Part of France’s enduring appeal for me are its wonderful Plus Beaux Villages, many of which simply pop up out of nowhere. This can definitely be said of beautiful Gerberoy, a veritable medieval hideaway nestled off the D930 in Picardy.
Nicknamed the “village of a thousand rose bushes”, Gerberoy offers visitors in the spring and summer months a truly sensory experience. I arrive on the fairytale village’s main thoroughfare, Rue du Logis du Roy, on a balmy morning in early June and am rewarded with just that: before me lies a snaking street of timber-framed and brick houses – each one painted differently from the last – draped in fragrant salmon pink and crimson roses and fringed by bushy hydrangeas in shades of deep purple and ruby red.
The village’s reputation for stunning roses and other flora is thanks to its most famous resident, Intimist artist Henri Le Sidaner. Keen to move to the countryside where he could paint in reflective solitude, Le Sidaner was introduced to an enchanting dwelling in the heart of Gerberoy in 1901.
He fell in love with the property – where the gardens and orchard lay on the ruins of a citadel – and spent the rest of his life constructing a wonderful garden, which would feature in many of his paintings, and serve as a rival that of his contemporary Claude Monet, who lived over in the Normandy village of Giverny.
Behind the 15th-century collegiate church of Saint-Pierre, I move through a small door into Le Sidaner’s impressive gardens and come straight to a patio affording views over the roofs of Gerberoy and the bucolic countryside beyond. I can instantly see the appeal.
Arranged over three levels, the painter’s Italian-style gardens are stunning: rambling roses vie for my attention alongside bunches of cascading wisteria, voluptuous, fiery pink hydrangeas, foaming white philadelphus and swathes of sweet-smelling honeysuckle. On the foundations of the old fortress there is even a Temple of Love, which is modelled on the one featured within the gardens of the Petit Trianon, in Versailles.
Flower power in Gerberoy
Once firmly settled in Gerberoy, Le Sidaner gradually encouraged his fellow villagers to become more green-fingered and plant rose bushes everywhere to further embellish the village’s quaint houses and lanes. It’s safe to say that Le Sidaner’s idea well and truly paid off, with the results of this green initiative now there for everyone – visitors and locals alike – to enjoy.
A short stroll away lies the Jardin des Ifs, which became a Jardin Remarquable in 2016 for its rare collection of yew trees. These 17th-century symmetrical gardens are decorated with topiary of various shapes and sizes and, as a nod to the village’s longstanding love affair with roses, more than 45 ancient and modern varieties of the fragrant flower.
There is no doubt that Gerberoy is a magical village, and it should come as no surprise to find other artists pitching up and encapsulating the view on canvas. I happen upon one such person as I take in the Instagram-worthy cobbled streets for the last time: “It’s such a magical village”, says Jean-Paul, an artist from neighbouring Normandy. “Le Sidaner was no fool deciding to live here”, he adds, putting the finishing touches to his painting. And I most certainly agree.
Where to stay: Le Logis de Gerberoy boasts five well-appointed rooms and a restaurant operating several nights per week and serving regional dishes. Rooms from €80 per night.
Where to eat: Le Jardin des Ifs serves a wide range of delicious sweet treats, including “Le Petit Gerberoy”, a dessert made from fromage frais and roses taken from the on-site flower garden.