Parks & Gardens
West Cork showcases some of the finest nature in all of Ireland. With its unique Gulf Stream climate, glittering coastline and unbridled wildlife areas, it’s ideal for those looking to dive into the countryside on their next Irish holiday. So, where to start? That’d have to be the West Cork Garden Trail. This collection of 27 gorgeous gardens showcases many of the world’s most divine feats of nature, from subtropical flora to fascinating fauna. Of course, it would be impossible to visit them all in one trip, or in just one day. That’s why we’ve whipped together this short itinerary - coupling some of the best parks with nearby places to stay - to help you make the most of your time on the trail.
Pinetree Lodge Garden
Newcomers to the West Cork Garden Trail should start with a quick trip to Pinetree Lodge Garden. Every inch of it is lovingly kept and upheld, from its 19th century cut stone walls to fairytale-esque stepping stones, and perfectly-preserved ponds to mixed flower beds.
Close by you’ll also find Glebe Gardens. Similar to the above, this horticultural hotspot provides a true picture of Irish country life. Old meadows neighbour beautiful vegetable gardens and woodland, while a grand amphitheatre acts as the stage for concerts, plays and other ceremonies. Glebe Gardens actually hosts plenty of events throughout the year, so if you time your visit well, it could coincide with a special gardening course or dining experience.
Where to stay: Keep up the nature theme with an overnight stay at Fernhill House. This exquisite 4-star country house hotel has acres of gorgeous parkland all its own, as the owner, Michael O’Neill, is a passionate gardener - something that’s easy to see as you amble through the lush greenery surrounding the property. A fitting way to end a floricultural day.
The next leg of your journey simply has to include Blarney Castle. Built nearly 600 years ago, it’s since been attracting visitors from all over the globe... and not just for its impressive interiors. The grounds surrounding the castle are utterly compelling in their own right, and include a Poison Garden, Himalayan Walk and fairy glade.
Where to stay: There are a few options for travellers wishing to see the castle. Just a fifteen minute drive away is the Metropole in Cork, where guests can enjoy 4-star luxury and world-class customer service. Elsewhere, there’s the charming Blue Haven Hotel or Old Bank House, both based in the culture-rich town of Kinsale.
A garden tour of Ireland simply wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Garinish Island. A utopia for horticulturists, it boasts a wondrous wealth of shrubs, flowers and trees along with a historic house where you can learn all about the island’s heritage and owners. Better yet, you don’t even have to wait before dipping your toe into this particular paradise. The Garinish Island website is currently offering a few online tours so that you can start exploring right away. What a treat.
Where to stay: End your West Cork Garden Trail tour with a night at Eccles Hotel. Overlooking Bantry Bay and Garinish Island, the panoramic views it offers are unrivalled. There’s a gorgeous spa on-site, too - perfect for relaxing in after so many active days outside.
Exquisite architecture, serene skies and jaw-dropping landscapes. Austria truly has it all, and there really is no end to the amazing European parks travellers can see when they head here for their trip away.
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
Schönbrunn Palace is a fantastic place to start your explorations. This UNESCO property includes a park that has been open to the public since 1779, and has since welcomed thousands of guests. Thanks to its eclectic mix of natural areas - from a vineyard to Orangery Garden and Desert House - you can soak in some of the world’s most astounding and diverse environments in just one afternoon.
Schloss Belvedere, Vienna
Those who want a taste of something similar can head onto Schloss Belvedere - a property consisting of two Baroque palaces, an orangery and stables - where flowers and fountains decorate the perimeter. Between its sculpted gardens and richly-painted panoramic views, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more romantic spot.
For a more private glimpse of Austrian wildlife, tourists can head to the Danube River. There, you’ll find a “Waterpark” - a secret glade consisting of two big ponds and an island where water birds come to rest. Observe ducks, seagulls, herons and more, or take to one of the many nearby hiking paths to head deeper into nature.
Where to stay: Ensure your perfect days turn into perfect nights by booking a room at Hotel Stefanie - the oldest hotel in Vienna. Though it’s been completely renovated, its fascinating heritage is clear throughout, and with its friendly staff catering to your every need, you’ll be bound to make some marvellous memories.
The Kvarner Riviera has more than a few gorgeous parks that cry out to be explored.
The American Gardens
Overlooking Kvarner Bay you’ll find The American Gardens, a collection of terraced areas that offer unparalleled views of the water. That is, if you can tear your eyes away from the gardens themselves. Natural objects have been finely clipped and arranged to create extraordinary effects - turning shrubs into flawless spheres and planting flowers in complex web formations - resulting in an extraordinary aesthetic throughout.
Elsewhere, Park Angiolina is one of the most celebrated parks in all of Opatija. Based in the heart of the city, tourists and locals alike flock here for some repose from the bustling streets.
This can also be achieved at Park Margarita - the second largest and third oldest park in Opatija - whose colourful flowers and trees create a peaceful setting for moments alone.
Where to stay: Boutique hideaway Villa Astra is a great choice for those seeking an intimate escape. With only seven bedrooms and several private gardens on-site, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into a fairytale. Its seaview is lovely, too.
Margraves of Ansbach
Pastoral Bavaria is home to some of the most magical European parks on the map. But if we had to choose just one to dive into, we’d have to pick the Margraves of Ansbach. Gardens in southern Germany just don’t get more magnificent than the Margraves of Ansbach. In particular, the “Hofgarten” (Court Garden) is a must-visit - where natural greenery sits alongside more formal, Baroque-inspired parkland, and a giant orangery creates a stunning silhouette against the Bavarian skyline. Once a year in July, it also hosts the Rococo festival, which celebrates the elegance of the Ansbach court. It’s quite the historic affair.
Where to stay: Close to the gardens you’ll find Schwarzer Bock, a boutique hotel that’s beloved by guests the world over. Modern amenities and medieval influence are expertly met, here, making your stay one that’s as comfortable as it is cultural. To indulge in the garden theme further, opt for the Hofgarten or Margravine rooms.
Müritz National Park
Imagine an all-you-can-eat buffet of glistening lakes, dizzying landscapes, misty marshes, and the occasional eagle soaring silently overhead. Müritz National Park makes this kind of postcard-perfect vision a reality. Inundated with some of the best lakes in Europe to visit (more than 130, to be precise), it’s more of a fairytale book than a glossy mag-cover.
Where to stay: You can even stay in a castle during your lakeside getaway: the majestical Schlosshotel Klink blends charming history with modern luxuries and a top-class restaurant serving freshly caught fish from Müritz itself. You don’t have to saunter far to get out on the waters – thanks to the hotel’s adjoining yachting harbour, you can glide your own boat through the lake’s serene ripples straight after breakfast.
Renaissance gardens are the bread and butter of the Tuscan countryside. It’s no wonder, then, that some of the most superb European parks are based here.
Villa Medici of Castello, Tuscany
Begin your nature-focused trip with an afternoon at the Villa Medici of Castello, which is famous for being the prototype of the 16th-century Italian garden. With its handsome structures - including the famous fountain of Hercules and Antaeus - and acres of meticulously-designed, colourful parks, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into your very own wonderland.
Boboli Gardens, Tuscany
Elsewhere, the magnificent Boboli gardens await their chance to take your breath away. Home to many impressive structures including an amphitheatre, Neptune’s fountain and “Viottolone” - a gorgeous green avenue flanked by emerald cypresses and historic statues - it strikes a masterful balance between culture and nature.
Villa Gamberaia, Tuscany
Those looking to move beyond 16th century influence should head for the Baroque gardens at Villa Gamberaia. Surrounded by the rolling hills of Florence, this horticultural haven is the very definition of serenity.
Where to stay: Villa le Barone is in driving distance from all of the above locations, making it an excellent choice for those looking to get lost in the Tuscan sun… though you can enjoy some striking scenery on the villa’s own doorstep, too. More than 100 different rose species grow on the property, as well as an orchard full of cherry, plum and apricot trees. Idyllic.
Sebino Natural Reserve, Lombardy
The Sebino Natural Reserve in Lombardy has been declared a ‘wetland of international importance’. Also close by is Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy (so big that it alters the local climate). Birdwatchers will love it: everything from redstarts, house martins, swallows and hoopoes fly in and out of the surrounding trees.
Where to stay: Agriturismo L’Unicorno, the oldest house in the hamlet of Macesina, is just a few minutes from Sebino Natural Reserve and the perfect base to explore Lake Garda. It sits among the vineyards, fruit and olive groves of Valtenesi. Stay in one of the 16th century rooms, sip a glass of local wine in the sunny courtyard or take a dip in the hotel pool.
The Botanic Gardens, Utrecht
Utrechts Botanic Gardens are situated around a fort in the middle of Utrecht Science Park, these sprawling green areas encompass everything you love about nature in summer. Exotic flowers spring to life within tropical greenhouses, while birds and bees flourish in specially-cultivated areas and shrubs house whispering wildlife. You’ll find one of Europe’s largest rock gardens here, too. Marvel at the various biotopes on display, and watch in awe as flowers that naturally exist in opposite climates grow peacefully side by side.
The Oude Hortus, Utrecht
Wander deeper into Utretcht, and you’ll also find The Oude Hortus - the university’s formal botanical gardens, that now provide a rustic retreat from the modern city. Those wanting to explore as much as possible will find plenty to see in the greenhouses or among the overflowing herb gardens, while those looking to take it easy can enjoy a lunch at Museum Café Ginkgo, or sit and daydream under the branches of ancient trees. Escapism at its finest.
Where to stay: History and nature are perfectly in-step at Sterkenburg Castle. Built on an island and surrounded by canals, you won’t believe that this thirteenth-century building is just a short drive away from the city. Boasting various vibrant vistas and some truly charming rooms, you’ll want for nothing as a guest here… except to stay forever.
Botanic Garden of the Jagiellonian University, Krakow
It’s only open between mid-April and mid-October, so the Botanical Garden of the Jagiellonian University is a must-see in the summer. Bursting with thousands of plants over nearly 10 hectares, the 18th-century garden is a wonderful spot to snap your holiday photos.
Where to stay: South of Krakow awaits another treasure: Hotel Dwór Sieraków, a four-star wonder hailing back to the 19th century. It’s been cleverly renovated, but still retains its charming English style.