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

Giardino GiustiVerona, Italy

Any list of European gardens must start with Italy, even though their immaculate form, symmetry and reliance on non-flowering evergreen structures might conflict with the modern desire for pollinator-friendly naturalism. The Italian garden reached its peak during the Renaissance and has changed little since then. The fundamental principles remain elegance, charm and decadent relaxation. Giardino Giusti, in the northern city of Verona and once famous among the influential families of 16th-century Europe, exemplifies this timeless artistry. Wander along the green cypress alley past the impressive statues of Apollo and Adonis, get lost in the 18th-century labyrinth and breathe in the intoxicating scent of citrus blossoms.
giardinogiusti.com, adult €15, child €9

Stavros Niarchos ParkAthens

You don’t have to leave the capital to experience Greece’s intoxicatingly aromatic, silver-leaved evergreens. With more than 170 native tree and shrub species and grounds teeming with the intoxicating herbs of the Aegean, the relatively new Stavros Niarchos Park is not only a distillation of Mediterranean flora, but also one of the most innovative contemporary exhibits of it. Formerly a car park for the 2004 Olympic Games, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center was designed in 2016 by Italian architect Renzo Piano (who stood behind the Shard in London) to house Greece’s national library and opera and a progressive public park house. With a gentle slope designed to restore vital sea views, the park features olive tree walks, environmentally conscious planting, fountains, a huge roof garden and a playground – it is an urban park of the future.
snfcc.org, free

Latour-Marliac, AquitaineFrance

The inspiration behind Monet’s water lily paintings can be found in Latour-Marliac, 400 miles south of the Impressionist Giverny’s garden. This water lily nursery and water garden in the Lot-et-Garonne department is where Monet bought the multicolored lilies for his garden in Normandy, the former home and proving ground of the 19th-century plantsman Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac. In addition to orderly nursery pools and a tropical greenhouse, these family-friendly gardens feature thermal and cool springs, an underwater grotto, a rose arbor and flower beds glittering with peonies and alliums. Come in mid to high summer to see the lilies in their highest bloom.
latour-marliac.com, adult €8, 6-12 €4

Mossèn Costa i Lloberar Garden, Barcelona

This Spanish garden may have single-handedly given the cactus a new name for European audiences. That spiky staple of the 1970s conservatory? Yes, but seen here in its countless, enchanting forms, small and large, bright and blooming. Located between the mountains and the sea on the Montjuïc rise in the south of Barcelona – and another example of high-quality horticulture in the public domain (also called free) – Mossèn Costa i Llobera displays a stunning and surprisingly vast area (six hectares in all) curation of the most remarkable succulents in a dry climate. This graceful garden thrives in summer temperatures higher than the city center and is as vibrant as Barcelona itself, from the striking blue agaves and African aloes to the saguaros and ‘organ pipes’ of the Wild West.
barcelona.cat, free

Gambarogno Botanical Park, Switzerland

Close to the Italian border, in the unspoilt ‘Lago country’ of the Swiss-Italian Lake District, lies a source of tree blossom and beauty: special trees of camellia, magnolia, dogwood and rhododendron in their many vibrant colours. Spectacularly situated above the glacial valley of Lake Maggiore, overlooking the Alps, the Gambarogno Botanical Park was designed by plant breeder Otto Eisenhut to complement his nursery, and features winding paths that run through delightfully free-flowing park gardens – which you can navigate through is an immersive, revitalizing experience. Public transport can be taken from the beautiful lakeside town of Vira. parcobotanicogambarogno.ch, CHF 8, children under 14 free

Gardens on the ramparts, Prague

The Prague Town Hall Tower may have the most famous view of the city of a hundred spires, but the Gardens at the Ramparts, along the southern wall of Prague Castle, offer an equally panoramic and quieter alternative. Gardens on the Ramparts, a public park with free admission (unlike the palace gardens, but also on the castle grounds), takes the form of a green ribbon designed in the 1920s by Slovenian architect Josef Plecnik during his modernization renovations at the castle. Combining soothing greenery with seasonal summer flowers, this is the ideal place to take a break during the city tour with the softness of grass under your feet.
hrad.cz, free

Jonsered Gardens, near Gothenburg, Sweden

Organic principles and an enduring spirit of social responsibility underlie the gardens of the 19th-century Jonsered Manor, a few kilometers east of Gothenburg. Once the home of industrial pioneer William Gibson, who provided living, healthcare and childcare facilities in Jonsered for workers in his canvas factory, the gardens were revived and redesigned in 2010 with a forward-thinking focus on improved accessibility and biodiversity. A 20-minute train ride from central Gothenburg and resolutely free, Jonsered features formal, ornamental and vegetable 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

The deeply romantic Monserrate Palace, in the Atlantic hills of Sintra in western Portugal, is worth a break from lively Lisbon. That Lord Byron devoted his feelings for the neo-Gothic castle (then in ruins) and the surrounding landscape to poetry should be sufficient support. After countless architectural and landscape design reinventions over the centuries, Monserrate’s palatial villa with Indian and Moorish influences now stands amid extensive gardens filled with lush and often surprising plant species from around the world, all benefiting from Sintra’s warm, mountainous microclimate at the coast. Fortunately, because it is a short distance from the Portuguese capital, the number of visitors is often lower than you would expect for an important pin on the European gardens map.
parquesdesintra.pt, adult €12, 6-17 and senior €10, family €33

Hermannshofnear Heidelberg, Germany

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

Darwin’s Flower Garden, Amsterdam

Spectacular flower borders, enhanced by a lush diversity of perennials, are rare in the public sphere; local government budgets generally do not facilitate necessary maintenance. However, Amsterdam’s Darwinplantsoen shows the potential when a public park is supported by an active local volunteer group. The wider park in which the Darwinplantsoen was designed in the 1950s by the Dutch landscape architect Hans Warnau, is an example of the progressive approach to post-war urban design that Warnau was known for: a piece of functional yet beautiful municipal greenery in the Watergraafsmeer district of Amsterdam -East . The flower garden itself – a riot of hollyhocks and cranes, glowing daylilies and soothing lavender – is maintained exclusively by volunteers, and its enduring ingenuity makes it one of the most colorful escapes in the city, which is saying something for Amsterdam.
Vriendenvanparkdarwin.nl, free

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