ORNE'S secret gardens

Jardin de la Bourdonnière

Think France, think ''la vie en rose''!  And now more than ever as the rising popularity of l'horticulture means more French are gardeners – and more gardeners are opening up their corners of paradise to visitors.

Temperate Orne has patches of brilliance everywhere – in all styles.  For relaxed eclecticism, try la Bourdonnière.  For discipline and formality, step between the box borders of grandes maisons like Château de Sassy. 

Or there's the award-winning jewel of La Petite Rochelle at Rémalard - a glorious patchwork of seven "garden rooms" where you can wander freely or sit with your book or a sketchpad. In 2006, it was winner of the "Best Park in France" prize.

Nor do you have to be a gardener to enjoy them.  With Gallic inspiration, one or two owners offer culture alongside cultivation.  So, put up an easel for a course in watercolours at Domaine de la Louveterie – or hear a Schubert quintet at la Mansonière.