Friday, May 20, 2016

To Stop and Smell the Roses

Menton is a small village on the eastern end of the French Riviera with a reputation for its gardens.  
Kelly and Pete met a man at church last month who told them he lived in Menton and could walk down the hill from his house and have espresso in Italy. 
 While in Paris, we visited the temporary exhibit at the Institut du Monde Arabe that introduced us to Les Jardin Essaiye, the experimental gardens of the Côte d'Azur where succulents, cacti and other exotic plants were originally imported to determine their uses in French botanical gardens.  
So, with a free week ahead of us and school behind us, Camille researched the gardens of Menton and we planned a day trip.  

There are several private gardens, some public, all open to the public only on certain days at certain times.  Monday is a good day to visit with two of the most popular gardens open, Fontana Rosa in the morning and Val Rahmeh in the afternoon.  A little more research told us that of the two train stations in Menton, Menton-Garavan on the eastern side is closest to the "Garden District".

Fontana Rosa, built by Blasco Ibanez, a spanish author and filmmaker, in 1928 had fallen into disrepair until it was restored over the last twenty years.  We walked through the gate into a group already formed around the guide who looked directly at me and spoke in French.  I understood him and quickly paid the entry fee for me, I was able to tell him in French that the children were 14 and 16 year old students(=free).  He then looked at me and continued in French asking me if I had any questions.  From the rest of the group....crickets.  I quickly formulated my sentence and explained(again in French) that I spoke a little French(petite peu) was it possible for him to speak a little english or no? And the rest of the group jumped to the rescue!  It turned out that in the group of 8- there was an English teacher, Spanish teacher and an Italian teacher.  They all said they would help translate and off we went.

How much more of a Riviera experience could we have asked for?

 So we toured the crumbling gardens of Ibanez that were built to celebrate famous authors:  Cervantes, Dickens and Balzac.  He used majolica tiles reminiscent of his spanish heritage and the micro climate in Menton from the mountains and the sea, enable tropical plants to grow and flourish. He also built garden rooms to create comfortable seats and solitude where a visitor could relax and read.   There were citrus and nenuphars(water lilies) and banyan trees and iris.  We recognized parts that echoed the Alcazar and the Alhambra and even benches that reminded us of Gaudi's Parc Guell.  Rose bushes were scattered throughout and each smelled different, and wonderful, and their blooms are huge.

The final stop on the tour was the little temple like structure with a bust of Cervantes in the middle of the small pond.  We were delighted to see that the majolica behind the bust told the story "de la Mancha" and, with the Spanish teacher, we picked out Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and she talked about Dulcinea...I couldn't find any moulins(windmills) and she quickly pointed..." la.."
Majolica tiles that told the story of Don Quixote.
The black was only introduced into the tiles during
the Art Nouveau period(early 1900s).
The gardens were a gift, but to share them with that particular group was an experience.

I liked how the tile columns mimic tree trunks
adding color and whimsy to the natural space.

A view of Menton from the beach.

After lunch at the beach and the best gelato we have had since Italy, I had mojito-lime sorbet with fresh mint in it!-We headed back out to find the Val Rahmeh Gardens.  After a little misdirection through the Jardin des Oliviers, from what I am going to tell myself were a well meaning french couple, we walked down a stairwell into a valley filled with tropical plants.  The yellow stucco and rod iron gate directed us down a driveway lined with palms whose branches were even with the mountains on either side of the gardens.

yellow bamboo
Val Rahmeh was built and nurtured by Lord Radcliffe in the early 1900s and named for his second wife's name was Rahmeh which means tranquility in Persian arabic.  He purchased the grove of palms leading up to the home and set about landscaping and cultivating plant species.  The small valley provided the perfect protection for over 700 species of plants and the canopy of the trees makes you feel like you have entered another world.  The paths wind you up and down the side of the valley and stairs lead you to a high garden with a grassy space and pond filled with waterlilies and a view of the Mediterranean while looking at the tops of citrus trees.

The time and energy spent to create this garden are impressive.  These gardens are a celebration of nature and its creations while also using man's creativity to build garden rooms and inspiring spaces.
I was inspired.  Most of these plants will grow in the Southern Alabama heat just not sure about the humidity.  Camille, Pete and I have hatched plans on this trip to get a birdcage with birds (we still debate parrot vs. several small songbirds), a boule court for Kelly and Mr. Holder, and now we have plans to plant and terrace the back of our yard. #leisuregoals


  1. السلامه عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته نحن فى شركة الكمال نقوم بافضل واقوى المبيدات العالميه الموجودة

    التى تقضى على جميع الحشرات الطائره والزاحفة وابادة الحشرات
    شركة مكافحة حشرات بالطائف
    شركة مكافحة حشرات بجازان
    شركة مكافحة حشرات بحائل
    والسلامة عليكم وحمة الله وبركاته