Flower Power: Unmissable Historic Gardens In Europe

A bench and table in a garden with purple flowers and trees.

Europe’s landscape is dotted with historic hotels that not only promise a luxurious stay but also offer a gateway to some of the continent’s most breathtaking gardens. For travellers who relish the charm of historic sites and the serene beauty of nature, these hotels provide an unforgettable experience. Here are four must-visit historic hotels with stunning gardens on-site and nearby that promise beauty and tranquillity.

Fernhill House Hotel & Gardens, Clonakilty, West Cork, Ireland

Tucked in the heart of West Cork, Fernhill House Hotel & Gardens stands as a beacon of historic elegance and natural beauty. Originally one of Clonakilty’s most luxurious Georgian mansions, the hotel is deeply rooted in the region’s rich heritage. The O’Neill family, now in their fourth generation as custodians of this historic estate, are passionately involved in restoring the gardens to their former glory.

The gardens at Fernhill, designed by the renowned gardener Mary Reynolds, are a testament to the craft of landscape architecture. They unfold in a series of unique vistas and secluded corners, each meticulously planned and lovingly tended. Visitors are encouraged to explore these spaces via the winding paths that reveal the garden’s full splendour in every season. Features like the fairy-lit bridge and gazebo transform at night, creating a magical, luminescent setting that captivates guests. The newly added pergola with drip lights casts an enchanting glow, inviting guests into what seems like an enchanted secret garden.

Adding to the allure of Fernhill’s gardens is its participation in the West Cork Garden Trail. This celebrated trail spans over 25 years and includes 22 exquisite gardens throughout West Cork. The region’s mild climate, influenced by the Atlantic Gulf Stream, nurtures a diverse range of flora, from rugged native species to delicate exotics. Each garden on the trail offers its own unique charm, ranging from sprawling country houses to intimate spaces filled with sculpture and innovation.

For those interested in a deeper understanding of Fernhill’s gardens, guided group tours are available. These tours are led by Michael O’Neill Jr., providing an intimate glimpse into the gardening traditions and innovations that shape this stunning property. Whether you’re capturing a romantic moment under the shimmering lights or enjoying the botanical diversity fostered by West Cork’s unique climate, Fernhill House Hotel & Gardens offers a picturesque escape into historical luxury and horticultural excellence.

Montofoli Wine Estate, Karystos, Greece

Montofoli Wine Estate in Karystos, nestled on the historic island of Evia, is a place where history and horticulture intertwine to create a unique viticultural experience. The estate’s lush gardens have been renowned since Venetian times, when the hill it occupies was aptly named for its verdant landscape, combining the Italian words for “mountain” (“monte”) and “leaf” (“foglio”). This legacy continued through the Ottoman Empire, known then as the “Pascha’s Gardens,” famous for its vibrant citrus groves.

Montofoli Wine Estate gardens in Evia island, Greece.

Today, the estate still cherishes its historical roots by cultivating many of the original citrus varieties—lemon, orange, tangerine, bergamot, and Babylon fruit. The air in spring is sweet with the scent of citrus blossoms, complemented by the soft buzzing of bees, creating a truly sensory experience.

What sets Montofoli apart is its spectacular dry-stone wall terraces, some as tall as 6.5 meters. These ancient structures are a testament to traditional agricultural methods and serve a crucial function in draining and protecting the plants from root rot. Planted in 1986, the old vines on these terraces contribute to the distinctiveness of Montofoli’s wines. The mineral-rich soil enhances the flavours, imbuing their wines, like the celebrated “Ktima Montofoli” dessert wine, with a character that encapsulates the estate’s unique microclimate.

A bench and table in a garden with purple flowers and trees.

Visitors to Montofoli Wine Estate can wander through these historic gardens, discovering serene spots to relax and absorb the stunning views, aromas, and tranquil sounds. Each step through the gardens is a step through history, with the lush greenery and sun-dappled terraces offering a peaceful retreat from the world.

Renvyle House Hotel, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland

Nestled in the wild and rugged landscape of Connemara, the Renvyle House Hotel offers not just a peaceful retreat but also serves as a gateway to one of the area’s most esteemed historical sites, Kylemore Abbey and its Victorian Walled Gardens. Less than 10 kilometres from the hotel, Kylemore Abbey is a must-visit for anyone staying at Renvyle House, providing a perfect blend of history, architecture and horticulture.

The Victorian Walled Garden at Kylemore is a true horticultural masterpiece. Built in the late 1800s, it was one of the last walled gardens created during Ireland’s Victorian era, and its scale and sophistication once rivalled that of the famed Kew Gardens in London. The garden covers over six acres, and is split by a quaint mountain stream and features an exquisite layout that includes formal flower gardens, restored glasshouses, and the original head gardener’s house and bothy.

The eastern section of the garden is particularly enchanting, housing the floral displays and glasshouses, while the western part is devoted to vegetable plots, fruit trees, and herbaceous borders, complete with a rockery and herb patches. A fernery and a nearby oak plantation provide a lush, green sanctuary that invites visitors to linger and enjoy the tranquillity.

A significant restoration in the mid-1990s brought this garden back from overgrowth and disrepair to its former glory. Today, as a designated Heritage Garden, Kylemore only cultivates plant species that date back to the Victorian era. The garden’s bedding is changed twice yearly, offering a vibrant display that evolves with the seasons. Self-guided panels throughout the garden allow visitors to learn about its rich history and the extensive efforts that have preserved its beauty for future generations.

Visiting Kylemore’s Victorian Walled Garden from Renvyle House Hotel offers a journey through time, where the untamed beauty of Connemara meets the refined elegance of Victorian garden design, making it a highlight for any traveller exploring this unique Irish landscape.

Hotel Villa Astra, Lovran, Croatia

Hotel Villa Astra stands as a beacon of Venetian Gothic elegance along the serene shores of the Adriatic Sea in Lovran, Croatia. Dating back to the late 19th century, this historic villa captures the essence of a bygone era, having been lovingly restored to showcase its original architectural grandeur. The hotel’s lush gardens are a central feature, offering a tranquil haven where guests can immerse themselves in the soothing presence of Mediterranean plant species and the gentle sea breeze.

A mere ten-minute drive from the hotel, the renowned Villa Angiolina & Botanical Gardens in Opatija beckon. This celebrated garden, once the playground of Austro-Hungarian nobility, continues to enchant visitors with its diverse array of more than 150 plant species from around the globe. The botanical collection, thriving under the region’s mild climate influenced by the sea, includes spectacular camellias, magnolias, and numerous other varieties, providing a vibrant tapestry of colour and fragrance throughout the year.

Villa Angiolina’s gardens are a visual delight and cultural journey through the horticultural preferences of the 19th-century European elite, showcasing plants that were considered exotic and prestigious during that time. Walking through these gardens, one experiences the historical layers of horticulture that have been preserved and cherished over the decades.

Back at Hotel Villa Astra, the experience is equally enriching. The hotel’s own gardens serve as a peaceful oasis where guests can enjoy quiet moments of reflection or leisurely strolls among beautifully landscaped grounds. The blend of historical architecture and natural beauty makes Hotel Villa Astra an ideal destination for those seeking a restorative getaway in a setting that resonates with history and horticultural charm.

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