Further to Wednesday's cri de coeur about where to start, I've created a Google Map to summarise our trip and to start to get my head around my amazing time in France. You can get the full interactive map experience here (NB do take the link, the map on display here is just a jpeg image). When you're in the map, click on each place on the map itself or on the list at the side, and you'll find some initial thoughts on each place we visited, stayed or ate at, plus a summary photo or two to set the scene.
Looking at the map, it's clear that in/near Rouen, Chartres and Tours would make ideal bases for various parts of the trip if you wish to see for yourself. Dieppe is a suitable alternative entry point for those of you in the south-east (from Newhaven), instead of our Portsmouth/Le Havre combo. We completed our tour in 5 days at full steam ahead, bookended by overnight cabins on the ferry. I'd recommend at least double that to enjoy and explore each place more fully than we did.
I'll update the map with websites and links to articles/blog posts later, and I'll also be using it as a reference throughout my forthcoming bloggage.
If you have any questions or comments about the trip, I'll endeavour to add answers on the map as appropriate as well as replying to you directly. I've had some useful conversations already via Twitter and Facebook, and one of my USA pals is keen to discuss the trip as a possibility for herself when we meet at the Garden Bloggers Fling next month.
Your suggestions for further gardens you've enjoyed in these regions are also welcome - I already have some for planning the next trip. They include Jardin Plume, Sericourt, Parc du Bois des Moutiers, Le Lude, Talcy and Villandry. I also like the look of Etretat from the leaflet I picked up along the way, and Naomi from Out of My Shed has pointed me in the direction of the rose festival at Chedigny, usually held at the end of May.
The port of Le Havre is also worth a look, especially as it celebrates its 500th anniversary this year, and note that Val de Loire has designated 2017 as Jardins en Val de Loire, with plenty of extra gardens-related action to usual. There's also an interactive map on the Normandy tourism website of over 100 gardens to visit, which leaves you spoilt for choice. In the Loire, there's the new iris route for this time of the year, or if you're a keen cyclist, you may like to make a leisurely tour of the Loire using the Loire à Vélo website.
If you're an RHS member, then note you may have free entry to some French gardens; i.e. those designated as RHS Partner Gardens. At the time of writing this includes Le Rivau and Valmer we visited, plus more besides. You can also buy a pass in advance (online or at local tourist offices) to some of the Loire chateaux - full details are here. Otherwise admission prices to gardens/properties are broadly in line with the UK (thanks to the strong Euro).
Most properties also have special events, especially cultural ones such as art exhibitions, and outdoor theatre or opera. It was noticeable that performances are generally well priced compared to similar events in the UK.
NB It's worth checking opening times before you go. Some properties close for lunch, as do some local shops/post offices/banks/cafes in the smaller towns and villages. The gardens may also have limited opening hours during the week, or on Bank Holidays (NB these are different to ours), or according to the time of year.
I love the idea of the Chartres Greeters scheme, where you can hook up with a volunteer to show you their city tailored to your interests. We were due to go on a garden walk with a Greeter on arrival in Chartres, but unfortunately time and rain conspired against us on the day. It's a pity because our drive into the city revealed much of interest from a parks and public planting point of view.
I was the guest of Normandy and Loire Valley tourism, who put together a fantastic programme of varied gardens, accommodation and food for our visit.
As usual, the words and opinions are my own and there are no affiliate links or cookies associated with this post.
NB the information and links are correct at the time of writing in 2017, though may be subject to change. Let me know if you spot any broken links in this post or on my map.