13 Art-Inspired Gardens to Explore in Europe This Summer

Claude Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.” – Claude Monet

The warmest months of the year often inspire art-filled excursions or relaxing retreats to the country. For art lovers, there’s no better way to bridge the two than by exploring some of the most whimsical botanical grounds across Europe. We mean, of course, the most lush, sprawling gardens that dot the continent with splashes of vivid blooms. Whether they once served as the earthly muse that inspired Monet’s famous works, or are ripe with examples of 16th-century Roman sculpture, these 13 horticultural oases are Europe’s most beautiful, art-inspired gardens to explore on your summer travels.

1. Claude Monet’s Garden (Fondation Claude Monet)

Claude Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: Giverny, France

If you happen to wander through the small French village of Giverny, a short drive from Paris, you shouldn’t miss Claude Monet’s water garden, an experience comparable to actually stepping into his 1897 Water Lilies series. In 1893, Monet bought a piece of land and a pond along which he created his garden complete with a Japanese bridge (which he painted green, not the traditional red).

The famed French Impressionist was fascinated by the way light and clouds reflected off water. Thus, in his small row boat on the pond, he sat painting his wild garden filled with bamboo, maples, peonies, lilies, weeping willows and other varieties of plants that he let grow freely. He did not like organized nor constrained gardens, instead choosing to plant flowers based on the harmony of their colors.

Examples from Monet’s Water Lilies series sit in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris and in other museums around the world, but his natural inspiration for these works and the adjacent home in which he lived for over 40 years is open for viewing in Giverny from March through November.

While You’re There

See the Giverny Museum of Impressionists, just a few minutes’ walk from Monet’s garden. Currently on exhibition at the museum until November 4, 2018 is Color and Light: The Neo-Impressionist Henri-Edmond Cross.

2. Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra

Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: Granada, Spain

The city of Granada in southern Spain is home to one of the world’s most famous palaces, the Palacio de Generalife, which is accompanied by magnificent gardens. The Moorish palace and gardens were built in the early 14th century by Muhammad III, then Sultan of Granada, during an era of Islamic rule and artisanal influence in Spain. Generalife in Arabic, in fact, translates to “architect’s garden.”

The gardens you’ll see today, however, were constructed in 1931 over the course of 20 years. Located next to the widely known medieval Mediterranean acropolis, the Alhambra, they are exemplary of traditional Spanish paradise gardens of the time. They feature a central cross axis diverting into four directions, Granadian walkways paved with black and white pebbled mosaics, long water channels, a walled courtyard, fruit trees and fragrant plants. Arcades and pavilions provide ample spots for shade-seekers in the hot sun. The Generalife palace and gardens have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Granada.

While You’re There

Visit the Museo de Bellas Artes of Granada, a 10 minute walk from Generalife, which houses about 2,000 works of art and specializes in Spanish Renaissance and Baroque painting and sculpture.

3. Keukenhof Park

Keukenhof Park in Lisse, The Netherlands. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: Lisse, The Netherlands

Best known for its abundance of vibrantly colored tulips in spring (more than seven million, to be exact), Keukenhof Park is yet another place where flower peepers flock. Located in Lisse, South Holland, the Netherlands, the park is only open for three months of the year, from March through May. However, it’s most certainly a bucket list item to check off your list.

Once a measly herb garden for the Dutch Countess Jacoba of Bavaria in the 15th century, the gardens now include 800 different kinds of tulips planted by hand by gardeners between October and December. While the tulips are the main tourist attraction, visitors will also discover impressive displays of orchids, hyacinths, and daffodils on the grounds.

4. The Garden of Marqueyssac

The Garden of Marqueyssac in Vézac, France. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: Vézac, France

North of the Spanish border, in the southern province of Dordogne, France, is the majestic garden of Marqueyssac. Reopened to the public in 1997 after restoration work, the park was designed specifically for visitors to enjoy a picturesque stroll through its nearly 4 miles worth of shaded paths which overlook the stunning cliffs of the Dordogne Valley. Alongside its unparalleled panoramic views, the 19th-century garden also features a beautiful chateau with a balcony overlooking the river.

The most recognizable elements of the garden are the hand-pruned boxwood shrubs (pictured above) that align the walkways, emitting imagination and movement with their rounded, asymmetric, original shapes. The boxwoods, “wild and romantic” in nature, are over 100 years old. From August through October, you’ll also find carpets of small Naples cyclamen, a pink bulbous flower that blooms in Mediterranean regions in early fall.

5. The Lost Gardens of Heligan

The Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, United Kingdom. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: Cornwall, United Kingdom

Behold: a real-life secret garden. The wealthy Tremayne family lived on the Heligan estate in Cornwall, England for over 400 years. The house and garden was kept over generations by a force of maids, cooks, gardeners, and butlers who, at the outbreak of World War I, set off to join the war effort, though many of them, sadly, never returned. Because of their absence on the property, the gardens were lost – overgrown, hidden, unkempt – and remained that way for decades. It wasn’t until the 1990s, after a devastating hurricane, that the owners of the estate set out on a mission to bring back the lost gardens and to tell the story of the ordinary people who worked on the property – those who had worked hard to create them.

Today the estate, which spans 200 acres, is considered one of the most mysterious and romantic in England and is open year-round for public exploration. Paths laid out 200 years ago wind through an area called “The Jungle,” which consists of bamboo tunnels and tree ferns, as well as giant rhubarb and bananas. The Pleasure Grounds are home to ancient rhododendron boughs, an Italian Garden, and other exotic plant species. The Productive Gardens produce the fruits, vegetables and herbs that once fed generations of Tremayne family members. Lastly, the deep woodlands are where visitors will stumble upon the estate’s iconic sculptures: The Giant’s Head, The Mudmaid (pictured above) and The Grey Lady.

6. Monserrate Palace Park

Monserrate Palace Park in Sintra, Portugal. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: Sintra, Portugal

Monserrate Palace, a villa that sits near Sintra, Portugal, was once the summer resort of the Portuguese court. Today, visitors gather to gaze at both the Moorish-revival architecture of the villa and the surrounding landscaped garden, which was designed by English art collector William Thomas Beckford in 1793. The terrace of the villa leads out to a large park, which consists of a lake, springs, fountains, grottoes and rare plant species including various types of palm trees, orchids, ferns, Mexican agaves and yuccas, bamboos, azaleas and camellias.

7. Bodnant Garden

Bodnant Garden in Conwy, Wales. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: Conwy, Wales

Back in the United Kingdom, on another prestigious estate owned by many generations of the McLaren family, is the Bodnant Garden. Founded in 1874 in Conwy, Wales, the world-renowned garden stretches over 80 acres and is filled with plants from every corner of the earth. It also offers a gorge garden, numerous jagged Champion trees, a waterfall, sculptures and five formal Italian-style terraces.

The garden is most famous for its Laburnum arch, which blooms in beautiful yellow in May and June. Bodnant Garden has four Natural Collections of plants: Magnolia, Embothrium, Eucryphia and Rhododendron forrestii. From July through October, beds of fragrant English roses attract thousands of visitors. In fact, today, the Bodnant Garden sees 190,000 visitors a year.

8. Gardens at the Palace of Versailles

Gardens at the Palace of Versailles in Versailles, France. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: Versailles, France

Of all gardens in Europe, the royal garden that sits in the backyard of the Palace of Versailles is undoubtedly one of the best known. Approximately six million visitors a year come to see the garden at Versailles, which can be admired from many rooms of the chateau. However, it is most remarkably seen from the windows in the Hall of Mirrors, a viewpoint dubbed the “Grand Perspective.” This perspective was specifically created by Versailles gardener André Le Nôtre just before the reign of Louis XIV.

In 1661, Louis XIV then commissioned Le Nôtre to expand upon and renovate the gardens at Versailles, which he believed to be just as important as the palace. This was, of course, a huge task that involved moving massive amounts of soil, digging fountains and canals, planting trees, and more. Thousands of men were employed to take part to realize this 40-year project. After being fully re-planted in the 1990s, the garden today looks fresh and inviting, featuring meticulously mowed lawns, beds of flower varieties, sculptures and fountains including the notable central Latona Fountain. On weekends from late spring to early fall, visitors can witness the Grandes Eaux, spectacles during which all of the fountains of the garden are fully activated.

While You’re There

You can’t visit Paris without seeing Versailles, and you can’t visit Paris without meandering through the Louvre. On view now through September 2018, see “In Society: 17th- and 18th-Century Pastels at the Louvre,” featuring works of the Enlightenment, dating back to the reign of Louis XV and Louis XVI.

9. Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens in London, United Kingdom. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: London, United Kingdom

About 30 minutes from central London are the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew, which hold one of the world’s largest collections of plants – about 30,000 species. The Kew Gardens were founded in 1759 and are visited by two million people every year. Make sure to check out all six of Kew Gardens’ greenhouses including the largest, the Palm House, the Temperate House, the Evolution House, the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the Alpine House, and the Waterlily House.

The grounds also feature an extensive arboretum, a treetop walkway for the adventurous, Mediterranean gardens, Japanese gardens with a pagoda and Minka House, and Queen Charlotte’s Cottage. Garden-goers will also find numerous sculptures dotting the gardens, including the most famous: the Queen’s Beasts, a series of 10 animal statues that bear shields to symbolize the ancestry of Queen Elizabeth II of England.

While You’re There

To admire more natural scenery indoors, stop by the National Gallery in London to check out Thomas Cole: Eden to EmpireThe museum calls the artist “the greatest American landscape artist of his generation.” The exhibition runs until October 7, 2018.

10. Boboli Garden

Boboli Garden in Florence, Italy. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: Florence, Italy

Should you decide to venture off to Italy in summer, another botanical site to check off your list is the Boboli Gardens in Florence. The gardens are located alongside the Pitti Palace and together are considered one of the greatest open-air museums of Florence. Inside the park, visitors can admire ancient oak trees, a Roman style amphitheatre, sculptures (such as Egyptian Obelisk brought from Luxor in 1789) and fountains including Neptune’s Fountain, nicknamed “The Fork” for his trident.

The Large Grotto is decorated by Mannerist sculptures, and originally housed Michelangelo’s The Prisoners before the work was moved to the Accademia Gallery in Florence. The design of Boboli Gardens perfectly exemplifies “green architecture” and served as a prototype for many other European royal gardens including, in particular, that of Versailles.

11. Giusti Palace Garden

Giusti Palace Garden in Verona, Italy. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: Verona, Italy

Verona, Italy is associated with all things romantic thanks to Shakespeare’s infamous tale of Romeo & Juliet. Beyond its copious references to the classic play, Verona is also home to some extraordinary romantic gardens. One of the most marvelous is the Giusti Palace Garden, designed in the 16th century by the royal Giusti family.

Like the Boboli Gardens, this garden contains centuries-old trees, fountains and grottoes (known for their strange echoes). Gargoyles and ancient inscriptions can also be spotted in the park. Among those who frequented the garden were Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

12. Ludwigsburg Palace Garden

Ludwigsburg Palace Garden in Ludwigsburg, Germany. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: Ludwigsburg, Germany

Dubbed the “Versailles of Swabia,” Ludwigsburg Palace of Germany consists of a whopping 452 rooms. It’s also an architectural example of the Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical and Empire styles. The palace is one of the largest in Germany and, of course, is accompanied by a fantastic garden that attracts over half a million people a year. The garden, also called the Blooming Baroque Garden, surrounds the palace on three sides and is about 79 acres in size.

Though the French Baroque style garden was first constructed in 1749, the garden today was founded in 1954 to commemorate the city of Ludwigburg’s 250th birthday. Inside, visitors will find smaller themed gardens like the Sardinian, Japanese and the Fairytale garden complete with depictions of fairy tales. Pathways are surrounded by canals and fountains, and a unique assortment of Mediterranean plants.

13. Palais de la Berbie

Palais de la Berbie in Albi, France. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Location: Albi, France

Perhaps the least-known, yet certainly not least in its charm, is the garden at the Palais de la Berbie (Berbie Palace). Located in the historic southern city of Albi, France, the Berbie Palace is an old episcopal palace constructed in the 13th century near the banks of the river Tarn. In 2010, the palace was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, visitors can tour the palace as well as roam the perimeter of its garden along terraced walkways for an aerial view of its colorful blooms. From this partially covered perch, you’re also in the prime spot to see the river, overarching medieval bridge and the surrounding city.

While You’re There

A rather unique spot for an art museum, the Berbie Palace is also home to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum. The museum holds the largest public collection of posters, paintings and lithographs by the Albi-born Post-Impressionist and Art Nouveau artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

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