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10 of the best gardens in Europe you’ve probably never heard of | Europe holidays

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Giardino Giusti, Verona, Italy

Any list of European gardens must begin with Italy, even though their immaculate form, symmetry and reliance on non-flowering evergreen structure might jar with the modern yearning for pollinator-friendly naturalism. The Italian garden reached a peak during the Renaissance and has barely changed since. Its fundamental principles remain elegance, charm and decadent relaxation. Giardino Giusti, in the northern city of Verona and once well known among the influential families of 16th-century Europe, exemplifies this timeless artistry. Drift along its green cypress alley past the commanding statues of Apollo and Adonis, get lost in the 18th-century labyrinth and breathe in the heady aroma of citrus blossom.
giardinogiusti.com, adult €15, child €9

Stavros Niarchos Park, Athens

Photograph: Milan Gonda/Alamy

There’s no need to leave the capital to experience Greece’s intoxicatingly aromatic, silver-leaved evergreens. With more than 170 native tree and shrub species and grounds crammed with the heady herbs of the Aegean, the comparatively new Stavros Niarchos Park is not only a distillation of Mediterranean flora, but also one of the most innovative contemporary exhibitions of it. Formerly a car park for the 2004 Olympic Games, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano (who was behind the Shard in London) in 2016 to house Greece’s national library and opera and a forward-thinking public park. With a gentle slope designed to restore a vital sea view, the park has olive-tree walks, environment-conscious planting, fountains, a vast roof garden and a playground – it’s a civic park of the future.
snfcc.org, free

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Latour-Marliac, Aquitaine, France

Photograph: Rosey./Alamy

The inspiration behind Monet’s water lily paintings can be found at Latour-Marliac, 400 miles to the south of the impressionist’s Giverny garden. The former home and experimental ground of 19th-century plantsman Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac, this water lily nursery-cum-water garden in the Lot-et-Garonne department was where Monet purchased the many-coloured lilies for his garden in Normandy. As well as orderly cultivation pools and a tropical greenhouse, these family-friendly gardens boast thermal and cool springs, an underwater cave, a rose arbour and flowerbeds shimmering with peonies and alliums. Come in mid- to high summer to catch the lilies in peak bloom.
latour-marliac.com, adult €8, 6-12 €4

Mossèn Costa i Lloberar Garden, Barcelona

Photograph: Marc Soler/Alamy

This Spanish garden may have singlehandedly rebranded the cactus for the European audience. That spiky staple of the 1970s conservatory? Yes, but seen here in its myriad, mesmerising forms, little and large, fierce and flowering. Set between the mountains and the sea on the Montjuïc rise in the south of Barcelona – and another example of high-end horticulture in the public domain (AKA free of charge) – Mossèn Costa i Llobera displays a stunning and surprisingly sprawling (six hectares in all) curation of the most curious of arid-climate succulents. Thriving in summer temperatures higher than in the city centre, this decorous garden is every bit as vibrant as Barcelona itself, from its bold blue agaves and African aloes to the saguaros and “organ pipes” of the wild west.
barcelona.cat, free

Gambarogno Botanical Park, Switzerland

Photograph: Imagebroker/Alamy

Close to the Italian border, in the pristine “Lago-land” of the Swiss-Italian lakes region, lies a wellspring of arboreal blossom and beauty: speciality trees of camellia, magnolia, dogwood and rhododendron in their many vibrant colours. Perched spectacularly above the glacial valley of Lake Maggiore, in view of the Alps, Gambarogno Botanical Park was designed by plant breeder Otto Eisenhut as an accompaniment to his nursery, and features winding paths that cut through delightfully free-flowing parkland gardens – to navigate through is an immersive, revitalising experience. Public transport can be taken from the pretty lakeside town of Vira. parcobotanicogambarogno.ch, CHF 8, under-14s free

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Gardens on the Ramparts, Prague

Photograph: Dmytrii Minishev/Alamy

Prague’s Town Hall Tower might claim the most famous view over the city of a hundred spires, but Gardens on the Ramparts, along the southern wall of Prague Castle, offers an equally panoramic and more serene alternative. A public park with free admission (unlike the Palace Gardens, but also within castle grounds), Gardens on the Ramparts takes the form of a green ribbon conceived in the 1920s by Slovenian architect Josef Plecnik during his modernising renovations to the castle. Combining soothing greens with seasonal summer flowers, this is the ideal spot to take a pause on the city tour with the softness of grass beneath your feet.
hrad.cz, free

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Jonsered Gardens, near Gothenburg, Sweden

Photograph: Partille Kommun

Organic principles and an enduring spirit of social responsibility underpin the gardens of 19th-century Jonsered Manor a few miles east of Gothenburg. Once the home of industrial pioneer William Gibson, who provided living, healthcare and childcare facilities at Jonsered for the workers at his canvas mill, the gardens were resurrected and reimagined in 2010 with a progressive view towards improved accessibility and biodiversity. A 20-minute train ride from the centre of Gothenburg and resolutely free of charge, Jonsered boasts formal, ornamental and kitchen gardens as well as a “classic English Garden”, which was designed in 2016 by British garden writer (and then Guardian columnist) Susie White as part of a cultural exchange.
tradgardsresan.se, free

Monserrate Park and Palace, Sintra, Portugal

Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

The deeply romantic Monserrate Palace, in the Atlantic-facing hills of Sintra in western Portugal, is worth tearing yourself away from lively Lisbon for. That Lord Byron committed his feelings for the neogothic castle (then in ruins) and its surrounding landscape to poetry should be endorsement enough. Having had numerous architectural and landscape design reinventions over the centuries, Monserrate’s Indian and Moorish-influenced palatial villa now stands amid sprawling gardens bursting with lush and often surprising plant species from around the world, all benefiting from Sintra’s warm, coastal-mountain microclimate. Thankfully, as it is a little distance from Portugal’s capital, footfall is often lower than might be expected for an important pin on the European gardens map.
parquesdesintra.pt, adult €12, 6-17 and senior €10, family €33

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Hermannshof, near Heidelberg, Germany

Photograph: Interfoto/Alamy

Less than an hour’s drive south of Frankfurt, outside “town of two castles” Weinheim, this hugely influential plantsperson’s paradise has been called Germany’s horticultural gift to the world. Set around a grand 19th-century villa, it focuses on environment-friendly, climate-conscious horticulture. For the enthusiastic gardener, Hermannshof’s rich borders and ecologically minded planting schemes will be fascinating; for the less plant savvy, the garden has the kind of earthy connection that transcends clever vistas and well-placed benches to something deeply enlivening, tapping into the root of our relationship with the natural world. If you could visit only one garden from this list, it should probably be the Hermannshof.
sichtungsgarten-hermannshof.de, free

Darwin’s Flower Garden, Amsterdam

Spectacular flower borders emboldened by an opulent diversity of herbaceous perennials are rarely encountered in the public sphere – local authority budgets tend not to facilitate the necessary upkeep. Amsterdam’s Darwinplantsoen, however, demonstrates the potential when a public park is bolstered by an active local volunteer group. Conceived in the 50s by Dutch landscape architect Hans Warnau, the wider park in which Darwinplantsoen sits is an example of the progressive approach to postwar urban design for which Warnau was known – a stretch of functional yet beautiful municipal greenery in the Watergraafsmeer neighbourhood of east Amsterdam. The flower garden itself – a riot of hollyhocks and cranesbills, blazing daylilies and calming lavender – is maintained exclusively by volunteers, and its enduring ingenuity makes it one of the most colourful escapes in the city, which, for Amsterdam, is saying something.
vriendenvanparkdarwin.nl, free

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