A succulent affair: The Mediterranean Garden of Roquebrun in the Saint-Chinian region of the south of France, doesn’t have a mysterious history, as I was secretly hoping it would. But it does have a dash of something citrus-ly exotic and ever so slightly melancholy, and it is well worth the steep climb through the cobbled streets of the village. Especially if you’ve spent the morning malingering over some wine tasting at the local co-operative or have been enjoying the fruits of a belly full of fine fodder at Le Petit Nice Restaurant which hangs precariously high above the River Orb in the heart of the village.
This lofty Mediterranean garden was created as recently as 1986 although long, long before that, the abandoned terraces and rocky precipices on which it now hangs, were vineyards and olive groves. In order to create the garden, as a showcase of the region’s diverse and wonderful flora and as a means of protecting those now less cultivated fruit trees, 1,000 tonnes of materials were hauled up the steep narrow streets and the gardens are now home to some 5,000 plants and 400 species.
Roquebrun is one of France’s breathtakingly pretty villages with salmon coloured houses clinging to the hills and a rich heritage in wine production. A 10th century Carolingian tower keeps watch high up above the village and the garden shimmers, sheltered on a balmy south facing slope, protected from the cruel winds of the region.
You’ll find cacti, succulents and agaves, oranges, lemons and pomegranates and even an avocado has slipped in. You’ll also find cistus and mimosa and a cluster of 20th century shelters where long ago the locals dried chestnuts which they used for flour.
It’s not a huge garden, tucked away in its warm rocky refuge but it does afford you a wonderful chance to peer down on the miniscule Roman Bridge far, far below and the tiny little farmers and wine growers busy about their business in the valley and slopes beneath you. And if you climb just a little higher to a platform facing north, your views of the hills behind and what look like almost vertical and abandoned terraces, (where once brave and fearless wine producers clambered), you will get a sense of just how tough life must have been here not so long ago. And of course a climb up to the garden helps you walk off your lunch and digest your degustation so that you can head back down into the village ready for your dinner and more delicious local wine.
It’s open from mid-February to mid-November, details for tickets and opening times: www.jardin-mediterraneen.fr