Discover the Joys of Nature at Domaine du Rayol

Discover the Joys of Nature at Domaine du Rayol

Located at the foot of the Massif des Maures in the Var region of Southern France, the Domaine du Rayol with its twenty acres of lush, verdant scenery, will delight anyone keen to discover the joys of nature. Here the sky, the sea and the earth seem to merge together to give a true sense of harmony. The Jardin des Mediterraneesis a treasure tucked into the rugged shoreline as the D559 coast road winds its precarious way from Cavalaire to Rayol, and you could easily miss the sharp turn-off that leads down the mountain. 

Photo: Gillie Hutchinson

The entry fee is 14 Euros which includes a detailed map of the 5km of pathways within the gardens, as well as a QR code to access the audio guide. There are no less than ten different landscapes evoking Mediterranean-style gardens from around the world – from Australia to South Africa, the tropics of South America to Asia, Chile to New Zealand, the Canaries to the desert of America – each geographic area replicated in miniature by its distinct emblematic plants and botanical array. The curve of each winding pathway unveils a new spirit in a new garden perspective. 

Wisely, I have worn my comfortable walking shoes as the stone steps and descending walkways are best trodden in enclosed shoes. The sweeping views from the Hotel de la Meron arrival are magnificent, and as I begin my garden tour I pass discreet wooden benches dotted among the trees providing rest points along the path. I wind my way down to the Maison de la Plageat the beach and discover an illustrated exposition of the plentiful underwater plant and marine life, naming some of the seafood found on many a local menu. The shallow turquoise waters, bathed in warm sand and sunshine offer the perfect habitat.  

I stroll back uphill toward the Sub Tropical terrain, through tall bamboo corridors, past exotic palms and climbing plants to waterfalls where the loveliest birdsong pervades my senses. I sit beside an old stone water well, its ochre walls in harmony with the lush greenery, and inhale deeply. The woodsy scent of the forest and plants is both fresh and invigorating and conjures images of far-off places. Another steep flight of stone steps brings me to La Fermewhere the restaurant Le Cafe des Jardiniersstands, its chairs and tables gathered opposite under a canopy of netting offering shade from the fierce midday sun. Vivid magenta Bourgainvillea adorns the front archway of the restaurant, climbing up to blue wooden shutters facing splendid views of the Golden Isles of Hyeres in the distance – a group of idyllic islands of Porquerolles, Port Cros, Ile du Levant and Ice de Bagaud. I enjoy a burrata and fresh pesto salad with a glass of chilled Rose wine and review the map for later. 

After lunch, I decide to take the path towards the ‘Chili d’Altitude’ garden and I am thrilled to meet one of the guides on his tour who points out an area of dazzling flowering cacti which are only found here in Springtime. Each flower is like a piece of Burano-blown glass in an iridescent shade of deep turquoise, the colour of a drake’s head. Swarms of tiny bees cover each plant, intoxicated by the pollen, flitting from flower to flower in a lively buzzing dance.  By now, my camera is in overdrive as each new sight and sound overtakes me.

On to the botanical gardens, past aromatic Myrtle, Olive, Fan Palms, Flax-leaved Daphne with its thick honeydew nectar, fragrant and varied-leaved Cistus, Strawberry trees where the two-tailed Pasha butterfly lays her eggs, past flax-leaved Broom with its leaves covered in light down giving them a silvery sheen, Holm Oak, Sarsaparilla or climbing plant, and Mastic trees whose paste is still used on the Greek island of Chios for medicines and cosmetics.  

I arrive at ‘La Villa Rayolet’ with its deserted palisades, which dominates the lower hillside to the East, and feel a true sense of tranquility.  Other visitors linger at their lunch tables and the peace and quiet is a blessing. Inspired by my lone sense of discovery, I clamber down a narrow beach path towards the very tip of the gardens at ‘La Pointe du Figuier’ and arrive in a tiny, sandy oasis facing the rocks and sea. Surrounded by fig trees, I lean on a giant log and listen to the sound of the sea lapping at the shore and peer out at distant sail boats, like white clouds kissing the blue. 

Within two hours I have indeed walked 5km and I land at the book shop on my way out to buy a book about these exceptional gardens so I can long remember this day.

An avid traveler, with a passion for travel writing and cooking, Gillie Hutchinson loves exploring new cultures, fashions and cuisines.

Lead photo credit : Domaine du Rayol, Photo: Gillie Hutchinson

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An avid traveler, with a passion for travel writing and cooking, I love exploring new cultures, fashions and cuisines. With a holiday home on the Côte d’Azur, I enjoy the wonderful Mediterranean lifestyle and sharing my experiences on my website: