We depart from London on a direct flight to Nice (other regional flight connections may be available on request). On arrival we travel to the historic garden of Serre de la Madone, created by American Lawrence Johnston, who travelled the world over a thirty year period seeking plants to acclimatise here among the ancient olives. Johnston was also responsible for the quintessentially English garden at Hidcote Manor and the contrast with Serre de la Madone could not be greater. This is a place of luxuriant and exotic beauty, a tropical forest planted on the shores of the Mediterranean.
Following our visit we continue to our comfortable accommodation in Nice. A welcome drink and dinner in a local restaurant are included this evening.
After breakfast today we depart for the Cap d’Antibes and a visit to the Villa Thuret. A botanist and expert on seaweeds, Gustav Thuret lived here and over a period of twenty years he amassed a collection of rare plants – among them the first eucalyptus to be planted on the Côte d’Azur. The interest of the place lies in the great collection of tender woody plants, some 3000 species, which are grown here. In four acres of exotic jungle the visitor may wander at will studying plants rarely seen in any other European collection.
We continue with a visit to the Château de Gourdon, which has four different gardens: the Terrace of Honour, which was designed by André le Nôtre; the Apothecaries Garden, featuring medicinal plants from the Middle Ages; the Italian Terrace, which evokes the spirit of the Renaissance with its extravagant boxwood topiary, and the Garden of Provence, filled with fragrant Mediterranean plants such as sage, rosemary and lavender.
Our last port of call today is the village of St Paul de Vence, which has been a haven to writers and artists over the years, including Marc Chagall who is buried in the village cemetery. Within the narrow cobbled streets there are countless art galleries and studios and the viewpoint at the south end of the village offers a memorable panorama.
Evening is at leisure.
After breakfast today we visit Clos du Peyronnet, the private garden of William Waterfield, which has an enviable position on the slopes above the bay of Garavan, close to the Italian border. To one side of the house is a splendid water garden, where a long canal-like pool runs at right angles to the slope. Exotic flowers and foliage press in from all sides, giving the impression of a jungle only just kept at bay. On the eastern side of the garden is the specialist collection of rare bulbs, William Waterfield’s passion, with over 200 species.
In the afternoon we visit the gardens of La Mortola just across the border in Italy. Now over a hundred years old, the garden was named after the thickets of wild myrtle on the rocky shore and was planted by Sir Thomas Hanbury, after 1867. It was planned as a botanic collection of outstanding interest and tender exotics from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South America were planted and flourished. La Mortola is perhaps the greatest of Riviera Gardens - great in its accumulated years, the richness of its collections, the power of its presence on all who behold it, and not least in the impact it has had all over the French Riviera.
We return to our hotel where the evening is at leisure.
Today following breakfast we depart for a visit to the International Rose Festival in Grasse, a truly magical event filled with colour and fragrance. There are a variety of fringe attractions, including perfume displays, but roses - of every colour, variety and style imaginable - are the key feature, with a competitive aspect that is taken very seriously.
(In September, this is replaced with a visit to the Villa Noailles in Grasse. This elaborate garden, with its soft lines and gentle transitions, its musical fountains and its witty use of closed and open space is a delight. The garden’s heart is a series of seven broad, stonewalled terraces supporting ancient olive trees.)
This afternoon we will continue to La Mouissone in Grasse. The property is almost unique in this area in being distributed across the slopes of a hillside below le Bois de la Marbrière, with panoramic views of the coast. Spread over three hectares with 250 productive olive trees, the gardens reflect the attributes and restrictions presented by the terrain and the Mediterranean climate. There are tailored lawns and beds around the houses, and wilder grassland and woodland areas on the outskirts. You can also explore the shady bamboo garden, the prairie style garden and woodland walk.
This morning, following breakfast, we will visit the Fondation Ephrussi de Rothschild at St Jean Cap Ferrat, a garden designed as a series of compartments, each reflecting a different architectural style. The villa, now a museum, contains the collections of the Baroness de Rothschild and some of the artefacts associated with Marie-Antoinette including paintings by Monet and Renoir. The gardens are exquisite, with many interesting tender plants thriving in the favourable climate, surrounded by marvellous views over the sea. Lunch will be available here (not included).
In the afternoon we visit the Villa Kerylos, which is the realisation of a dream – that of Théodore Reinach, an archaeologist and French statesman, who was fascinated by Greek civilisation. It is also the fruit of an exemplary collaboration with architect Emmanuel Pontremoli who was passionate about this project. The result is an original reconstruction of an ancient Greek dwelling, designed and built between 1902 and 1908. Its construction uses the most precious materials: ancient stucco, Carrara marble and exotic wood for the furniture. The decoration is sumptuous: mosaics and frescoes inspired by famous scenes, illustrating the great legends of gods and classic heroes.
This morning we check out of our hotel and depart for Monaco where we will visit the Exotic Gardens of Monte Carlo. This fascinating garden specialises almost exclusively in succulent plants, making it a prickly paradise for cactus lovers. On a high rocky cliff overlooking the Royal Palace, paths zig-zag downwards through canyons of cacti with extraordinary views of the plants rearing up above you.
We then travel to the airport in time for our return flight back to London where the group will disperse or transfer to regional flight connections.