The village of Le Rayol-Canadel, between St Tropez and Le Lavandou, is most famous for the extraordinary gardens of Domaine du Rayol in one of the most gorgeous settings along this part of the coast. The Gardens are on the headland overlooking the sea and the bay of Figuier, encircled by a verdant amphitheatre of trees, cork-oaks, mimosa and pines. The commune of two conjoined villages, Le Rayol and Canadel, has developed around the beach, delightfully sheltered by pine woods, with Provencal- style village houses and a large marina. Popular in summer, it is also a good base for winter, either for the gentle micro-climate of the bay, or for access to the ski slopes of Greolières les Neiges only 2 hours away.
The gardens of Le Rayol date from 1910, a period when many rich families settled on this previously undeveloped stretch of coast. Banker Alfred Theodore Courmes built an art nouveau mansion here, along with a summer house and a grand classical pergola, surrounding it all with exotic gardens. When he went bust - it was either the stock market crash of 1929 or over enthusiastic gambling in Monte Carlo that did for him, or perhaps a combination of both, the property was bought by aeronautics engineer Potez in 1940, and he began the rescue of estate and gardens. He constructed a splendid flight of steps lined with cypress trees which lead down to the beach and a bamboo plantation – now one of the glories of the gardens.
Subsequently the entire property fell into disrepair again and the gardens were very neglected. In 1989 they were bought by the Conservatoire du Littoral (the Coastal Protection Society) in an effort to conserve part of this precious coastline from development. Now the Domaine has been landscaped into an amazing variety of different gardens, growing plants from Mediterranean climates around the world - California, Chile, South Africa, and Australia.
You can wander along the paths through the gardens glimpsing the turquoise sea below through the trees which include dragon trees, eucalyptus, cacti, gum trees and many varieties of palm. Professional gardeners give well informed guided tours. In summer you can also take a guided snorkelling tour of a marine garden. The whole Domaine is wonderful to explore at any time of year, in summer when concerts are held here on balmy evenings, but also glorious in spring and autumn and quite exquisite under a rare fall of snow .
The Domaine du Rayol is a large botanical garden located beside the Mediterranean just to the southeast of Rayol-Canadel-sur-Mer. This beautiful area of trees, bushes and flowers is divided into different botanical regions of the world, including Le Jardin de la Méditerranée.
It takes about one and a half hours to follow the marked, 2 km itinerary but you should plan on a half-day for a leisurely tour, exploration and photography. It's just a couple minute's drive down from Le Rayol, and there's parking at the entrance.
Entry is 8 € adults, 5 € Children.
Copyright © 2011 Rosemary Bailey
Copyright Images : Informationfrance 2011