The Villa Mariani in Bordighera: olive and palm trees painted by Claude Monet
A cottage whose original architect was Charles Garnier, the architect of the Monte-Carlo Opera and Grand-Opera in Paris and who was engaged by Countess Fanshawe. The cottage which was later extended by other architects dominates a lush garden. The garden’s olive, orange, mandarin, lemon and palm trees have been there for centuries. It’s in this green haven overlooking the Bordighera coast that Claude Monet has created his several masterpieces.
In February 1884, having discovered this magical place, the master of impressionism wrote: “This kind of a garden is beyond description, it is pure magic. Plants from all around the world grow here, without any obvious nursing”.
This wild aspect is truly fascinating, particularly in a place where Claude Monet put his easel to capture the purity of the scene for his “motif” paintings. Two intertwined olive trees nicknamed “the lovers” or the Bordighera bell tower framed by lush vegetation — these paintings witness that nature has remained intact here.
Claude Monet was dazzled by these century-old trees and a number of exotic plants that had been brought to the villa by its first owner, a rich olive oil and lemon exporter, Francesco Moreno, from his many world travels. This garden conceals views specially chosen by Monet for some of his paintings like “The View of Ventimiglia” currently owned by the Glasgow Museum or “A Garden in Bordighera” exposed by the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg.
In 1909, an Italian painter Pompeo Mariani bought the villa. His monumental workshop is still intact. A 250 square metre studio, bathed in sunlight, boasts a collection of some rare artist’s belongings and paintings. This is a great pit-stop after a garden walk in the footsteps of two great impressionists: Pompeo Mariani, famous for his sumptuous seascapes, and Claude Monet, enamoured with flowers and water lilies.
Visits by reservation only.
Via Fontana Vecchia, 5
Bordighera Historical Centre
Tel +39(0)1 8426 5556
The Exotic Garden of Èze-Village: pinned to the heavens by its cacti
A site remarkable in every way. One of the most beautiful villages on the French Riviera is home to a garden that seems to be suspended between the sky and the sea, plunging us into a colourful dream. A symphony of green, from its most tender to the darkest shade, is fascinating in its monochromy, while the slender cacti are crowned by yellow, orange or pink blossoms — their spines seemingly pinning the garden to the heavens.
Classed as a “Remarkable Garden” since 2014, the Exotic Garden of Èze is a little gem overlooking the Mediterranean coast. There are also several perfectly harmonious sculptures — the silhouettes of women by Jean-Philippe Richard made of bronze and a special composite with earth (that’s why they are often called “earth goddesses”). The statues shaped by the artist’s hand happily converse with the surprising creations of nature surrounding them, such as euphorbia, agave, aloe and yucca… The abundance of shapes defies the imagination, the Garden of Èze is evidently boasting its truly rare collection.
The succulents from desert regions harmoniously coexist with the Mediterranean species. The Garden of Èze is taking us on a journey through North America and South Africa in quest of cacti and succulents before we discover another universe of myrtles, cistus and arbutus (strawberry trees) populating the shadier and more humid north slopes. The western part enjoys still another atmosphere with subtropical plants growing next to a pergola and a refreshing waterfall.
As to its exceptional panorama, on a clear day you may admire the coast as far as Cap Camarat, in the Saint-Tropez area. Truly fascinating.
Jardin exotique d’Èze
Rue du Château (village hilltop)
Tel +33(0)4 9341 2600
Domaine du Rayol: Mediterranean landscapes from all around the world
This one of a kind park is based in Canadel-sur-Mer, between Le Lavandou and Saint-Tropez, at the very foot of the Maures Massif. Facing the Hyères Islands, in the Var, the Rayol area boasts 20 hectares of preserved vegetation in an exceptional setting. For thirty years, this vast garden has been owned by the Conservatoire du littoral, a French public organisation protecting outstanding natural coastal areas — closely adhering to the philosophy of Gilles Clément, the famous French garden designer. This outstanding landscaper advocates an intelligent “laissez-faire” approach. Gardeners only intervene with a most careful respect for the trees’ and plants’ natural cycle. For example, fallen leaves do not get picked up, enriching the soil, and very scarce watering allows for the plants to survive even despite the drought. Man’s mission is thus making the best of the diversity while carefully preserving it.
Domaine du Rayol takes us on a world journey across the Mediterranean landscapes. This climate of mild winters and hot, dry summers is typical not only within Europe but also in California, Australia, parts of Chile and South Africa too. The gardens thus recreate the atmosphere of some very remote regions. Domaine du Rayol is also treating us to some «special guest» plants such as New Zealand ferns, Asian bamboos or Mexican cacti.
On top of the 7-hectare garden, the estate also owns a 13-hectare maquis shrubland area cultivated to reduce potential fire risk. A few times a year, thematic visits are organized introducing us to the secret life of the shrubs. Several guided tours are held every day, with the mission of raising public awareness with respect to the preservation of the species and phytotherapy.
Domaine du Rayol
Avenue Jacques Chirac
Тel +33(0)4 9804 4400
Sacha Guitry Park in Cap d’Ail: charm and serenity
He had the wit, the charm, a certain self-esteem and a taste for beautiful things. Saint Petersburg-born playwright Sacha Guitry, like many other artists, was fond of the sun-bathed Riviera landscapes – to the point of living in a sumptuous Cap d’Ail villa on the coastal path leading to the Principality of Monaco. Built in 1904 and known as Villa Gioia Mia, Sasha renamed it “Les Funambules” (tightrope walkers) alluding to his childhood spent in the actors’ family. He wrote his many plays here, full of caustic and devastating humour. This haven of tranquility, greenery and breathtaking Mediterranean views, gave him comfort and inspiration.
A park was eventually created above this Belle Epoque house, named after the writer. These charming gardens are paying homage to the natural elegance of this extraordinary man.
As soon as you take Boulevard François de May, an imposing banana tree will catch your attention. As you slowly descend towards the sea, you are greeted by the Aleppo pines, holm oaks and a carob tree with its dry seeds serving as a carat standard for jewellers. You will then see a beautiful “cycas revoluta” (dwarf false palm) planted in the midst of endemic ferns and delicate greenery. A small path takes us under a pergola topped with fragrant jasmine, continuing into typical Mediterranean plantations: olives, carob trees, agaves, aloes, myrtles and succulents…
When you head back, enjoy the view of the snow white “Les Funambules” facade standing out against the azure sea. The famous film by Sacha Guitry then comes to mind: “Let’s make a dream”…
Parc Sacha Guitry
Boulevard François de May, Cap d’Ail
Open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.