One of the most endearing features of Rennes, to my mind, is its parks. The most well-known and visited, the Parc du Thabor, until the French Revolution the domain of monks, has been ranked in design with the beloved Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. It has become my favorite destination in the city. The main entrance to its six hectares (about 15 acres), through an ornate gilded iron gate, is adjacent to the church of Notre Dame de la Melaine, which rings its Sunday bells for a half hour at a time creating an other-worldly ambiance in which to enter. I’ve never been the park when it has been crowded but it’s never empty either. There are always a few runners, tourists, families and couples enjoying its many delights.
Within the park, my favorite spot is the wooden structure encompassing the dovecote and aviary (the colombier and volière).
There are benches placed around it, at enough of a distance for the birds to be somewhat unawares of your presence. But up close, a studious onlooker might chuckle at the pecking orders being rigorously maintained, the parakeets who steal rides on the tail feathers of the pheasant (who tries to shake them off), the Diamond Mandarin couples sneaking a twig from the doves or the darting in and out of niches by the birds.
Below: Diamond Dove, Parakeet, Diamond Mandarin, Pigeon, Doves and mystery bird.
After spending a good hour or so there, it’s on to the various gardens within the garden: the rose, the French, the English, the Botanical. Or the teeny waterfall. There’s even a spot called L’Enfer, or Hell, today a space for outdoor concerts but once a reservoir despised by the local Bishop who gave it its name. Or to admire the Kiosque.
There are other, less well-known parks, like the Parc Oberthür, which is smaller (three hectares) but no less lovely. Although a public botanical park, it seems private, with more shady nooks and passages, an imposing villa that once did serve as the Oberthür family home, and more solitary spaces (at least in my experience). It claims 375 trees of a variety of species and geographies, many of which are quite old.
The Breton climate is ideal for nurturing gardens, and every place we’ve been boasts a lovely, well-maintained big or small public patch of green. We’ve seen a lot of Botanical Gardens in Europe that are not cared for, and gone to ruin. Kudos to Brittany for tending to theirs so beautifully.