With the plentiful snowfall of this winter season au Pays du Mont-Blanc, it is hard to imagine that we have now officially entered a new season . . .🌷🌹🌺🌱SPRING🌹🌺🌷🌱 !!! When crocuses first timidly reach out to the sun from their bed of grass, when the first almond and cherry blossoms appear in their splendid hues of pink, when magnolia trees blossom in splendid glory, when spring flower displays proudly adorn our centre villes and alpine chalet balconies . . . and later on the bunches of Lily of the Valley for Fête du Muguet, foxgloves in alpine pastures, chestnut trees blossoming on the quais of Sallanches . . . So where to see all this springtime splendour, as the days become milder (we hope!) and longer? Springtime is the perfect time to visit parks, gardens or arboretums . . . or to simply take a walk in nature and appreciate the wild flowers . . . so here are some ideas not too far from home:
Colour code for listings:
Chamonix Valley (Chamonix, Argentière, Les Houches, Servoz & Vallorcine)
Passy & environs
Sallanches, Combloux, Cordon & Domancy
St Gervais, Le Fayet & environs
Megève, Praz-sur-Arly & environs
Les Contamines & environs
Events for your diary
March & April
- from 31st March to 6th May – «Fête de la Tulipe» in Morges (Switzerland) – read MBFF post here / website for more information;
May & June
- 1st May – «Fête du Muguet» – when bunches of Lily of the Valley are sold in shops and on street corners;
- from 6th May to 15th July – «Botanica» festival Switzerland – the theme of this year’s festival is «Les dernières de leur espèce», and there will be conferences, exhibitions, guided visits, workshops and visits at several Swiss gardens / more information here / «Botanica» programme;
- from 23rd to 27th May – «Fête de la Nature» (12e édition) in France / with lots of Portes Ouvertes and free workshops / the theme this year is «Voir l’invisible» / see website for more details and to check for events that are taking place close to home;
- from 25th to 27th May – «Fête de la Nature» in Switzerland / 300 free nature activities organised across Switzerland / see FB page;
- from 1st to 3rd June – «Rendez-vous aux jardins» – the theme this year is «l’Europe des Jardins» / see website or FB page for more details;
Pays du Mont-Blanc & environs
Jardin Botanique de la Flégère
Once the snow has begun to recede, the hikers come out to explore the walks around Flégère and the abundant lakes of the Réserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges and the Carlaveyron: Lac Blanc, Lacs des Cheserys, Lac Cornu, Lacs Noirs, Lac du Brévent . . . the view of the Massif du Mont-Blanc is superb from here.
And there is now a small botanical garden to explore from the top of the Flégère cable-car (during the warmer months)!
a little history – the idea to create a botanical garden with the local flora for visitors began to take shape in the spring of 2012 . . . Flégère, being south-facing and hence attracting plentiful sunshine, and having rich specimens present on the site, seemed like an obvious choice of location . . .the Compagnie du Mont Blanc chose the local association «Plantes Magiques» to maintain the site . . . a few volunteers and much hard toil later, and the garden was open to the public. You will find signs in French, English and Japanese / more information here.
how to get there – take the Téléphérique de la Flégère from Les Praz.
Foxgloves (Alpage de Charousse, Les Houches)
You’ll have to wait a bit longer to appreciate the abundant foxloves (les lupins) that spring up in the Alpage de Charousse in Les Houches (May and June) . . . here, next to the traditional rustic chalets, you will feel like you have travelled back in time. There is a very family-friendly hiking boucle to be done here, which is about 1 hour long, and you can find lovely spots to picnic. Be sure to take your camera!
During the spring and summer months, wild flowers are abundant on alpine walks . . . these ones I found in Sallanches, on a walk to Tournieux-Mayères-Doran and on a short family walk to the Sapin Président (all above Sallanches) in June . . .
Le Jardin des Cimes (Plateau d’Assy)
The Jardin des Cimes in Plateau d’Assy is a magical and innovative alpine garden and it re-opens after its winter hibernation on Saturday 26th May 2018. It will then remain open until Sunday 30th September 2018, every day 10h until 18h/18h30 / there are plants for sale early in the spring opening season / for more information, see MBFF post here / price: adults 5€ to 6,50€, children (4 o 16 years) 3€ to 4€, under 4s FREE and family 14€ / *good to know: there is a lovely café/restaurant (open to the public, no need to pay garden entrance) – Le Café du Jardin – serving seasonal dishes AND workshops for children on Wednesdays during the summer/autumn months / address: 447 route du Docteur Davy, Plateau d’Assy, 74190, Passy / tel: +33 (0)4 50 21 50 87 / website;
Sallanches springtime walk
The springtime blossoms on the Place Saint-Jacques in Sallanches are lovely (in 2017, they were in full swing by early April) . . . and the gardeners are hard at work to make the Place Charles Albert look springlike . . . see MBFF post Sallanches Springtime Family Stroll (how to enjoy the blossoms while taking in a little of Sallanches’ history, and some playgrounds and a coffee stop too!).
Later on in springtime (late May 2017), a stroll along Sallanches’ quais will reward you with the châtaignes in flower . . .
Jaÿsinia Jardin Alpin in Samoëns
Classified as a jardin remarquable, the Jaÿsinia Jardin Alpin in Samoëns has around 4800 mountain plants from 2500 species (from 5 continents) and it is scientifically managed by the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. Within the grounds is a scientific laboratory, with a collection of plants from Savoie. This unique little alpine garden, with little waterfalls at certain points, clings to the side of a hill; a path snakes up to the top of the hill (80m of dénivelé), from where you can look out onto the village and where you will find to the ruins of the Château de la Tornalta (XIIème), and an 18th century chapel.
a little history – the founders of the famous Parisian department store La Samaritaine – Marie Louise Jaÿ (from Samoëns) and Ernest Cognacqhuge – made a fortune, but had no heirs . . . so, in 1906 Marie Louise, never having forgotten her village natal, created Jaÿsinia.
opening hours: 1st May until 30th September 2018, every day from 8h to 12h and from 13h30 to 19h / from 1st October to 30th April, every day from 8h to 12h and from 13h30 to 16h30 (except during snow cover, in order to protect fragile species) / price: FREE! / address: 40 rue du Parc, 74340, Samoëns / website;
Jardins de l’Europe (Annecy)
Located right next to Lac d’Annecy, the Jardins de l’Europe are a lovely place for a walk or picnic, with playgrounds for children, paths for buggies/draisiennes.
a little history – since the Middle Ages, these gardens have had many uses – they were religious land until the Revolution and until the end of the Middle Ages, when there were epedemic outbreaks, the land was used to house contagious people on little islets in «cabanes de santé» . . . a religious order then turned the land into the gardens of its convent, linked by a bridge . . . the gardens were finally opened to the public after the Revolution, and in the 19th century the Mairie built an English-style garden, with 650 trees and 1000 bushes.
opening hours: open all year round / FREE to visit! / address: place de l’Hôtel de Ville, 74000, Annecy;
Le Jardin des 5 Sens (Yvoire)
Le Jardin des 5 Sens are pretty walled gardens, divided into themed sections based on the fives senses, in the medieval lakeside town of Yvoire. There is a special quizz available for children: the bee «Méliflor» accompanies children 6 to 11 years, and the herbalist «Floritou» guides the older 12 to 14 year olds.
opening dates: from 13th to 27th April 2018 (and 17th September to 7th October), from 10h to 17h30; from 28th April to 16th September 2018, from 10h to 18h30 / price: adults 12€, children (6 to 18 years) 7€, children under 6 years FREE, family price / address: rue du Lac, 74140, Yvoire (you must park outside the town walls) / tel: +33 (0) 450 72 88 80 / website;
Les Jardins de l’Eau du Pré Curieux (Evian)
This 3,5 hectare lakeside water garden (classified since 2005 as a «jardin remarquable»), is located at the western entrance to Evian, and is accessed by a solar-powered boat which leaves from the centre of Evian. It is home to a wetland research and information centre, and a discovery trail through the park presents the various water ecosystems: ponds with fish and waterlilies, mountain streams, marshes / the site offers guided tours from May to September.
a little history – the gardens were renovated by landscaper Laurent Daune (Lucinges) and opened to the public in 2002 / within the Pré Curieux is a colonial house from 1870.
Arboretum de Ripaille (Thonon-les-Bains)
The Arboretum de Ripaille is within the Forêt de Ripaille, which covers an expanse of 53 hectares. There is a 2 hour sign-posted walk, in which you will discover the: vieille chênaie, l’arboretum sylvetum André Engel (19 hectares) and the Mémorial National des Justes de France.
a little history – between 1930 and 1934, the arboretum was created by André Engel, whose aim was to experiment with acclimatising different plants to successful growth in the area;
opening hours: from 1st May, 10h to 19h / price: FREE to visit / *good to know: after a walk, you can visit the Château de Ripaille, or stop off at the castle restaurant/salon de thé (afternoon) / address: Château et Domaine de Ripaille, 83 avenue de Ripaille, 74200, Thonon-les-Bains / website ;
Les Jardins Secrets (Vaulx, near Annecy)
“Une évasion bucolique et originale sur 7000m2” – Les Jardins Secrets
a little history – the story began in 1980, when Nicole and Alain acquired a farm with lots of land in Vaulx, and settled there with their 3 daughters . . . the farm was in a very run-down state, and needed lots of renovation . . . and then Alain set to work, with the whole family lending a hand, to the gardens. The gardens began to attract the attention of the public, and it was decided to open them to visitors: in 1994, the gardens opened to the public . . . themed, musical evenings followed, and then two salons de thé opened – la Boquéria et le Petit Riad . . . and then paining workshops and a giftshop . . .
opening hours: from 8th April until 7th October 2018, every day, see here for exact opening hours / price: adults 8,50 €, children (4 to 12 years) 4€ and under 4s FREE / address: 1561 route de Lagnat, 74150, Vaulx / tel: +33 (0)4 50 60 53 18 / website;
La Maison du Salève
A visit to La Maison du Salève makes for a wonderful family day out in springtime . . . the blossoms along the walk to the Chartreuse de Pomier are stunning and the garden is a delight for little ones – a little parcours, with boulders to hop over, picnic tables, a small climbing frame, and an insect hotel.
a little history – originally an 18th century farm from the Chartreuse de Pomier, La Ferme de Mikerne has been renovated to host a cultural centre recounting the history of the Salève mountain and its environs: the permanent interactive exhibitions: «Le Salève, une montagne et des hommes» (children over the age of four) and «Le Salève côté nature» (children from 3 to 12 years) / current temporary exhibition: «Paysages Sonores» until 30th May 2019 – discover the sounds of nature surrounding le Salève, with a smartphone and earphones; you will enter different nature habitats: the forest, the alpage, humid zones and villages (price: 2€, free for children under 6 years).
Fondation Pierre Gianadda (Martigny)
The gardens of this wonderful museum – which change with each season and complement the fabulous sculptures – are part of the appeal of a visit / did you know that the museum’s gardens were a unique réserve naturelle? Lovely water fixtures accompany you on your walk through the gardens, and also fig trees as a reminder of the days of the Roman Empire, European white birch, Austrian black pines and Japanese maple trees . . . / see MBFF post for more details about a visit to the museum and gardens.
a little history – the engineer Léonard Gianadda discovered the remains of an ancient Celtic temple in the spring of 1976. Shortly after this discovery, his beloved younger brother Pierre died while searching for help for his fellow survivors in the aftermath of a plane crash. In the wake of this tragic event, Léonard decided to create a foundation so that the memory of Pierre could live on, and he chose to build this on the grounds of the Celtic temple. The Fondation Pierre Gianadda was very fittingly inaugurated on what would have been Pierre’s 40th birthday: 19th November 1978.
current exhibition: «Toulouse-Lautrec: à l’an Belle Époque», until 10th June 2018.
opening hours: 9h/10h to 18h/19h / price: adults CHF18 and children CHF10 / address: rue du Forum 59, 1920, Martigny, Switzerland / tel: +41 (0)27 722 39 78 / website;
Almond tree blossoms in Saillon (Valais)
The almond trees in the Swiss town of Saillon are of the Asian variety and they haved adapted well to the mild valley climate at the foot of the Saillon hill, under the majestic tower that guards the medieval bourg . . . the delicate almond flowers contrast sharply with the rugged rocks! Springtime is the perfect time to visit this charming medieval village, and you could throw in a visit to Les Bains de Saillons on the same outing / see Saillon website for more details.
Le Marronnier de la Treille (Geneva)
The arrival of spring in the city of Calvin is officially recognised (and noted) with the blossoming of the first flower on the ancient Marronier de la Treille.
a little history: the first marronniers (chestnut trees) appeared in La Treille in the 18th century, a period of time when the study of nature began to take importance – the era of botany and naturalism, led in Geneva by eminent scientists Horace-Bénédict de Saussure and Augustin Pyrame de Candolle. Since 1818, the blooming of the first bud on the Marronier de la Treille has been noted, and this marks the official arrival of springtime / 2018 blooming: 24th March / address: Marronnier de la Treille, promenade de la Treille, 1204, Genève;
Jardins Botaniques (Geneva)
The Botanical Gardens (Conservatoire et Jardins Botaniques de Genève – CJBG) in Geneva, Switzerland are open all year round and are a joy to visit during each season. As well as the beautiful trees, plants, flowers and greenhouses, the gardens have a wonderful wooden playground, a magical carrousel in the warmer months, a small animal park and plentiful grass for running around and picnics / there is also a restaurant/snack bar on-site / see here to read MBFF post / opening hours: 8h to 17h/19h30 / FREE to visit! / address: CJBG, chemin de l’Impératrice, 1202, Geneva, Switzerland / tel: +41 (0)22 418 51 00 / website;
Le Parc La Grange (Eaux Vives, Geneva)
This beautiful and impressive park is set on a grassy hill and leads down to the water’s edge of Lac Léman . . . there is a rose garden, an 18th century manor house, the ruins of an old Roman villa, a café (La Buvette des Femmes Abstinentes), the Théâtre de Verdure and the Théatre de l’Orangerie (for summer concerts), a BBQ area, a playground and a paddling pool open during the summer months.
a little history – a rich Roman decided to build his villa on the site of the park (the remains of this villa are visible behind the 18th century manor house). The last owner of the house and park left the park in his will to the Ville de Genève in 1917, and it was opened for the public’s use the following year. The rose garden was planted in 1945 and there is a competition for new roses held here every year.
opening hours: 6h/7h to 18h/22h (depending on the season) / address: quai Gustave-Ador, Geneva / website;
Jardins Anglais & Floral Clock (Geneva)
Situated right next to Lac Léman, the Jardins Anglais in Geneva are a lovely spot for a stroll or picnic / restaurants within the Jardins Anglais: Bateau Genève (a restaurant on the water – Le Bateau Genève used to circulate on Lac Léman) and Café-restaurant La Potinière (in the centre of the gardens) / there are many historic monuments within the gardens;
history of the floral clock: it was created in 1955, in hommage to Geneva’s watchmakers and to nature / more than 12,000 flowering plants and shrubs make up the clock face and are changed 5 times each year!
Parc Musée Ariana (Geneva)
Left in Gustave Revilliod’s (1817-1890) will to the Ville de Genève, the domaine de Varembé, which once extended as far as the lake, has had many incarnations / the arrival of the botanical gardens in the early 20th century took up some of this land / sculptures: Michelangelo, Mahatma Gandhi (2007) / Japanese connection: bell of Shinagawa, twenty cherry trees on the allée des Sakura (2014), a monument to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs and a monument to Marcel Junod, the first foreign doctor to go the aid of the Hiroshima victims / see Musée Ariana website (textile and ceramics museum) for more details.
Château et Jardins de Prangins (near Nyon)
«Fête de la Tulipe» in Morges
The annual «Fête de la Tulipe» will take place in the Parc de l’Indépendence in Morges from 31st March to 6th May – a beautiful carpet of tulips laid out right next to Lac Léman, with a view of the snowy alpine peaks in the distance . . . / see website or MBFF post for more details / to keep track of the blooming, see état des floraisons / full blooming usually from mid-April;
Arboretum National du Vallon de l’Aubonne
The Arboretum National du Vallon de l’Aubonne is open all year-round, though the Musée du Bois and shop are only open from early April / the Arboretum organises lots of lovely events, see here for the 2018 programme.
The Hanami du Cercle Suisse Japon will take place on 15th April 2018 – this is the famous cherry blossoms festival so celebrated in Japan . . . but brought a little closer to us in Switzerland! / programme: RDV 10h at the entrance to the Arboretum / 10h15 – departure of walk and visit of magnolia and cherry blossoms . . . followed by walk to Forêt Japonaise with its Sakuras and Koinobori . . . picnic under the cherry trees, weather permitting / 14h30 – «Arbr’espace» at Centre d’Accueil, talk by Irène Vogel «Le Jardin du Ryôan-Ji» / Japanese songs from choir Outa-no-kai / price: CHF10 for non-members of Cercle Suisse Japon and FREE for children! / reservations: until 13th April with Sylvain Meier on firstname.lastname@example.org (fill in form).
ART’Boretum – for its 50th anniversary, the Arboretum will be organising a sculpture exhibition from 6th May until October 2018 / see here for details.
address: chemin de Plan 92, Aubonne, Switzerland / tel: +41 21 808 51 83 / website;
Domaine de Vullierens – castle and iris gardens
castle: the Domaine de Vullierens has belonged to the same family for over 700 years, with the Mestral family residing here ever since the completion of the current castle by Gabriel-Henri de Mestral in 1745;
iris gardens: the collection of irises at Vullierens was created by Doreen Bovet, the Californian wife (and mother of the current owner of Vullierens) of Bernard Bovet de Mestral. A great lover of irises, in the autumn of 1950, Doreen planted 5 new varieties (ordered from Shreiner in the USA); in 1955 the castle gardens were opened to the public. Over the years, the iris and day lily collection has grown and developped, and now there are over 400 varieties planted over 2 hectares. A particular feature of irises is that they flower twice annually, and once in autumn / in May and June, there is a colourful mosaic of over 500,000 different flowers for visitors to enjoy in the gardens / for more information about the gardens and flowers, see here;
sculptures: in the gardens of Vulluriens, there are 72 sculptures in 30 hectares of land, from 21 Swiss and internation artists / the Étienne Krähenbühl ‘s Le Bing Bang is donged every day at at 15h!
for families and children: Le Royaume du Roi Lézard is a new, magical addition for children/families in the gardens / most of the route is possible with a buggy or you can leave buggies at entrance / be sure to ask for the map at the entrance / see here for more details;
opening hours 2018: spring – until 17th June, 10h to 18h (café, shop and gallery open) / summer: 14h to 17h (café and shop shut, snack bar at entrance) / autumn: 10h to 16h (café and shop shut, food truck in courtyard) / price: adults 15CHF, children (12 to 16 years) 5CHF, children (up to 11 years) FREE / dogs ALLOWED on a leash / picnics NOT permitted;
Aosta Valley Castles
When the blossoms are out in the Aosta Valley, this is the perfect time to visit one of the many majestic castles . . . / for a list of some of the castles to visit in the Aosta Valley, see here / some of MBFF’s favourite Aosta Valley castles: Forte di Bard (a huge cultural complex, with temporary exhibitions, museums, and a restaurant / see MBFF post), Fénis Castle, Sarre Castle and Sarriod de la Tour Castle . . .
Aosta Valley Alpine Gardens
There are also 4 alpine botanical gardens (see here for more details) to visit in the Aosta Valley:
- Chanousia, at the Little St Bernard pass;
- Saussurea at the Pavillon du Mont Fréty;
- Paradisia in Cogne;
- the gardens of Castel Savoia in Gressoney-Saint-Jean;
A little further afield, but perfect for one of the many long weekends ahead in 2018, Lago Maggiore has many enchanting manor houses/gardens that are open to the public.
A couple of years ago, quite by chance, we discovered Il Parco Villa Pallavicino . . . perfect for a family outing, these huge gardens boast an animal park, a great playground, beautiful flowers and trees, views of Lago Maggiore, picnic areas and a great restaurant on-site / open from 23rd March 2018 / see website for more details.
The landscaped gardens on Isola Bella are also well worth a visit (with the added bonus of a boat trip to get there!).