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Favourite garden of the French in Cassel An essential stop when you visit Cassel has to be the multi award winning garden known as the Jardins de Mont des Récollets. This rather unusual garden is famous in France, in fact it was voted favourite garden of the French in 2013 and has an unusual history. Owner and gardener extraordinaire Emmanuel de Quillacq took over what was his grandfather’s farm, in 1986. Having always worked in an office, he developed an overwhelming passion for the glorious countryside and the town of Cassels. After studying at the famous Versailles school of gardening, he devoted his life and every working day to turning the once neglected farmland into a fabulous garden that visitors fall head over heels for. You enter via an alley of apple trees to discover a grand “room” of topiary, of hydrangeas, roses, wild meadow flowers. These “rooms” in the garden are of all different styles but flow effortlessly, one to the other. You can’t help but think it looks a bit like something out of a Breughel painting. “It’s Flemish renaissance” says Emmanuel, “that’s what inspired me and drives the design, over time the style has slowly evolved…” The view from the garden over the surrounding countryside is breath-takingly beautiful. “When I first saw this place, it reminded me of Breughel’s painting the Hunters in the Snow” says the green fingered Emmanuel, and if you see the painting, you’ll see what he means. “It’s like a window on nature here, framing a different view every single day.” Indeed, there are windows cut into hedges all over the place offering a different perspective on the landscape. It’s said that on a clear day you can see the English coast from here and the Belfry of Bruges! This is a spectacular garden to visit, peaceful, lush and beautiful. You can also take a break at the little café which is full of charm – as well as artefacts of yesteryear. Lunch is of the traditional Flemish style, made with local products and fruit from the garden and is open daily through July and August, at other times by appointment for groups.
Cassel – favourite village of the French 2018 Those gorgeous gardens are not the only winners around here. The town itself took the first prize in the hugely popular “Le village préféré des Français” contest in 2018. When much-loved TV host Stéphane Bern announced that Cassel had beaten much more famous rivals to the title, including Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy and Roussillon in Provence, the locals were more than delighted. You may never have heard of this place but taking this title almost guarantees that Cassel is about to get a lot more well-known. The charm of Cassel lies in the fact that it is typically Flemish, that it has outstanding views over the beautiful countryside, friendly folk, the gardens of Mont des Récollets and a strong sense of the authentic and of the past. It’s been likened to something out of a story from Père Castor, beloved stories for children originating in the early 20th century with a fairy-tale, folklore vibe. It’s a small town with an excellent museum with a good collection of paintings and regular temporary exhibitions. It’s a nice place in which to take an amble. Enjoy the views from the ramparts, the castle having long gone, or from the gardens at the highest point of Mont Cassel, 176m up, where you’ll find a windmill on the site of the former castle. You can drive to the top but its much more fun to climb the quirky Alpine stairs. While you’re there, you should definitely take a break at the enchanting Estaminet Kasteelhof, a Flemish word for a tavern. It’s actually the restaurant of Emmanuel de Quillacq of the Jardins de Mont des Récollets and reflects his love for tradition and Flanders with a fabulous rustic menu, local beers, home made lemonades and wonderful traditional décor. The terrace has stunning views and inside is atmospheric and fun. There’s also a little shop where you can buy local products (8 Rue Saint-Nicolas). Don’t miss the Musée de Flandre which has a beautiful 16th Renaissance façade. It’s home to a rich collection of paintings, prints and sculptures and presents the history of French Flanders.
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