FRANCE: The joy of parks

By Tim Saunders


“Bon appetite,” smiles a local as we tuck into our salad-filled baguette on a park bench in Dinan, France.

Buying our daily baguette from a mix of boulangeries and supermarches, it quickly becomes clear that boulangerie bread is fresher and tastier. 

During the summer months the delightful parks in France are packed with colourful and vibrant flowers. Added to which, temperatures are a pleasant 25 degrees.

Each day we find a park in a different part of Brittany, much to 19-month-old Harriett Avril’s delight. She loves the swings and see-saws. First port of call, Promenade Jules Revert at Dol de Bretagne, with its newly-planted avenue of trees, provides a luscious green landscape. But there are no benches so we make do with the grass. As the sun beats down all memories of the wet summer back home are forgotten. It feels as if this is the first time pregnant wife Caroline and I have properly relaxed this year. We finally find a bench near the fountain in front of St-Samson cathedral in the town. Down an alleyway between two crumbling houses, a second park is spied. This is far more appealing to Harriett as there are swings, tunnels and roundabouts. Shingle surrounding the swings is of particular interest to her; she picks up individual stones and shares them equally with Caroline and I.  

Our love affair with France’s parks continues when we arrive at the medieval town and port of Dinan. At Jardin Val de Cocherel there’s a picturesque park housing hens, deer, peacocks and rabbits. But this is of no interest to Harriett as we try and keep to her routine of having an afternoon doze. The little wriggler refuses insisting on clambering out of her pushchair, strapping her shoes and reins on and walking. In fact over the course of the holiday our little rascal insists on staying awake during the day for fear of missing out. But the car journey always proves too much, despite her vocal assessment of the Peugeot 208 we’re driving, she falls asleep…

The garden at Pontorson is set back from the main road and Harriett amuses herself while we relax. After another walk around another delightful park with an array of well-chosen, vibrant flowers we have a conversation with an old local who complains about the smell of the place on this day. During our chat he moans about recession and adds that the locals marched down Rue de Liberation at the end of the Second World War. At Pontorson there’s a track to Mont St Michel, a far better way of visiting the historic monument than driving.

Sadly our holiday quickly draws to a close but on our way to Cherbourg we’re sure to stop in Saint Lo, twinned with Christchurch, Dorset, home to its own Notre Dame cathedral, which was damaged in WW2. We stumble upon Les Jardins Publiques, another beautiful park, for lunch.

Harriett’s first trip abroad is a resounding success and, just like her parents, she is clearly a born traveller.
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