The Jardin du Val Rahmeh is a little Eden. Imagine we could travel back to the colonial era, when the first exotic gardens were built in Europe. We are in Provence, specifically in Menton, next to the Italian border. In 1905, a former British general, Sir Percy Radcliffe, and his wife Rahmeh Theodora Swinburme decide to move to France. Sir Percy buys a property on the French Riviera, in Menton, and has a large villa built among palm trees and olive trees. Fifty years later, the house goes to Miss Campbell, an English lady with a passion for plants and cats. Miss Campbell has a second garden built around the villa and a fountain, the Waterfield fountain. A tropical environment is therefore created, with giant bamboos and Australian ferns and palm trees, which flourish in the microclimate of the French Riviera.
THE JARDIN DU VAL RAHMEH
The Jardin du Val Rahmeh is located on Avenue Saint Jacques, easily reachable from the city center. Stone stairs and steep paths in the lavish Mediterranean vegetation will take you to an olive tree grove and then the exotic garden. The only sounds are the buzz of insects and the distant cry of seagulls. Once we step through the iron gates, you’ll feel a different, almost magic atmosphere. The yellow and red house is still there, peacefully nestled on the hill, surrounded by the garden. Buy the ticket and explore this world of wonders; it’s like traveling to faraway places, exotic islands with their vivid colours and intense scents.
The garden houses one thousand seven hundred different species:
Medical and edible plants, olive trees, citrus fruit, palm trees, bamboo plants, a variety of ferns and tropical flowers. Some species are particularly interesting, like New Caledonia pine, Amazonian white zapote and Sophora Toromiro. This plant, which is endemic to Easter Island, is a species of flowering tree in the legume family. When most of the forests were eliminated in the 17th century, the toromiro tree became very rare and ultimately disappeared from the island. Luckily, its seeds were brought to Göteborg by a Norwegian archaeologist and explorer, Thor Heyerdahl. Nowdays it survives in a handful of botanic gardens around the world, among which the Jardin du Val Rahmeh.
As you continue to explore the garden, you start to realize how rich and beautiful the plant world is. Banana trees, water lilies, sugar cane, avocados also grow in the garden, as well as Mediterranean trees such as orange and citrus. In autumn, a plant named Chorisia speciosa produces a dark red flowering; in Bolivia it is known as “sheltering tree”, or Toborochi. In this magical place, it is easy to forget time and space. When we hear the distant church bells, we realize it’s already lunch time.
WHERE TO EAT IN MENTON
Before or after visiting the gardens, there’s no better place than The Loving Hut (Promenade du Soleil) to eat delicious, plant-based food.
If you prefer Italian cuisine, then go to Coté Sud, Quai Bonaparte. They are super nice and make great pizza, pasta and fish dishes.
For breakfast, Vanilla Bakery (Avenue Félix Faure) is a nice café with outdoor tables. Try their croissants and cappuccino.
Read also: Menton, Montecarlo and the Japanese Gardens