Pays de la Loire is truly a region in bloom, with a plethora of sweet-smelling gardens to visit. One worth putting on your list is the 70-acre Parc Oriental de Maulévrier, Europe’s largest Japanese garden. Paths winding between shadows and ambient light are reminiscent of yin and yang, with lights emphasising specific trees, features and perspectives. The garden has an extraordinary botanical and architectural setting and pays tribute to the Japanese art of beautifully shaped trees. Sleek and ordered, it contains around 300 species including azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons and Japanese maples. It also has a permanent exhibition of bonsai and pottery. A waterfall beside the pagoda symbolises the cycle of life from birth to death.
Did you know that the magnolia is the world's oldest flowering plant? The city of Nantes boasts one of the oldest specimens in Europe, planted in its Jardin des Plantes in 1807 and still blooms every year. The ‘Hectot’ magnolia is 40ft tall and 10ft in circumference, and the most famous of the 331 varieties in Nantes’ magnificent national collection. Magnolias reflect the city’s transatlantic trade, as the first plants arrived from Mississippi in 1711.
Villages and islands are also fragrant in Pays de la Loire. Head to the troglodyte village of Doué-la-Fontaine (Maine-et-Loire) in July for its annual rose festival, an extravaganza of colour and fragrance with more than 100,000 roses on display. Held since 1959, the festival also incorporates a major international floral design competition – and twinkling lights make the setting truly magical after dark. And the island of Noirmoutier is famed for its fragrant golden mimosa, which blooms during the winter months.