At this, the season of mellow fruitfulness, we take you to discover abundantly productive gardens displaying rich harvests of tomatoes, dahlias, vines and pumpkins as well as contrasting formal gardens surrounding stately châteaux, including Villandry and the Prieuré d'Orsan where intricate living decoration is taken to the highest standard. Since medieval times when the abbeys intensely cultivated the fertile region watered by the Rivers Loire, Indre & Cher, the Loire Valley has been known as the garden of France, playing key roles both in the history of the nation and in the development of garden style. September is a wonderful golden season to visit, bringing a last fling of vibrant colours and abundant produce to these gardens. We have selected two excellent hotels, both well known for fine cuisine and excellent hospitality.
Day 1: Friday, September 16
Depart London Heathrow at 11:55 to Orly, arriving at 14:20 on British Airways flight BA0334. We advise purchasing your own lunch at the airport as there will only be a complimentary snack on the flight. Drive south to the Loire Valley and in the late afternoon check in at a beautiful small hotel lying below the ramparts of Château d’Amboise overlooking the Loire. Le Choiseul comprises a cluster of charming 18th century residences with neat formal gardens and pool with an excellent restaurant where we will dine for two nights of our stay.
Day 2: Saturday, September 17
We start the day with a visit to Château de Villandry, a unique testimonial to Renaissance architecture with decorative potager & symbolic ornamental garden. Villandry has long been the epitome of decorative vegetable gardens; the standard of horticulture, attention to detail, and clever design remain a total delight. After free time for lunch in Amboise we travel to the private gardens of Château de Valmer, a sophisticated 4 hectare garden built on 8 terraces. The impressive potager grows a vast range of wonderful vegetables with the recent addition of a rare historic vine collection of the region. An early evening meal and wine tasting from the estate is included before returning to the hotel.
Day 3: Sunday, September 18
Walk out from the hotel through the lively market of Amboise before boarding the coach to La Bourdaisière where Louis Albert de Broglie, 'Le Prince Jardinier' indulges his passion for tomatoes. Adjacent to his small hotel is a collection of over 600 cultivars of tomatoes as well as an extensive dahlia collection. Later we drive to a tranquil valley to meet plantswoman Rosamée Henrion at Le Jardin du Plessis Sasnières with a special invitation to lunch and a private tour of her garden surrounding the elegant small château and lake. Return to Le Choiseul for dinner together.
Day 4: Monday, September 19
The International Garden Festival at Chaumont is now in its 28th year and this year will feature 30 selected garden designs with the theme of ‘Gardens of the coming century’. The gardens are always built and planted to the highest standards and are great fun to wander through. Designer Jacques Wirtz has employed a great deal of style and skill in merging the historic château parkland with the show grounds. Lunch is included at Chaumont before driving to Romorantin-Lanthenay, capital of Sologne. We stay and dine at Grand Hôtel du Lion d'Or for the next two nights, where Grand Chef, Didier Clément, the proprietor, takes great delight in experimenting with natural flavours accompanied by wines of the Loire.
Day 5: Tuesday, September 20
Prieuré Notre-Dame d'Orsan is a former monastery with gardens inspired by medieval tapestries and illuminations. Designed by two architects, Sonia Lesot & Patrice Taravella, these remarkable gardens combine symbolic designs and organic crop production. Head Gardener Giles Guillot will introduce us to the gardens that have been an inspiration to so many. Lunch is included before driving through the Berry region to Château Bouges, a small, intimate château with neat formal grounds and wonderful Jardin Bouquetier (cut flower garden). Return to Grand Hôtel du Lion d'Or to dine together in style.
Day 6: Wednesday, September 21
We visit the privately owned Arboretum des Grandes Bruyères: a fine collection of more than 6,000 trees and shrubs grown over 25 acres, including the French National Collections of Magnolia, Cornus and Quercus. After a light lunch we return to Orly airport to check-in for the 19:35 departure on BA0337, arriving at London Heathrow at 19:50.