Domaine du Rayol, a Mediterranean Garden in the South of France

My friend Stephan saw on social media I was in the South of France and invited me to spend some time in Cavaliare-sur-Mer. Since I was traveling from Aix-en-Provence, I had to take a train to Toulon to take the bus. In the train station I met a girl that told me that she had just visited the area and that I simply had to visit Domaine du Rayol.

The bus was supposed to take an hour and a half, but it stopped so many times that it took almost an hour more. Just before Cavaliare-sur-Mer I saw the sign that said Domaine du Rayol.  My friend told me we were going to have lunch in the town of Rayol just next to the botanical garden. I dropped off my bag and got on his scooter with my dog to go to Le Rayol. We had lunch, then went to the beach (which is family oriented unlike Saint Tropez), bathed in the pool and then went to see nature.

History of Domaine du Rayol

In the early 1900s, some wealthy French families discovered the beauty of this coastline and decided to build holiday homes. In 1910, Alfred Théodore Courmes left Paris to retire in Le Rayol.  He built his house, which he sold in 1925, overlooking the Baie du Figuier. The former residence was transformed into a seaside resort called ‘Hôtel de la Mer’ and the family moved to Villa Rayolet at the other end of the property.

He had a small farm and a garden with Mediterranean trees, palm trees, eucalyptus, agaves, cork oak, mimosas, date palms and a pergola. In 1940, the family sold the property to aircraft manufacturer Henry Potez who moved in with his family escaping the war. He remodeled the house and brought servants to take care of the gardens, which now had around 400 species. This is when the staircase was built under the pergola. After the war, the Domaine du Rayol became a summer residence and eventually was abandoned in the 1960s.

In 1989 it was bought by the Conservatoire du Littoral and was transformed into what we see now. Landscape gardener Gilles Clément proposed to do a tribute to the Mediterranean climates. Plants were brought from the Canary Islands, South Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, California, Mexico, South Africa and Asia.

Visit Domaine du Rayol

Plan to spend at least two hours visiting this Jardin des Méditerranées. Domaine du Rayol opens daily (except on December 25) starting at 9:30 a.m. and closing between 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. depending on the season. The best time to visit is in April and May, but when we went in August there was still a lot to see. They do guided tours that take between an hour to an hour and a half. There is no extra charge for the guided tour. Pets are not allowed so I had to leave my dog at the house.

When you go they will give you a map of the property, which is useful considering it has 20 hectares (50 acres)! It also explains what you can find throughout the Domaine du Rayol. The garden is truly spectacular and I found plenty of new species. And that is a challenge considering I spend a lot of time in nature and visiting botanical gardens. It is quite easy to walk around since the paths are well marked and there are signs pointing to attractions. There is no mud on the trails so sneakers are not mandatory, but it is best to take comfortable shoes.

During the summer you can find people bathing at the private beach. Snorkeling (tours are done to explain the underwater flora and fauna with a guide) and kayaking can be done on site. There is also a small cabin by the beach that has a small museum inside.

In case you get hungry, there is a lovely Gardeners’ Café-Restaurant that serves lunch or snacks. It has exterior seating and interior. The building is quite antique and it is covered with buganvillas and green plants.

By the entrance there is a plant nursery that sells species which can be found in the Domaine du Rayol. Plants are labeled according to which part of the world they originate.

Other Botanical Gardens

Resources for Travelers

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If you are looking for hotels, I recommend using the Booking portal that has the best offers. For hostels it would be Hostelworld and for vacation rentals I use Airbnb. Then you must decide what to do, Get Your Guide has many tour options. Discover Cars has great prices on car rentals. As an insurance broker, with all the uncertainties in this modern world, I recommend buying Travel Insurance.
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