France's love affair with gardens is no secret; symmetrical beds, razor-sharp lines, cool palettes, and strict geometry define gardens à la française. But, within this grand tradition, there's an enormous diversity, from the majesty of Versailles to the pastel gentility of Giverny. Check out our list of the six most incredible gardens blooming in France.
The palace of Versailles was meant to be a masterpiece, and in that, the gardens function as the frame: setting of the beauty of the work, and without which, the piece would be incomplete. In 1661, Louis XIV instructed André Le Nôtre to drain and level the marshland to create the parkland for the palace, he did one better. He created a verdant playground of arabesques and curliques in shrubbery and flowers, a garden for gods meant to be viewed at a distance. Walking amongst the orange trees and opulant statuary is like walking through time to the decadence of the Sun King and Marie Antoinette.
2. Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris
While the Jardin du Luxembourg alternates between the formality of French beds and the whimsicality of English gardens, its origins are from elsewhere: the Boboli Gardens of Florence. Queen Marie de Medici created the gardens to mimic her home city's elegance in the early 17th century, flourishing into the beloved Left Bank spot (and best place in Paris for a picnic). Among the blossoms are hundreds of statues, a bee colony, and several ponds and water features.
3. Jardin des Plantes, Toulouse
In the heart of La Ville Rose (the Pink City—so named for its ubiquitous brick buildings) lays the Jardin des Plantes, an oasis of swan-filled ponds, pony trails, and nearly 100 kinds of deciduous trees. Formed as a sort of living library of plants and herbs for medical students, it's blossomed into the green city respite it is today.
4.Gardens of the Château de Chenonceau, Loire Valley
This garden is entwined a Medici as well, but this time it was Queen Catherine sharing the spotlight. The stunning château, bridging the Cher river, was once a gift from King Henry II to his beloved mistress in the 16th century. After his death, Catherine forced Diane out, and made the chateau her own. The vestiges of both owners remain the form of two gardens—that of Diane de Poitiers (a grand French-style garden with diagonal paths, raised to appear to be floating in the river) and that of Catherine (boasting orange trees and a large circular basin, with views of the moat). The Renaissance/Gothic estate also features a vegetable garden, a large park, and a maze.
5. Monet's Gardens, Giverny
It's fitting that the master of open-air painting should have a garden like this. Water, sky, and flowers kaleidescope in a festival of colors that make visitors want to sit down and soak it in, or pick up a paintbrush and get to work. With its floating lilies and Japanese-style bridge, the beauty of the gardens is synonymous with the Impressionists.
6. The Hanging Gardens of Marqueyssac, Périgord
Known in French as "les jardins suspendus de Marqueyssac," this whimsical boxwood topiary does just that—it appears to cling to the edge of the cliff while the shrubs twist and flourish at the mercy of the gardeners, the domain of the resident peacocks. The gardens were created about three centuries ago by disciples of Le Nôtre, the genuis behind Versailles. While Marqueyssac is smaller in scale, it's just as grand in its own right. On Thursday evenings, when the weather is warm, the gardens are dotted with lit candles to enhance their natural magic.