What are the most beautiful gardens in Europe right now? Here’s our list of personal favorites: the best gardens in England, France, Italy, Holland and more.
What’s behind the primal lure of a garden?
Perhaps it all started with the Garden of Eden – an idyll of innocence, joy and faith. In many of the world’s religions, gardens are a vision of paradise and serenity. Maybe it’s our innate desire for beauty and order, and for connection with the natural world and with each other.
We asked our far-flung correspondents to share their thoughts about the most stunning and luxurious gardens on earth. We expected to hear lots of suggestions about the best gardens in the best gardens in England, France, Italy, and Holland. Those are the usual suspects. But we received so many passionate responses from our global network of contributors that we decided to make this a four-part series. The other entries? The most beautiful gardens in the Americas; in Asia; and in the Middle East and Africa.
the best gardens in England, France, Italy, Holland and more
Here’s the initial installment of our curated Dandelion Chandelier list of the not-to-be-missed gardens of the world. In this edition, we share our recommendations on the most beautiful gardens in Europe. It’s our personal list of the best gardens in England, France, Italy, Holland and more.
what are the most beautiful gardens in Europe right now?
Of course, it’s impossible to choose, or to list every one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe. Here’s a list of almost 20 of our favorites to get you started. We begin with the countries known for the best gardens: England, France, Italy, and Holland.
London has so many wonderful gardens that you don’t need to wander far to find one. Our personal favorites? St. James Park, the Buckingham Palace Gardens, and Kensington Gardens, with its striking Prince Albert Memorial. But if you have time to venture further, try one of these.
1. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew
The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Home to over 50,000 living plants, the garden features the largest and most diverse biosphere in the world. Part of the fun is that it also features iconic buildings designed by eminent architects, and landscapes conceived by distinguished garden designers.
Highlights include the Woodland Garden, where you’ll find the Temple of Aeolus, first built in the 1760’s as a homage to Aeolus, the ruler of the winds in Greek mythology. The dazzling glasshouses include the Palm House, the Temperate House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory. And there’s a Rock Garden, a new Children’s Garden, the Great Pagoda, and the Hive – an immersive experience of what it feels like inside a honeybee hive.
2. The Powerscourt Garden
Located just 20 minutes from Dublin, the Powerscourt Estate Gardens are home to Ireland’s highest waterfall and over 47 acres of gardens. Personally, we believe this is without question one of the best gardens in Europe. The property boasts formal Italian and Japanese Gardens. But the highlight, according to one of our correspondents, is the secret hollows carved out throughout the property and the rambling pathways which lead to a particularly quirky and maybe, even, spooky discovery. If you’re a Stephen King fan, check out the large pet cemetery (brimming with adorable names), which is the final resting place of the much loved pets of the Wingfield and Slazenger families.
3. Kilkomea Manor and Gardens
Kilkomea Manor and Gardens is another must-visit located in County Wexford. Though it is only 7 acres, it captures the mystical and enigmatic qualities of Irish history and folklore. Delightful topiaries abound within the walled formal gardens. But cross over to the woodland garden and amongst the ancient tress you’ll find a charming fairy village – the first of its kind. Relics and gravestones that reveal the island’s viking history can also be found. Full of storybook magic, it’s the garden of our childhood fantasies.
4. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation
For the most intriguing name, you can’t beat The Garden of Cosmic Speculation in Portrack. It’s definitely the quirkiest of the best gardens in Europe. And it lives up to its moniker.
Conceived by Charles Jencks and his wife Maggie Keswick in 1989, it has 40 different areas, including gardens, bridges, and sculptures, spanning 30 acres. It’s a splendid celebration of nature, science, and whimsy. For example, the “Quark Walk” takes you on a journey to the smallest building blocks of matter; a series of landforms and lakes are a homage to fractal geometry; a terrace shows the effect of a black hole. This is a garden where you can geek out to your heart’s content. But there’s a catch: it’s open only one day a year. For 5 hours. Plan accordingly.
On the list of the best gardens in England, France, Italy, Holland and other European countries, France more than holds it own.
5. The Luxembourg Gardens
Our Paris Bureau Chief reports that the Luxembourg Gardens are “a favorite of both die-hard French residents and also foreigners. Much more ‘de rigueur’ than the Tuileries.” We say this is one of the best gardens in Europe.
Situated on the border between Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, the Gardens were inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence.
Created upon the initiative of Queen Marie de Medici in 1612, the area is divided into French gardens and English gardens. Between the two lies a geometric forest and a large pond. There is also an apple orchard, an apiary, greenhouses filled with orchids and a rose garden. Unique elements include the 106 statues spread throughout the park, the monumental Medici fountain, and the Orangerie.
6. The Secret Gardens of Versailles
The gardens surrounding the Palace of Versailles took 40 years to complete; King Louis XIV valued them as much as he did the palace. You can happily visit Versailles and never set foot indoors – the grounds alone are spectacular and engaging.
Within the epic grounds of Versailles, there are several “secret gardens” that remain among our favorite spaces in the world. Visit then with someone who can share their history with you, and you might agree.
7. Monet’s Garden in Giverny
Our Paris Bureau Chief also highly recommends Monet’s Giverny gardens outside of Paris for their beauty and simple homey feeling. This is high on the list for anyone hoping to visit the best gardens in England, France, Italy, Holland and other European locales.
Monet spent the last 40 years of his life there, painting, planting, and tending to his flowers. You’ll find poppies, sunflowers, and nasturtiums. Plus irises, peonies, delphiniums, asters, daffodils and primroses. Across the road is the the marsh with a small pond where Monet created his iconic Oriental floating garden. This is an excellent day trip from the city – Giverny is 50 miles west of Paris. The grounds open in late March and remain open until early November.
8. Jardin Exotique in Eze
We absolutely adore the Jardin Exotique in Èze on the French Riviera.
9. The Chateau de Villandry Gardens
The Chateau de Villandry Gardens, located in a grand country house in the Loire Valley are wonderful, and open all year ’round. It holds pride of place among the best gardens in England, France and Italy.
The Love Garden is a magical place in which to ramble around and dream. You can take in another breathtaking view of the gardens by attending the Nights of Thousand Lights (Nuits des Mille Feux) – held over two weekends, July 5-6 and August 2-3, when the gardens will be lit by 2,000 candles. The evenings end with a fireworks display reflected in a pond known as “the water mirror.” Brilliant!
According to our friends, the Keukenhof Tulip Gardens in Lisse are spring incarnate, filled with tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Over 7 million bulbs are planted there annually, not to mention 800 different types of tulips. The Keukenhof Gardens are open only 60 days per year, making a visit a true luxury experience.
11. Het Loo Palace
While you’re in Holland, make a trip to the gardens of the Het Loo Palace, near the town of Apeldoorn, which was the medieval castle of Prince William of Orange. Although the palace is currently under renovation until 2021, its gardens are open for spring starting at the beginning of April each year. They’ve been restored to their original state: a late-Dutch interpretation of the Italian-French garden, dating from the first quarter of the seventeenth century.
12. Alpine Botanic Garden, Wengen
Our Swiss friends recommend a trip to the mountains for a special garden visit. Nestled in the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps, the village of Wengen is encircled by the Eiger and Jungfrau. Take the rack railway to Schynige Platte, and starting at the end of May, you can visit the Alpine Botanic Garden, which has 700 different species of local plants. You’ll also have incredible panoramic views of the mountains, and the lakes below. Yes, you will feel like bursting into song, a la Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music.” And yes – just this once – it’s OK.
13. The Villa Borghese Gardens
In Rome, the Villa Borghese is a glorious landscape garden in the naturalistic English manner; it contains a number of buildings and attractions, in addition to its wonderful art museum, the Galleria Borghese.
14. The Villa d’Este Gardens
The Villa d’Este is a 16th-century villa in Tivoli, an hour outside Rome. It’s famous for its terraced hillside Italian Renaissance garden and especially for its profusion of stunning fountains. It is now an Italian state museum, and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
15. The Boboli Gardens
In Florence, the Boboli Gardens are striking, formal and quite extensive. They are universally acclaimed as one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe. Representing the mid-16th century style, they’re located directly behind the Pitti Palace. The Pitti was the main seat of the Medici grand dukes of Tuscany. As a result, the gardens house a collection of sculptures dating from the 16th through the 18th centuries. They lack a natural water source, so a conduit was built from the Arno to feed water into an elaborate irrigation system.
16. National Garden
The National Garden in Athens is just steps away from Parliament and Syntagma. It’s also a short stroll from the best luxury hotel in town, the 5-star Hotel Grande Bretagne. We found it was a great place to start or end the day.
The Garden is home to 7,000 trees, 40,000 bushes and other plants, making up 519 species and varieties. 102 of them are Greek, with Judas trees, oleanders and carob trees the local stars. Others come from all over the world: Australian pines, Chinese trees-of-heaven, cypress trees and Canary Island date palms. There are six lakes in the garden, as well. It’s great fun to see the fountains and the animals and interact with the local families who bring their children there.
17. Generalife Granada Garden
The Iberian Peninsula has some of the most spectacular gardens on earth; perhaps the loveliest is the Generalife Granada Garden in Alhambra. Built between the 12th and 14th centuries, the Generalife was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid rulers of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus. It was designed with a decorative garden, fruit and vegetable patches, courts and other structures, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
18. The Palheiro Gardens
400 miles off the coast of Africa, the volcanic Portuguese island of Madeira is one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe. Its climate is sub-tropical, so the vegetation is verdant and rich. Every inch of the island’s workable land is terraced and cultivated, and some of the gardens are accordingly incredibly steep. Much of is protected as a conservation area harboring rare flowers, including orchids, bougainvillea, lilies, hydrangeas, magnolias, jacarandas and azaleas. The Palheiro Gardens (formerly called the Blandy Gardens), established over several generations, are justly popular and famous for their camellias.
never the same twice
One last thought about luxury and gardens, as we end our list of the most beautiful gardens in Europe.
Visiting a magnificent garden is a luxurious experience in part because it’s ephemeral. It will never be exactly the same as it was the day you saw it. It won’t have that exact same fragrance, or that precise riot of color, or the identical butterflies and birds and fellow humans.
But visiting a garden is also a timeless experience. You can see with your own eyes what the long-ago creators of the garden hoped that you would see – what they dreamed of, what was, and what is. And what may yet be.
We think you owe it to yourself to spend some time in the greenery this year.
What gets your vote for the best gardens in England, France, Italy, and Holland? Did we miss anything?
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