Science tells us that spending time in a garden is excellent for our health and well-being. We’ve always intuitively felt that, but its great to have validation from the experts. So where will you go to get your dose of Vitamin-G this spring and summer? To help you find the best spots, we’ve shared our top picks of the best gardens in Europe, in Asia, the United States; and Central and South America. Now we share the best gardens in the Middle East and Africa.
To celebrate the coming of spring, we asked our far-flung correspondents to share their thoughts about the most stunning and luxurious gardens in the world.
We received so many passionate responses from our global network of contributors that we decided to make this a four-part series. Here’s the fourth and final installment of our Dandelion Chandelier list of not-to-be-missed gardens worldwide. It’s our curated list of some of the most beautiful gardens in the Middle East and Africa.
the most beautiful gardens in the Middle East and Africa
1. La Marjorelle
Several of our correspondents rave about the vibrant cobalt blue of the La Marjorelle Gardens in Marrakesh, which were created in the 1920’s by the painter Jacques Majorelle, and rescued and restored in the 1960’s by Yves Saint Laurent. In addition to the vivid blue, there’s an artists’ palette of color: yellow windows and pottery, green doors, pink and red and paths, and purple bougainvillea.
2. El Bahia Palace
El Bahia Palace has one of the best gardens in the Middle East and Africa. Built in the late 19th century in Marrakesh by the great vizier Sidi Moussa, the two-acre garden features sunlit courtyards, cypress, orange trees and jasmine. The name El Bahia means “palace of the beautiful, the brilliant;” the palace complex covers eight hectares in Marrakesh. It is one of the masterpieces of Moroccan architecture, and a popular tourist spot. In addition to the gardens, there are often concerts and art exhibitions to see. The Moroccan royal family stays there sometimes, in a private section not open to the public.
3. La Mamounia
Avid Churchill scholars know that the statesman often took up his paintbrush in Marrakech. It was there that he found the time to paint the one picture he created throughout the duration of World War II. Churchill favored the Hotel La Mamounia because the views from its roof were “incomparably paintaceous.” The surrounding gardens – which are two centuries old – were once called the “Arset El Mamoun,” and for Churchill, they were “the most lovely spot in the whole world.” Featuring towering palm trees, orange trees, 700-year-old olive trees and the fragrance of rose bushes, it’s said that in the 18th century, Prince Moulay Mamoun used to hold extraordinary garden parties there. The gardens were a gift from his father, and have been named after him to this day.
4. Le Jardin Secret
Le Jardin Secret in Marrakesh is now open to the public for the first time in its history. So we all get to see one of the most beautiful gardens in the Middle East and Africa for ourselves. The origins of the Secret Garden complex date back to the Saadian Dynasty, more than four hundred years ago. Rebuilt in the mid-Nineteenth century, Le Jardin Secret has been the home of some of Morocco and Marrakesh’s most important political figures. It’s a wonderful example of Arab-Andalusian and Moroccan palaces, filled with outstanding examples of Islamic art and architecture.
Today, the green spaces of Le Jardin Secret are divided into an exotic garden and an Islamic garden. The exotic garden is filled with plants from all over the world, a homage to the experimental aspect of the great gardens of Marrakesh. Conversely, the Islamic garden has been restored to its likely eighteenth century layout. Closely linked to the riad structures, this type of garden was meant to be an oasis of peace.
5. ANIMA Garden
The ANIMA Garden in Marrakesh is one of the most beautiful and whimsical gardens in the world. Artist André Heller‘s opulent, two-hectare botanical garden is a place of “sensuality, wonder, contemplation, joy, healing, and inspiration.” In addition to the plants, art and sculpture, visitors have breathtaking views of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, particularly Mount Toubkal.
6. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Our Paris Bureau Chief reports that the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town “are spectacular for their magnitude and sheer scale. It’s rumored that the film-makers of Jurassic Park used these as the backdrop when the giant dinosaurs are shown roaming around.” Several of our other correspondents agree: this is a must-see.
Built in 1913 on the side of Table Mountain, here you’ll find almost 1,500 species of indigenous flowers, including South Africa’s national flower, the king protea (which represents change and hope).
7. Cape Point
While you’re at Kirstenbosch, you should also pay visit the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. It’s stunning, and filled with wild flowers and native flora. Cape Point falls within the southern section of Table Mountain National park. The natural vegetation of the area comprises the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms. You can hop a ride on the Flying Dutchman Funicular, get a bite to eat at the Two Oceans Restaurant, and browse the park’s retail shops.
8. The UNESCO World Heritage Persian Garden
A fashion industry power player of Persian descent highly recommends a visit to Bagh-e-Fin (Fin Garden) in Kashan. Built in 1590, it is one of the oldest and most beautiful examples of a traditional Persian garden. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the garden features a quadrilateral shape divided by water features. The design symbolizes a harmony of four elements: sky, earth, water and plants. As this region has an arid climate, the garden with its 40 bubbling fountains, intricate pavilions and a palace, fruit trees and flowers, looks like a dreamy mirage.
9. Bahá’í Gardens
The Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa, according to our Israeli socialite friend, are among the loveliest gardens in all of Israel. Even if you don’t realize that it is a shrine to the founder of the Bahá’í faith, its ordered hedges and geometric planning make it feel like a sacred space. With the magnificent backdrop of the Haifa Bay, it elevates beauty to something of a religious experience.
10. The Dubai Miracle Garden
The fantastical Dubai Miracle Garden is a perfect spot for families and groups of all ages. Every year since 2013, from mid-November to mid-May, 150 million flowers are arranged into colorful topiaries, arches and floral sculptures. The garden is part of Dubailand. The floral Emirates airliner is not to be missed.
a garden lost in the mist of time
As we talked with our correspondents and did our research on the most beautiful gardens in Middle East and Africa, the conversations reminded us of growing up day-dreaming about the fabled and mysterious Hanging Gardens of Babylon. They were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (and the only one whose location still has not been definitely established).
The gardens were described in detail by numerous classical authors in ways that sound enchanting and marvelous: it’s said that they were located near the royal palace, set upon vaulted terraces with stone balconies, watered by an exceptional system of irrigation and providing shade and serenity to its visitors.
Of course, we’ll never really know what those gardens looked like, or perhaps even where they really were. But we’re lucky enough to live right now alongside some botanical marvels that have survived through the ages, and that still bear witness to the vision and skill of their builders, and to the glories of the natural world. The gardens of the Middle East and Africa are among the most beautiful in the world.
We hope you’ll visit one soon. To marvel. And wonder.
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