A spring tour of Europe’s finest gardens that starts with Keukenhof’s tulips and finishes at the Chelsea Flower Show. Long stays in three great cities; Amsterdam, Paris and London. With our fine selection of luxury hotels, you will be pampered all the way.
Arrive in Amsterdam and check into your hotel for four nights. The Grand Hotel Amrâth was built as HQ for a shipping company in 1916, an ornate confection of carved stone, marble, wrought iron and stained glass, with a maritime theme (mermaids, marine creatures, maps and the zodiac). A short walk will take you to Dam Square in the centre of the city.
Be wary of bicycles; bike lanes are clearly marked with a bike symbol. This afternoon is free. Take a canal cruise, a gentle introduction to this chic city with its canals lined with red brick mansions and stately museums. Welcome dinner is included tonight the your hotel.
A day of flowers and fragrance at Keukenhof. For sixty six years the world’s most beautiful flowering bulbs have been showcased in the gardens here for just two months. Carpets of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths beneath canopies of flowering cherries; its a sensual overload! The gardens are completely remade every year.
Three ornate glass pavilions are filled with flowers and potted plants. Towering floral exhibits fill the Oranje Nassau Pavilion. You will be reaching for the camera in the Willem-Alexander Pavilion with its polished display of tulips and lilies. Orchids, medinilla and anthuriums come together in an eye-watering display in the Beatrix Pavilion. The remainder of the day is free.
We’re up early this morning to get to Aalsmeer Flower Market in time to catch the action of the auction! From an elevated walkway, we can watch the world’s largest flower market at work as flowers are sold and shipped around the world. Hortus Bulborum is next, just outside Amsterdam in Limmen; a museum of antique bulb varieties. In addition to functioning as a gene bank, the garden is planted with thousands of heirloom bulbs, some of which are no longer in commercial production; some date back to the 16th century. Thanks to Pieter Boschman, who started the collection in 1924, you will see legendary tulips that were very popular during the Tulipmania (1635-1637) period.
This afternoon is free. Discover Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh at The Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. It’s best to pre-book as queues can be long. Dam Square, Royal Palace and Anne Frank House (bookings recommended), are all within easy walking distance from your hotel.
Apeldoorn is our destination this morning, an hour out of Amsterdam, to visit Het Loo Palace, built for King William III and Queen Mary II in 1684. Labelled the ‘Versailles of Holland’ for its grand formal design, these impressive gardens were restored in 1984 for the 300th anniversary of the Palace. From upper windows of the Palace you can glimpse the enclosed and highly decorative privy gardens on either side. Walk through the formal parterre gardens to the gloriette at the bottom, for elevated views of the intricate patterns of the parterre gardens and views back to the façade of the Palace. The 1984 restoration of the 1684 design was a significant indicator of the rising enthusiasm in the twentieth century, for garden history. Eighteenth and nineteenth century modifications were swept away, to allow a full re-creation of the original garden. Renovations just completed have opened a huge 5000m2 of extra space beneath the forecourt, and secured the foundations.
Take the fast train to Paris this morning. Transfer by coach to Hotel du Louvre for 5 nights. Free afternoon to wander this extraordinary precinct. Dinner is included this evening in the hotel restaurant.
Versailles is probably the grandest garden in Europe.The gardens, like the Palace, were statements of royal power and wealth. Andre Le Notre was the garden architect for Louis XIV. In 1660 he flattened hills, filled in marshes, redirected tributary of the river Seine to service his many fountains, and he planted thousands of trees. He designed these gardens around the main axis from the Neptune Fountain to the Grand Canal, a distance of 3.5 km. He made 32 fountains to decorate a sublimely beaututiful garden that’s filled with extraordinary architectural detail. We will explore the Grand and Petit Trianons and the hidden gardens (Bosquet du Dauphin and Bosquet de la Girandole). We will need the day to see it all.
Comfortable walking shoes today for the fabulous Jardin Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne in the heart of Paris. This was one of the first ‘Jardin Anglais’ in 1775 when the Romantic English Landscape Style first swept through Europe with its picturesque lake, grotto, waterfall, Chinese pavilion, mini chateau and orangerie. Jean-Claude Nicholas Forestier designed his masterpiece in 1840; a formal rose garden where 1200 different cultivars of every type of rose are shown off to perfection on pillars, pergolas and swags. Alongside is a suite of smaller gardens of equal horticultural excellence and dedicated to iris, clematis, vegetables and to the gentle art of bedding. Free afternoon to explore the city centre.
Andre Le Notre designed the gardens at Versailles, but first, he made them at Chateau Vaux le Vicomte, and that’s where we’re headed this morning. This was his first masterpiece; chateau and outbuildings make an exquisite ensemble with gardens sweeping to the horizon. The estate is enormous so we will ride in electric buggies to see it all. This garden marks the beginning of the Baroque tradition in garden design. Gardens sweep along a grand perspective, almost three kilometers. It’s still the grandest private garden in France.
Claude Monet’s Giverny might just be the most famous in all France. His garden was part of his art; the garden and the paintings a reflection of each other. We’ll arrive early to enjoy the serenity of the Water Garden ringed with weeping willows. Monet planted wisteria, azaleas, iris, peonies, bamboo, and tamarisk; all have been faithfully restored including his wisteria-draped Japanese bridge. From this bridge he painted his first Waterlily studies. Then there’s the thrill of the flower garden, Clos Normand, a series of formal intensely planted beds … astonishing! The incredibly high standard of horticulture here is unparallelled. Flowers are bold, bright, exciting and profuse, just the way Monet liked them. Each season brings changing colour compositions. There’s a Grand Allee of roses! And finally we will see through the family home of Claude Monet, left just the way it always was. We’ll be ready for lunch when we wander into the picturesque little town of Giverny. Travel back into Paris.
Early breakfast this morning to catch the Eurostar train into London. Meet up with our coach and drive to Kew Gardens. In its setting on the banks of the River Thames, thIs botanic garden has an incomparable collection of plants. Explore the themed gardens and glasshouses; Palm House, Temperate House and Princess of Wales Conservatory. Check in to our hotel with bustling West End and the shopping districts of Kensington, Mayfair and Knightsbridge close by; the Royal Garden Hotel is perfectly positioned.
Wisley in Surrey is our destination this morning, the headquarters of the Royal Horticultural Society with a suite of gardens that will make your heart leap. There are huge herbaceous and mixed borders, rose gardens, fruit cages, conservatories, stream garden, alpine garden and trial grounds for plant assessment. Our guide will show us the layout with a guided tour then we can explore ourselves. Free afternoon in London.
Expat Marylyn Abbott’s West Green in Hampshire is a special treat for Australian visitors. Marylyn is an exuberant personality and gardener. You might remember her garden Kennerton Green, in Mittagong, NSW Southern Highlands. While West Green pays homage to its 18th-century origins, Marylyn’s sense of fun is given plenty of room to play. Her ‘Alice in Wonderland’ walled garden, ornamental potager, Garden of the Five Bridges, classic water staircase, Persian water garden are set against her romantic Lake Garden. Lunch in the conservatory will be memorable. Walk down Sloane Street this afternoon for ‘Chelsea in Bloom’.
If there ever was a hierarchy of ‘Best British’ gardens, Sissinghurst would be at the top of the list. Surely 200,000 visitors a year can’t be wrong! Loved for its beautiful balance, its harmony, the garden rooms and inspired planting combinations; this garden is the result of a special partnership between the Bloomsbury couple Vita Sackville-West and Sir Harold Nicolson. We’ll climb the tower for a fabulous view, and peep into Vita’s writing room. We will explore each compartment of the garden, walk down to the Moat, herb garden and through to the new Delos Garden, a landscape of ruined stone fragments and Mediterranean plants, inspired by their visits to the Greek island. This garden has been re-created by Dan Pearson and opened in 2021.
Chelsea Flower Show, the most prestigious event in the horticultural calendar. ‘Opening Day’ is reserved for VIPs and members of the Royal Horticultural Society only, but we have arranged tickets so that you can enjoy it without dealing with the crowds that flock on public days. Enjoy multimillion-dollar show gardens and the smaller artisan gardens. There’s time to browse the flower exhibits in the Great Pavilion and treat yourself in the shopping avenue! We’ll have the whole day at Chelsea and head back to the hotel late in afternoon. Farewell Dinner tonight.
Your tour ends after breakfast.
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