In 2016 and 2017 I was very fortunate to visit Annecy in the Haute-Savoie, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in south eastern France.
This bustling historic city, which was twinned with Cheltenham in England over 60 years ago, was referred to as the 'Venice of the Alps' due to picturesque canals which run through its streets. It boasted immaculate large public gardens, an aviary and arboretum on the shores of Europe's cleanest and France's second largest natural lake, Lake Annecy.
Situated at 447 metres the lake hosts breathtaking views across the Bauges mountain range of Le Mont Veyrier, Parmelan, La Tournette at 2351metres and Le Semnoz which featured in the 2013 Tour de France.
Annecy will be in the limelight again this year as it is to host the 105 edition of the Tour de France on 16 & 17 July. So the city will be very busy this coming summer.
There were two main public gardens; Parc Charles Bosson situated by the Imperial Palace, a luxury hotel and casino and Les Jardin de L'Europe nearest the commercial area and medieval old town which was reached by crossing the Canal du Vasse over the Pont des Amours ('Bridge of Love') from the 17 acre Paquier which historically was used as pasture for livestock.
Since 2006 the summer gardens annually erupt with a plethora of themed floral displays.
In 2015 Annecy was awarded the highest floral accolade by the Conseil National des Villes et Villages Fleuris (National Council of Towns and Flowered Villages) of four flowers, 'Fleur d'Or' ('Golden Flower') similar to michelin stars for restaurants; signified on road signs as you enter the city as four red flowers on a yellow background. The much coveted awards were only presented to France's nine most-flowered cities.
Annecy's residents benefit from the municipal environmental policy which has helped retain just over 40% of the city's green spaces and in 2004 the City of Annecy signed a 'zero pesticides' charter so they are committed to working with nature and reducing the chemical impact on the environment which will in turn help maintain the natural beauty and health of the lake and all the wildlife it supports.
The Concours des villes et villages fleuris ('towns and villages in bloom competition') is a national annual competition which aims to improve inhabitants lives by working together as a community and proudly enjoying the finished garden displays. A theme wholeheartedly embraced in the UK as gardening has proved to be an incredible benefit to our mental wellbeing.
With an annually changing colour scheme, 2017 was the year of oranges and lemons. The flower borders were a delight and exploded with vibrant colour.
Blousey Dahlias, Zinnias, Nicotiana alata, Salvias, Kniphofia and Tagetes (marigolds) rubbed shoulders with the exotic Canna 'Tropicanna' and faded giant Helianthus (sunflowers) whose heavy noble seed heads held almost in shame of passing their best.
There was a very relaxed atmosphere at the gardens. People sauntered around the paths and flowers beds donned in summer attire, many in bikinis and speedos, walk punctuated with a dip in the lake followed by a picnic.