Relax at Thabor

The Thabor gardens

The thabor: a remarkable garden to visit throughout the year

Classed as a Remarkable Garden, the Thabor celebrated its 150th anniversary in June 2018 and is one the must-see places to visit in Rennes. Organised in its current layout in 1868, it stretches across 10 hectares with a French garden, an English park, a rose garden, a botanic garden and a cafe with a terrace. It is the place for a pleasant walk to get a good breath of fresh air and greenery in all seasons.

The origins of Thabor, the peak of the city

Thabor gardens
© Destination Rennes / Bruno Mazodier

The name Thabor goes back to the area’s first human occupants. “The toponymy originates from the presence of both monks and the hill, the Everest of Rennes, which is the highest point of the city. Hence the idea to call it Thabor in reference to the Transfiguration of Christ in Israel” explains Gilles Brohan, head of the heritage department at the Rennes Tourist Office, which offers guided visits to the park year-round.

It is a very long time since the monks lived here on the site of ancient Gallo-Roman necropolis, after the abbey was founded by Saint Melaine, Bishop of Rennes in the 6th century. Between the 8th and 9th centuries, the monks built the gardens and surrounding orchards on an area of almost 25 acres, the size of the current Thabor park. The farms reliant on the abbey were also built in line with what is now the rue de la Palestine. The areas had already attracted the greed of Vikings, who came to pillage the abbey and its treasures.

Thabor gradually opens to visitors in the 18th century

During the Modern era, the monasteries drew a more peaceful crowd of local residents who wanted to take advantage of this large garden at the gates of the city. Up til then, the monks were the only ones to enjoy it and even went sailing on “l’Enfer” (Hell), which was an excavated area thought to be a reservoir after the fire of 1720. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that they agreed to open the gates of the Thabor. In 1750, the monks bowed to pressure and finally shared their secret garden, but only with men. The times changed with the French Revolution as the assets of the clergy were seized and the Thabor gardens became the property of the city.

“By the first half of the 19th century, the Thabor was still not a publicly owned garden but it was open to everyone and the botanic garden was created” says Gilles Brohan. “It was a place of study for the students at the Faculty of Medicine and those studying botany. Eminent professors took part in classifying the different varieties and species, so it was a scientific garden and not intended to be recreational. The orchards continued to be used and it was not until the Second French Empire that the gardens were set up as they are today.

Planted by the bühler brothers in 1868

The Thabor seen from the sky
The Thabor seen from the sky © MRW Zeppeline

The planting of the Thabor park and gardens began in earnest in 1868. After seeing Denis Bühler’s work for François Charles Oberthür in the park of his mansion that now bears his name, the city decided to call in the same landscapers. This was a period where every city worthy of the name had to have green spaces.

“During the Second French Empire, nature came back to the city” explains Gilles Brohan. “The future Napoleon III saw English gardens during his exile in England. Once he had ascended to power, he decided to bring these green lungs to the cities, allowing them to breathe. As this was the time of the Industrial Revolution, the appearance of large public gardens satisfied growing tastes for strolling, which was influenced by the trend of hygienism. The Thabor responded to the public’s need and the city’s desire to build French, English and botanic gardens”. All of these elements can be found combined in the Thabor.

French gardens, an english park, rose garden and botanic garden

The Thabor waterfalls
The Thabor waterfalls © Destination Rennes / Julien Mignot

The Thabor park and gardens bring together in one natural space three important elements that create a garden worth visiting: the Carré Duguesclin, a lawn named after an English bowling game (bowling green) green, the greenhouses and the French gardens that face a large central lawn, with a garden landscaped in the English style and, at the far end of the park, a rose garden with more than 2,000 varieties and a botanic garden that comprises some 3,200 different species from five continents. The decorative elements were added in the last quarter of the 19th century: the French garden was brightened up with classical sculptures created by Charles Lenoir and his students.

Landscaping continued in the 20th century with the catherinettes

The Thabor continued to be landscaped over the course of the 20th century with, in particular, the refilling of the fountain systems and waterfalls and the creation of the Catherinettes garden, which was established at the start of the 20th century on the site of a former religious congregation. “The last part of the park brought something that was lacking to the Thabor: what we would call mills, caves and waterfalls, thanks to the slope. This made it possible to put an end to the landscaping as it was considered in the 19th century by the Bühler brothers with a music stand and an aviary” explains the head of the heritage department at Destination Rennes.

The Thabor in the snow
The Thabor in the snow © Destination Rennes / Julien Mignot
The Thabor garden in Rennes

A pleasant park for all seasons

As it reflects the art of gardens in all of its possible forms, the Thabor therefore is a must for all visits to Rennes. Although it is especially beautiful when in bloom in spring and summer, you can enjoy the green spaces all year round and the concerts, activities, festivals and exhibitions that take place there. It is also a haven for children with outdoor games and a carousel near to the restaurant and bar, whose terrace is the perfect place to fully enjoy a view of the park.

A lot of festivals take place here

Any time is good to visit the Thabor: go to read, relax in the shade or sunbathe, take a family walk, eat or stretch out on certain lawns and go to concerts. There are a lot of festivals that set up their tents and stages in the Thabor: Transat en Ville during summer, les Tombées de la nuit in July, I’m From Rennes in September in the garden theatre, le Grand Soufflet in October, Mythos in spring with its two magic mirrors, the music festival on 21 June and in June and July, the Thabor honours Breton culture through dance and music on Wednesdays. All year round, the garden is alive with these huge cultural events, which are excellent occasions to go and learn.

Visiting Thabor, an unmissable stop

The aviary of Thabor
© Destination Rennes / Bruno Mazodier

You cannot visit Rennes without stopping at the Thabor. Every year, 1.5 million visitors walk through the gates of this Remarkable Garden, which is one of the top three most beautiful in France, after the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris and the Parc de la Tête d’Or in Lyon, according to TripAdvisor. The Thabor is a prestigious garden that deserves a visit, particularly for its rose garden, but also the spiral botanic garden, which is one of the only examples in France. More than 3,000 varieties of plant from around the work are grouped here, with primitive plants, ferns conifers, and many other types. A stronghold of biodiversity, the Thabor is also known around the world for its seed library, which contains more than 2,000 different kinds that the garden exchanges freely with other botanic gardens. The park also has a number of remarkable trees, such as a 150-year-old oak (near to the aviary) and an enormous Lebanon cedar that was planted at the start of the 19th century and around which the French garden was organised 150 years ago. 

  • Opening hours for the thabor garden: every day in summer from 7.30 a.m. To 8.30 p.m. And in winter from 7.30 a.m. To 6.30 p.m.
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