Country Life, in association with Boxwood Tours, is delighted to announce an exclusive tour, from September 24 to 29, enjoying the gastronomy and gardens of this fortunate, sun-drenched region. Hosted by perennial Country Life contributor David Wheeler, a congenial and seasoned traveller to the treasures of the Côte d’Azur, our tailormade tour explores horticultural gems both old and new.
Timed for late September, when the air is still warm and redolent with the herbal fragrances released by the Mediterranean sun, highlights include Les Cedres at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, designed a century ago for the king of Belgium by Harold Peto; the enchanting garden of Joanna Millar, ‘the grande dame of Riviera gardening'; the stylish terraces of La Casella, made by Klaus Scheinert and the late Tom Parr; Villa Boccanegra, first made famous by Ellen Willmott; and Fort France, subject of a 1930s bestseller by Winifred Fortescue and now gardened by artist Valérie de Courcel. We will also explore classic favourites of the region, including William Waterfield’s Clos du Peyronnet, Lawrence Johnston’s Serre de la Madone and the wondrous Hanbury gardens.
Combining delicious lunches with our garden owners and some fine evening dining, this unique tour is based in two elegant and highly regarded hotels: the Napoleon, close to the sea at Menton, and the five-star Chateau Saint-Martin with its fine gardens and panoramic views of the shores of the French Riviera, and wonderfully comfortable rooms
The price is from £2,995 per person, including BA flights from Heathrow. Contact Boxwood Tours, Rhiw, Llanbedr, Gwynedd, LL45 2NT (01341 241717; email@example.com; www.boxwoodtours.com).
The full itinerary is below
GARDENS OF THE FRENCH RIVIERA
Hosted by David Wheeler, garden writer and regular contributor to COUNTRY LIFE.
The allure of the French Riviera and the Côte d’Azur has long been acknowledged by garden enthusiasts throughout the world. British travellers in particular have been spell-bound by the exotic perfumes and colours, many settling to create gardens of distinction. In this exclusive tour we visit some of these remarkable gardens but also include some exciting contemporary masterpieces. Our two carefully chosen hotels are the newly renovated four-star Hotel Napoléon in Menton, hard against the French and Italian border, and the five-star Chateau Saint-Martin with its fine gardens and panoramic views of the shores of the French Riviera with wonderfully comfortable rooms. Fine dining is an important feature of the tour with reservations at the 2 Michelin star, La Mirazur and La Bastide de Saint Antoine as well as invitations to join some of the garden owners for relaxing lunches. This is indeed a ravishing tour not to be missed.
Day 1 Tuesday 24 September
Depart London Heathrow at 11.40 to Nice Côte d’Azur, arriving at 14.40 on British Airways flight BA0344. From the airport we accept an invitation for drinks and canapés with William Waterfield in the perfect paradise of his garden at Clos du Peyronnet. A short distance away is Hotel Napoleon where we have time to settle in before we dine together at a highly recommended local restaurant nearby specializing in seafoods.
Day 2: Wednesday 25 September
This day expands on gardens created by British expatriates who have had a key influence on Riviera gardens. We dip a toe into Italy to visit Villa Boccanegra, made famous by Ellen Willmott, whose lavish style of gardening at Warley Place in Essex and on the Riviera emptied her ample purse. For the past twenty-five years Boccanegra has been the home of Ursula Salghetti Drioli, who will show us the garden and host a private lunch on our behalf. In the afternoon we return via the Hanbury Botanical Garden on the Capo Mortola, a forty-acre garden that descends to the glistening Mediterranean in a series of terraces populated by an unrivalled collection of tender and half-hardy plants. Our visit is crowned by time spent over tea with Carolyn Hanbury who will tell us about her family’s making of this remarkable garden. After a day of such horticultural extravagance we have arranged a free evening for members of the group to dine at any of Menton’s excellent restaurants.
Day 3: Thursday 26 September
This morning we meet up with James Basson, an exciting new garden designer in Villefranche where James will show us one of his designs. This dry garrigue garden was influenced by Olivier Filippi, pioneer of the art of dry gardening, most of the plants obtained from Filippi’s Languedoc nursery. This garden has stunning views and an ‘infinity pool’ that merges with the Mediterranean and the blue beyond. Free time in Menton has been included for lunch. We then visit Serre de la Madone where, in the 1920s, Lawrence Johnston, creator of the world-famous Hidcote Garden in the Cotswolds, England, made an equally beautiful if not superior garden in a steep valley among the pine-clad hills behind Menton. The garden was most sensitively restored in the 1990’s. We then venture together to the sub-tropical botanical garden of Val Rameh, just around the corner from the hotel. A guided tour has been arranged of this sheltered haven with its wonderful array of lush plantings. Later we dine together at the 2 Michelin star La Mirazur Restaurant with dramatic views of Menton and the Mediterranean, a gastronomique restaurant in distinctive 1930’s style decor and its own culinary garden.
Day 4: Friday 27 September
Firstly, we travel to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, for a rare chance to visit Les Cedres, commissioned by the King of Belgium and designed by Harold Peto to include a series of luxuriously-planted Italianate terraces stepping down to the sea. We then drive through some of the finest scenery in the south of France to Opio for a light lunch in a local restaurant and a visit to La Casella, made in partnership by Klaus Schienert and the late Tom Parr. A garden of predominantly green (blue, yellow & white coming equal second), the planting is mainly Mediterranean, without any attempt to recreate an English garden abroad. We arrive in the late afternoon at Chateau Saint-Martin with time to settle in before a delicious evening meal together at the hotel’s Restaurant La Rosticceria.
Day 5: Saturday 28 September
On the outskirts of Grasse we find Villa Fort France, originally planted by Lady Fortescue in the 1930s, now owned and gardened by artist Valerie de Courcel who lovingly tends the narrow olive and iris clad terraces around this charming villa. The making of this enigmatically named garden is related in Winifred Fortescue’s best-selling Perfume from Provence, published in 1935. Then off to La Bastide de Saint Antoine for a delicious lunch created by Chef Jaques Chibois whose elegant creations are a delight to look at and to taste. We then return to Chateau Saint-Martin with some time absorb the beauty of this very special hotel with an evening meal included in the Restaurant La Rosticceria.
Day 6: Sunday 29 September
Last morning visit to the terraced garden of Domaime du Prieure to meet Joanna Millar, a very knowledgeable Riviera gardener. Then to La Mouissone near Grasse where, owner Maggie Lockett, has arranged a special fragrant tour focusing on plants whose properties are valued by the local perfume manufacturers. We are then offered an elegant picnic highlighting scents such as rose, lemon verbena and a variety of herbs with time to relax and further explore this terraced garden in your own time. Return to Nice Côte d’Azur for a 16.40 check-in for the 18.40 BA0355 flight, arriving at London Heathrow at 19.40.
*Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter