1. The most majestic: the Thabor gardens
They say it is the “Prince of Gardens”, one of the most beautiful in France, classified as a “prestigious garden”. The Thabor gardens, whose name stems both from the small 56-metre hill on which it stands and its religious origin – in reference to the Bible’s Mount Thabor – spreads out over 10 hectares. Originally, it belonged to the Benedictine monks of the Sainte-Mélaine abbey, standing proud at the entrance, making it all the more majestic. During the 17th century, the park was partially opened for walking in, but was reserved for men.
French gardens and english park
After the Revolution, the Park was fully opened to the public and became a highly praised area to walk. A botanical garden was planted before Denis and Eugène Bühler changed its entire landscaping in 1866. The brothers, both architects and landscapers, created a French garden as well as the city’s very first English garden. The architect Jean-Baptiste Martenot added greenhouses, an aviary, a music pavilion and an orangery that is now used for photo exhibitions. At the end of the 19th century, the Park was adorned with sculptures by Charles Lenoir.
A relaxing and festive place
The latest major changes, made in the 20th century, consisted in extending the park even more, stretching it out to the Rue de Paris, creating waterfalls in the section known as “the Catherinettes”. Along with the these changes, the monks’ vegetable garden planted along the city’s walls was included in the urban centre. As a natural extension of the city, it is a very popular place that attracts people year-round. The Mythos festival sets up there every spring with its Magic Mirror, and the Tombées de la Nuit festival spend the summer in the park with their street art shows. Shows are mostly held in the open-air theatre, nicknamed L’Enfer (“Hell” in French), which used to be a pond where the monks used to go boating, much to the despair of their Father Superior. As part of the Dimanches du Thabor (Sundays at the Thabor) initiative, the open-air theatre and pavilion host concerts, shows and dance performances every Sunday in May, June and September. Free shows from 3pm.
A place for being lazy… Or studious
The Thabor gardens are perfect both for being lazy or studious… Students of all different kinds come and revise, read or daydream, families come for a stroll and take the kids to the playground, and walkers can admire the rose garden and its 2,000 varieties of flowers. While wandering around you will cross paths with a strange grotto, waterfalls and trees – remarkable in all seasons. In this iconic area of Brittany’s capital, you can also have a drink outside, have a go on the merry-go-round or go for a jog around the park’s very hilly 1.5 km loop. In a nutshell, the Thabor gardens are pure paradise. Right in the centre of town.
- Opening times: from 7.30am to 8.30pm during the summer and from 7.30am to 6.30pm during the winter.
2. The most hidden away: the parc des tanneurs
A secret spot of greenery: the Parc des Tanneurs forms a tree-filled vale that runs down to the Ille river and the Saint-Martin prairies. To get there, take Rue Saint-Martin and step through the large entrance gate that leads to a beautiful 19th century villa. This prestigious residence used to be owned by families of tanners, hence its name. Take a step into this large park, spread out over more than a hectare, to appreciate its romantic charm and admire its wonderful sequoia trees. 90 trees are planted in the vale and contribute to the park’s tranquil atmosphere. An unexpected walk through nature, only 5 minutes away on foot from the Place Saint-Anne. On the way back, you can walk for longer if you go along the Saint-Martin canal and through the prairies.
- Opening times: from 8.15am to 8.15pm during the summer and from 8am to 5.30pm during the winter.
3. The most zen: the Oberthür park
The Oberthür Park was created by the same landscaper as the one who designed the Thabor gardens – Denis Bühler – just a few years before in 1863. The park forms a beautiful natural setting around the mansion formerly owned by the famous printer from Rennes, François-Charles Oberthür. Oberthür was known to love entomology and botany, which is why Bühler kept the all big trees – and in particular the magnificent oak trees, wild cherry trees, beech trees and poplars. Large trees cast shade over this beautiful park that is wonderful to stroll through: cedars, fern leaf beeches, English oaks, silver lime trees, Gingko Biloba, etc.
Rare species for botany-lovers
Rare species were also planted there, namely the California torreya, striped maple, yellow buckeye, cork oak, willow oak, etc. Not forgetting a bald cypress with incredible aerial roots. The other specificity of the Oberthür park is the presence of a huge collection of heather species (rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas, magnolias, andromeda), for all you connoisseurs…
Lastly, the lake is home to an extremely varied fauna. Ducks, swans and herons come for a dip in the fish-laden waters. An ideal park for some peace and quiet.
- Opening times: from 8am to 8pm during the summer and from 8am to 6pm during the winter.
4. The best one for families and sport: the Gayeulles park
The Gayeulles park is the largest in Rennes. Located to the North-East of the city, it spreads out over a hundred hectares. As a great place for leisure, outdoor and sporting activities, is has kept a countryside feel to it that a lot of families appreciate. “Rennes’ Central Park” is never short of activities to do. You can come and picnic, barbecue or enjoy a drink by the water, as well as get some exercise or go biking. Athletes have two loops that are perfect for running (4 and 6 km), fitness machines, multi-sport fields, a family swimming pool, an ice skating rink (Le Blizz), a mini-golf course, a tree-top adventure course (Forêt Adrenaline), a skate park, etc. There is also a playground, family gardens, an animal enclosure, pedalos and a 3-star municipal campsite.
For nature-lovers and hikers, the fauna and flora can be observed in a unique ecosystem – populated with rabbits, squirrels, foxes and deer (if you like getting up early), as well as a hundred different inventoried bird species (green woodpeckers, owls, nuthatches, etc.).
You will need more than a day to do all there is to do in this huge wooded park, located just outside the city.
5. The most in bloom: the gardens at the Saint-Georges Palace
You cannot miss the Saint-Georges Palace. When you come out from the station, it immediately catches your eye, standing right at the top of Avenue Janvier. It is no doubt the first thing you can visit upon arriving in Rennes. From a distance you can make out a faint inscription on the facade: “Magdelaine de la Fayette”, in reference to the abbess who oversaw the building’s construction in 1670. The Palace is currently home to administrative offices, as well as the fire station, set up in the restored building after the 1921 fire. In that same period, a beautiful French garden was created in the courtyard. With its magnificent flowers blooming in the warmer months, this is the perfect place for a quick break, if you are tired of lugging your big suitcase around for instance… The garden is just a few steps away from the historical centre and Saint-Georges swimming pool. Relax, you are almost there!
Rennes loves nature…
A number of other gardens can be visited in Rennes, in all parts of town. What do they have in common you ask? Their main concern is eco-friendly landscaping and adapted management to help preserve biodiversity in the heart of the city. Pesticides have been banished for a long time in Rennes, as we prefer to let nature run its course in vast prairies. With 17% of the town’s surface area covered in green spaces, Rennes is one of France’s greenest cities. These pleasant and lively places turn into cultural playgrounds all year, hosting festivals such as Mythos in April or Big Love in June.
Family gardens are dotted around the city, making it possible for green-thumbed enthusiasts to tend to their crops in the heart of the city and along the river. So take the time to discover the city’s garden side…