A classified “plus beaux village de France”, officially one of the prettiest villages, Gerberoy has oodles of charm. Think cobbled streets, half-timbered buildings dripping with roses and wonderful views over the lush countryside.
Gerberoy is in the Oise department, Picardy, northern France, on the border of Seine-Maritime, Normandy. It’s one of the smallest towns in France, but there’s a surprising amount to see and do in Gerberoy.
History of Gerberoy
At least 1,000 years old, Gerberoy has had a dramatic past. It was an important stronghold due to its elevated position and has survived multiple sieges and assaults over the centuries. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times and from the middle ages was largely abandoned. A sleeping beauty, it was hardly known until in the early 20th century, painter Henri Le Sidaner arrived. He was an artist of the so-called “Intimist movement”. Born in Mauritius in 1862, his family moved to Dunkirk and Le Sidaner studied art at the Etaples art colony. His paintings captured intimate moments of domestic interiors or gardens. And Gerberoy, which was recommended to him by his friend, the sculptor Rodin, was the perfect inspiration for his paintbrush. With its 17th and 18th century houses and winding cobbled streets – it’s like a time warp town.
What to see and do in Gerberoy
It’s romantic, chocolate box lid pretty and very tranquil. Though in peak visitor months it can get quite busy as so many are drawn to its beauty.
One of the big lures is the garden of artist Henri Le Sidaner (photo above). The artist moved there in 1901 and created an Italianate style garden on a hilly piece of land which he painted over and over. The gardens have been kept true to his vision, with roses and walkways and fabulous views over the rooftops of Gerberoy.
I visited in September and pretty much had the whole place to myself. There are around 100 residents at that time of the year, very few tourists – it’s a good time to go!
A town made for smelling the roses
But Le Sidaner’s legacy stretches further. He proposed to the residents that everyone should plant climbing roses. He adored flowers and loved to capture the beauty of rose blooms. The local people loved his idea, it brought colour to the pretty village. And, eventually it became an official decree which required residents to grow roses! In 1928, the first Fete des Roses was held and it’s taken place every year since on the third Sunday of June bringing thousands of visitors to this tiny town.
Roses were still blooming when I visited, as well as many other plants. Walls were dripping with flowers of all kinds in bloom, there were magnificent hydrangeas (the French call them Hortensia) seemingly outside every home which lined the cobbled streets. It was a wonderfully warm and sunny day, lazy bees buzzed and the scent of summer was still strong.
Arts, crafts and monuments
Gardeners and lovers of beauty will also adore Le Jardin des Ifs, a listed Jardin Remarquable with an incredible topiary yew garden. You can even sit inside a 100 year old yew tree which was awarded National Tree of the Year in France, in 2018! The gardens are part of “Le Vidame” a 16th century residence once favoured by important local officials. It’s the only historic house open to the public in Gerberoy as it’s also a tea salon and gorgeous restaurant (open May to October and reservation is recommended). Don’t miss the chance to try Le P’tit Gerberoy, a cheese made with candied roses by renowned cheese maker Julien Planchon.
In the town, browse tiny art galleries and watch artists at work like Ako, a glass artist who makes exquisite jewellery right before your eyes, wielding his blow torch like a paintbrush. I’ve seen a lot of glass jewellery but never quite like this. He somehow captures sunlight within his creations. (You can see him creating his magic in the video below which shows some of the beautiful sites of the region).
There are several tea rooms and restaurants to tempt you to take a refreshing break in Gerberoy. Plus a pretty 11th century church and a small museum in the town hall. It’s easy to spend a relaxed day here with a delicious lunch, amble those pretty streets and enjoy the ambiance. A half day would cover the sites if you don’t linger (which would be a shame!).
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