“Maritime” – that’s often the first association people have when asked about their image of this region in northwest France. Colours – the blue and white of the sea, sky and clouds – are more detailed aspects of Brittany’s image as are elements such as the typical dress and ceramics. More colour is added thanks to the Emerald Coast and the Coast of Pink Granite as well as the green inland landscape. Rugged cliffs to the north, gentle beaches to the south, bays and spreading river valleys. Small towns with weathered stone houses and numerous prehistoric sites. Cuisine dominated by fish and seafood as well as crêpes and galettes, their savoury cousins.
Gardens, by contrast, are almost always associated with Brittany’s neighbours across the sea – the regions of southern England. And yet as a land of gardens, Brittany is historically one of those European regions where exotic plants found their first new home. Besides plant collectors, it was traders and seafarers who brought native plants or their seeds back from the colonies and overseas. They planted these in their own gardens or brought them to the botanic gardens, where they underwent scientific analysis as well as being reproduced and tested for their compatibility with the European climate.
These are the characteristics which the EGHN Garden Route has taken up with the “Garden Coast” theme. The route leads to eleven parks and gardens whose quality and diversity is a surprise even for garden lovers and garden experts. The sites, most of which are privately owned, are tended with great care and a wealth of knowledge. Like the parks and gardens, the diverse cultural landscape here profits from the special climate and the long history of this coastal region.
Water is not incorporated into the gardens in Brittany to nearly the same extent as it is incorporated into the gardens at the lakes of Upper Italy, for example. As a result of their tidal changes, the sea, bays and rivers of Brittany are not always gentle and picturesque. The sea – a trade route and a source of income – was not necessarily part of idyllic garden designs but rather a permanent threat due to its high tides and storms. And this was a constant situation – not just as in 1987, when a hurricane ravaged entire forests, thereby enabling the creation of a new garden around La Roche Jagu.
Furthermore, the castles and manor houses in Brittany are hidden rather than dominating the landscape, as is the case, e.g. on the Loire or in England. Visitors who discover them will find tranquillity and relaxation here, even in summer.
A trip to Brittany’s gardens is thus a journey of discovery. Picturesque landscapes, dramatic coasts, churches and monasteries, (pre)historic sites and not least the numerous inviting small towns are much more than mere stop-offs on a journey of this kind. They are sights which are characterised by history and intact nature or are places of active experience. Even if Brittany is located in the north of the country, it is still truly a part of France, this country of “savoir vivre”. And it is precisely here on the garden coast that some fascinating and unique facets of this delightful way of living can be found.
Additional information on the great variety of parks and gardens in Brittany can be found on the website of the Association of Parks and Gardens in Brittany.