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Our Pick of Europe’s Best Parks & Gardens

by Sue Bryant

One of the joys of discovering new towns and cities on a river cruise is exploring their green spaces, from the best of Europe’s formal, ornamental gardens to leafy parks and riverside walks where locals go to relax. Here are some of our favourites.

Springtime spectacular

Keukenhof in the Netherlands needs little introduction, as one of the most famous flower gardens in the world; you can admire it on Riviera Travel’s Bruges, Medieval Flanders, Amsterdam and Dutch Bulbfields river cruise in spring. No image can prepare you for the spectacle; 80 acres of dazzling, colour-blocked beds of tulips, hyacinths and daffodils in great swathes of purple, scarlet, blue and yellow set under ancient trees and between shimmering ponds. There are over seven million blooms and 800 varieties, so Keukenhof is a gardener’s dream. Every year, there’s a different theme; for 2019, it’s Flower Power, celebrating the strength of flowers.

Tulips in Keukenhof Gardens

Tulips in Keukenhof Gardens

Parisian Park

Established in the 17th century, the Jardins des Tuileries in Paris, between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, is a beautiful green space, laid out in the formal French style by André le Nôtre, who was also the architect of the lavish gardens at Versailles. Stroll among sculpted hedges, immaculate lawns, ornamental ponds and dazzling flower beds and take the opportunity for some people-watching; the gardens are an important recreational area for Parisians and locals come here to stroll, relax and walk their dogs. From mid-June to the end of August, a traditional funfair adds to the festive atmosphere. You can enjoy the gardens on The Seine, Paris and Normandy cruise.

In the footsteps of Monet

On the same voyage, one of the biggest highlights is Monet’s garden at Giverny. The impressionist lived here from 1883 until his death in 1926, immortalising scenes like the tranquil lily pond and the green Japanese bridge. You can admire lush borders crammed with tulips, irises, ornamental poppies and peonies, as well as willows draped languorously over the lily ponds. There are actually two parts to the gardens; waterlilies aside, the flower gardens are a riot of wildflowers, scented roses and cherry trees. The house, too, is extremely pretty, all bright, jaunty colours and homely touches. You can visit this spectacular garden on the Monet’s Garden, The Loire Valley & Fontainebleau escorted tour.

Wild flowers in Monet's Garden

Wildflowers in Monet’s Garden

Baroque splendour

The jewel in the crown of Würzburg is, without doubt, the baroque Residenz, the former home of the prince-bishops and a rival to Versailles and Vienna’s Schönbrunn in terms of grandeur. The formal Court Gardens around the 18th-century palace are laid out in French and English style and are dotted with sculptures and statues by the original court sculptor, Johann Peter Wagner. What’s interesting about the gardens is that the planting takes inspiration from historical designs, right down to the training methods of the fruit trees. You can see the palace and gardens on Cruise the Heart of Europe voyage.

Along the Douro

The image of the Mateus Palace in Portugal is probably a familiar one to anybody who drank the famous fizzy rosé back in the day. The original wine may have dwindled in popularity but the elaborate baroque palace endures, surrounded by formal, landscaped French gardens. The gardens are wonderfully cooling on a hot day; you can wander through the shady green of a tunnel of cedars, or sit in the shadow of oaks and chestnut trees encircling the mirror-like lake. Admire the ornamentally trimmed box hedges and colourful camellias – and remember to give the wine another chance; it’s moved on from the sweet, 1970s version to something far more modern and sophisticated. Visit the palace and gardens on The Douro, Porto and Salamanca cruise.

Mateus Palace

Mateus Palace

City of music

The Austrian city of Salzburg, to many, symbolises either Mozart, or The Sound of Music, or both. The child genius and the blockbuster musical have a location here in common: the gorgeous Mirabell Palace and gardens. The young Mozart would perform in the marble banquet hall of the 17th-century palace, while the famous Do Re Mi scene from the film was shot around the Pegasus fountain in the dazzlingly beautiful gardens, famous for their fragrant roses and uninterrupted views of Hohensalzburg fortress. Don’t miss the curious Dwarf Garden, with its comical, knee-high gnome statues, or the Heckentheater, an al fresco theatre framed by immaculately trimmed hedges and the setting for local choral and folklore performances. You can opt for a day in Salzburg on Riviera Travel’s The Blue Danube cruise.

Drinks with a view

Vienna is filled with parks and everybody has their favourite, from the ornamental gardens at Schönbrunn Palace to the famous Stadtpark, with its much-photographed statue of Mozart. But if you’ve visited the city before and done the sights, check out the beautiful Burggarten by the Hofburg Palace; it’s a mixture of formal style and expansive lawns where locals picnic, take their lunch breaks in summer or simply wander on warm evenings. The Café Palmenhaus is a wonderful place to relax with an Aperol Spritz (in true Viennese style), either inside the lavish orangery, surrounded by giant palms, or on the terrace, overlooking the park and the lawns. Riviera Travel’s Cruise the Heart of Europe and The Blue Danube itineraries both call at Vienna.

Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens, Vienna

Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens, Vienna

Koblenz in bloom

Any cruise through the romantic Rhine Gorge will visit 2,000-year-old Koblenz, which guards the northern entrance to the gorge and marks the spot where the Moselle flows into the Rhine. In 2011, Koblenz hosted BUGA, Germany’s famous garden show, and many of the city’s parks and gardens were renovated for the event. Take time to stroll along the leafy Rheinanlagen parks, stretching more than two miles along the left bank of the Rhine, with formal gardens, tree-lined pedestrian boulevards, pagodas and cycle trails, not to mention views of Ehrenbreitstein fortress perched on the hill on the opposite side of the river. You’ll spend time in Koblenz as part of Riviera Travel’s Cruise the Heart of Europe voyage.

We hope this has inspired you to see the best gardens and parks in person. Please see our full collection of tours and cruises in Europe for further details. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning journalist specialising in (and addicted to) cruising. She is cruise editor of The Sunday Times and also contributes to magazines and websites worldwide, including Sunday Times Travel Magazine, World of Cruising, Cruise Passenger (Australia), Porthole (USA) and Sue lives in London but is often travelling, exploring the world’s rivers and oceans. She has sailed on more than 100 ships over the last 15 years.