From flower-strewn landscapes to cactus-packed plots, Europe is brimming with impressive gardens. With National Gardening Week falling this month (April 11th to 17th), there’s no better time for the green-fingered to get a splash of inspiration for their next holiday – and possibly for the next change to make in the garden too.
So, today we are going to introduce you to some of Europe’s most tempting gardens, from the chateaux of France to the arid landscape of Lanzarote.
Jardin Botanico da Madeira
Where: Funchal, Madeira
Opening hours: 9am to 6pm
Ticket price: €5.50
Madeira is deservedly famous for its flowers – it’s virtually impossible to visit this island and not encounter glorious floral displays. However, there are some places where this reputation really stands out, and this is, of course, in its gardens.
Grandest of them all is the Jardin Botanico da Madeira, which spans an impressive 80,000 square metres and has one of the most comprehensive collections of exotic flora in Europe. What’s more, the displays of these collections are truly spectacular, making this one of the island’s best-loved tourist attractions. Among its highlights is the formal shrub garden mosaic, which is an excellent place to take a few photos, as well as its selection of endemic Madeiran species. There are also succulents, cacti, an area devoted to the cultivation of medicinal plants and much more. This truly is a garden that’s a feast for the eyes, nose and the mind – there is a lot to learn, and plenty of inspiration to gain.
If you have time before you leave, make your way to the south end of the garden, where you’ll find an aviary. Home to birds from across the world, it is a kaleidoscope of colourful plumage and lively birdsong – a charming way to end your visit here.
Chateau de Villandry
Where: Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Opening hours: Varies each month. In April, the gardens are open 9am to 7pm (chateau 9am to 6pm)
Ticket price: €6.50 (€10.50 euros for a ticket that includes the chateau)
Villandry was one of the last major Renaissance chateaux constructed in the Loire Valley, dating back to the mid-18th century. However, it is easily more famous for its spectacular gardens than the chateau itself. Covering more than six hectares, these gardens are some of the most beautiful in the country – and have the added advantage of displaying several unusual elements too.
The tranquil water garden is an excellent example of its type, and one of the most relaxing parts of the estate to explore. Equally compelling but more unusual is the kitchen garden, which is arranged according to colour, rendering it as charming as the floral displays. Another must-see is the Jardin d’Ornement, which depicts various elements of love (passion, for example) through horticultural display. Villandry also includes a maze, vineyards and much more.
It’s also well worth paying a visit to the belvedere or the top of the donjon – from these vantage points, you get stunning panoramic views of the grounds.
Jardin de Cactus
Where: Guatiza, Teguise, Lanzarote
Opening hours: 10am to 5.45pm
Ticket price: €5.50 (adults)
Located in a disused quarry, this incredible cactus garden is a testament to Lanzarote’s arid landscape and the ingenuity of its designer, celebrated artist Cesar Manrique. More than 1,000 species of cacti can be seen in this space, which was cultivated by Manrique for two decades.
Strolling among the cacti, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve stepped onto another planet – something that’s enhanced by Lanzarote’s famous lunar-like landscape. Taking just an hour to explore, it provides a unique experience of the harmony between art and nature.
Jardin del Laberint d’Horta
Where: Guinardo district, Barcelona
Opening hours: 10am to sunset (6pm from November to February; 7pm in March and October; 8pm in April; 9pm from May to September)
Ticket price: €2.17
The oldest in Barcelona, these gardens are something of a hidden gem, sitting as they do outside of the city centre and often overshadowed by Gaudi’s Park Guell. Dating back to the 18th century, they provide a refreshing break from the busier tourist attractions and baking streets.
They are named after the maze of pollarded cyprus trees that lies in the gardens’ heart, which is well worth exploring – though you should be prepared to get a little lost! There are also waterfalls, an artificial lake and a neoclassical pavilion to discover as you explore. Keep your eyes peeled; these gardens are home to a host of hidden gems, including gargoyles tucked into the rock, and red squirrels darting from tree to tree.
Where: Outside Lisbon
Opening hours: Individual gardens vary
Ticket price: Free (individual gardens ticketed)
Technically not a garden, Sinta is one of the most beautiful destinations in Europe. Located not far from Portugal’s vibrant capital, Lisbon, Sintra is a fairytale destination of forest-covered mountains, palaces and, of course, charming gardens. It is a place that has long inspired poets and artists and, when you visit, it will be clear why.
The whole of Sintra is sublime, resembling a lush untamed garden, but there are some individual gardens that are well worth a visit. These include the Palacio and Parque de Monserrate, where you’ll find a 30-hectare park complete with rambling gardens, well-kept lawns and exotic plants from across the world, including Himalayan rhododendrons and dragon trees.
Also deserving of a visit is Parque de Pena, where you can stare in awe at vast redwoods and see all kinds of exciting tropical plants.
Wherever you decide to go, exploring some of Europe’s colourful gardens is an excellent addition to your next holiday.