is often used as a film location such as Audrey Tautou’s movie A Very Long Engagement.
Property Suggestions include: BW Hotel Kregenn, Hotel Gradlon, Oceania Escale or similar
http://www.hotel-kregenn.fr/; http://www.hotel-gradlon.fr/; http://www.venere.com/hotels/quimper/hotel-escale-oceania-quimper/?fwdrf=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F
Full day Quimper including Priory Gardens
Quimper is the heart of the Breton culture, often referred to as the ‘soul of Brittany.’ Your tour guide is on hand for a walking tour plus assistance and advice, you have the entire day to do as your choose. Wander the cluttered streets of old town, maybe take a boat ride, stroll the quaint, flower filled bridges across the canal or perhaps pay a visit to the Breton Museum, where the history of Breton traditional dress and customs are explored. The atmospheric old town is full of half-timbered houses dating from the 14th century, now home to dozens of modern day shops. There is an impressive Musee Beaux Arts. Perhaps sample a crepe, the local delicacy, on Place au Beurre, one of Quimper’s prettiest locations where butter was once sold. Quimper’s most impressive building is its cathedral, which is said to be the best example of Gothic religious architecture in the region. Uniquely crooked, it claims to mirror the tilt of Christ’s head on the cross.
Recent work in the Quimper Priory Gardens has seen the introduction of splendid aromatic plants assumed to have been cultivated in monasteries at the time of Anne of Brittany (1477-1514.) A kiosk features a fountain, a symbol of the source of life that once irrigated Paradise and wooden pergolas symbolize the sky in this medieval style garden. Sure to be a lovely day!
Stay: Quimper, same property as above
Carnac, Japanese Gardens Nantes
A full day today as we depart lovely Brittany, turning northeast for the Loire. Firstly though, surely it will be the alignments at Carnac that will be the highlight of our day and surely provide one of the lasting memories of Brittany. Here some 2000 menhirs (standing stones) older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids, stand like sentinels guarding the Breton coast line. Of course, like all prehistoric monuments, their origin can only be guessed at but astronomical clocks or temples to the gods of natural forces are the favoured explanations.
Also see the Japanese Gardens of Ile de Versailles near Nantes. This 1.7 hectare artificial island created in 1831, originally used by Naval tanners and carpenters, was turned into a Japanese style garden from 1983 onwards. The layout of the rockeries and water falls intertwine 3 Japanese inspired buildings. The “Maison de l“Erdre” encloses a Zen garden, which serves as an avenue for river-life exhibitions.
Stay: Saumur/Chinon area, Loire
Château de Villandry, La Chatonniere
A relaxing day meandering the lovely landscapes and formal gardens of the Loire Valley is our goal today. A highlight is sure to be Château de Villandry, the imaginative twentieth century re-creation of a renaissance castle garden. The moated Chateau dates from c1536 and had a formal garden in the eighteenth century. The present garden dates from the years after 1906 when it was bought by a Spaniard, Dr Joachim Carvallo. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, he wished the garden to have a sixteenth century character. Great horticultural skill was deployed, especially in the use of vegetables.
Chateau de la Chatonnière is another gem to explore today. Hidden away in a secluded valley, crowned by 18 acres of sometimes flowering cornflowers and poppies and with sweeping views across the forest of Chinon and the river Indre, sit the twelve remarkable gardens of La Chatonniere. The gardens vary in style and atmosphere but each awaken the senses, evoking feelings of wonder, charm and contemplation.
Stay: Saumur/Chinon area, Loire, same property as above
Orleans, Courances, Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte
Our tour route follows the Loire River and a short stop in Joan d’Arc’s city of Orleans. Our main focus however is of course time in two more lovely gardens!
Courance is another beautiful formal garden. Water gardens were invented in France in the sixteenth century, popular after the enclosed medieval gardens fell out of fashion, and there are spectacular displays at Courance, water leads visitors through the grounds.
Visit the stunning Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte at Maincy. This is perhaps the most elegant and geometrically harmonious of all high Baroque gardens, the composition is perfectly proportioned.
Return to Paris this evening, where our garden adventure concludes.
Why not extend your stay in Paris? SGT is happy to assist you with your add-on plans if you wish.
Please note: All attraction opening times are correct at time of printing this website. While we will do our utmost to include all of the properties mentioned as central visits, we reserve the right to change an attraction should it become impossible to deliver a planned visit due to changes in opening days or times beyond our control.
Oft imitated, never duplicated! This is an original SGT itinerary, property of Special Group Tours and to be used only with express permission/in conjunction with SGT.
Your accommodation for 7 nights in 3 and 4 star properties while on the tour including breakfast daily and 3 dinners. Your price includes all entrance fees to attractions while with your guide, transportation, exclusive services of your driver/guide-companion, all taxes, tolls and tips other than those you may wish to give your guide.
Airport transfers, accommodation pre and post tour, Paris city tours, transport passes and theatre tickets are not included but can be added to your package as you wish for a supplemental fee. Please discuss your needs with us, SGT is at your service!
The Special Group Tours Advantage is our unique and intimate understanding of what you expect traveling in the UK and Europe. We have not only visited but have spent many years living in and loving the cultures you will experience down the ‘B’ Roads and off the beaten track. We have worked with local suppliers and our guide/companion team for over a decade, creating unique special interest itineraries. Special Group Tours offers our “insider” knowledge to you.
The SGT Small Group Touring Concept is traveling with just 4 - 14 guests per departure. It is our aim to introduce you to the 'real' country and its people, not just ticking the boxes of a standardized route and treating you as an individual and not a number. Our concept allows for a leisurely touring pace and flexibility to get off the beaten track to discover hidden gems. Of course you'll see the major sites but so much more too!
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