Ten Great Gardens of Europe

By Audley Travel

Monet spent decades painting views of this pond in his garden in Giverny, France 

From formal palace grounds with meticulously trimmed box hedges and Renaissance statuary to dreamy bucolic landscapes dotted with drifts of hollyhocks and roses, Europe is home to a wild variety of gardens. Here, we’ve compiled a list of ten excellent options you can add to a European trip, ranging from well-known to well off the garden path.

1. Giverny, France: water lilies in Monet’s garden

Impressionist superstar Claude Monet spent the last four decades of his life painting and gardening in Giverny, and his gardens are now maintained as they were during his life. A stroll through here is like a walk through his paintings — sun-dappled and dreamy. Arrive when the garden gates open at 9am, half an hour before the museum itself opens, to beat the crowds.

2. Loire Valley, France: French formalities at Château de Villandry

The formal and geometric gardens of Château de Villandry seem to be the polar opposite of Monet’s bed, but they still somehow share the same joyful exuberance. A guided tour can help uncover the Renaissance symbolism woven into the shapes and structures of the sprawling gardens. Be sure to leave time for the monastic-influenced kitchen garden, a work of art in its own right.

3. Blarney, Ireland: the poison garden of Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle, just outside Cork, is known primarily for its eponymous stone. But I suggest bypassing that and spending your time browsing the gardens, especially the Gothic delights of the Poison Garden. Skull-and-crossbones signs warn you to beware of the plants, which include rue, mandrake, and wolfsbane, among other fatal flora, many of which are grown in black iron cages.

Border of an English-style cottage garden

4. Yorkshire, England: Studley Royal Water Gardens at Fountains Abbey

One of the only surviving examples of a Georgian green garden, the Studley Royal Water Gardens is a tranquil landscape of ornamental lakes, meandering canals, and scenic waterfalls. Together, they provide a progression of scenic vistas that lead you through the largest monastic ruins in England.

The Generalife is an independent palace located east the Alhambra (pictured) that forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage site

5. Granada, Spain: Moorish grandeur at the Palacio de Generalife

Located at the summer palace of the Nasrid rulers in Andalusia, the Generalife gardens showcase the Moorish genius for manipulating water, shade, and breeze to stay cool. Jetting fountains, gently flowing pools, and long trickling channels provide a constant soundtrack of watery burbling as you wander among the tumult of vines and blossoms.  

The gardens around Quinta da Regaleira, in Sintra, Portugal, are unabashedly Gothic with an occult twist

6. Sintra, Portugal: occult influences at Quinta da Regaleira

Wildly eccentric, the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira are loaded with a jumble of occult-inspired symbols and frankly Gothic features. Narrow footpaths twist between limestone caves and secret tunnels lead to grottoes illuminated by fairy lights. Don’t miss the pair of dry wells reached via a mossy, nine-tiered spiral stair — occult initiations are thought to have been held here.

7. Lisse, Netherlands: so many tulips in Keukenhof

Billed as the largest flower garden in the world, Keukenhof is a delight for anyone who loves the crayon-bright colors and sweet perfumes of spring flowering bulbs. More than seven million tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and lilies blossom for eight weeks each spring in vast rivers of lipstick red, deep purple, imperial yellow, and brilliant white.

8. Florence, Italy: Medici opulence in the Boboli Gardens

Tucked behind the Palazzo Pitti, the opulent Boboli Gardens are arguably the finest Renaissance gardens in the world. The sprawling grounds are studded with geometric box hedges, soaring cypresses, and statuary from the period, as well as shell-and-gem-studded grottoes and a pond with enormous goldfish.

La Mortella Gardens in Ischia, Italy are enthusiastically casual, blending local and exotic species

9. Ischia, Italy: a tropical oasis in La Mortella Gardens

La Mortella Gardens are enthusiastically informal. Common myrtle (the garden’s namesake) is given as much pride of place as rare specimens like Amazonian lilies, and they’re all tied together with narrow paths shaded by cycads and tree ferns. From the upper gardens, you’ll have sweeping views of the island.

10. Stockholm, Sweden: Drottningholm Palace gardens in Stockholm

Formal, elaborate, and spacious, both Drottningholm Palace and its gardens were inspired by Versailles. You can see the influence in the graceful proportions and the flanking rows of soaring lime trees. Elaborate box hedges form complicated knots around arching bridges, ornamental pools and notable topiaries.

At Audley Travel, we offer trips that have been created just for you. We understand that what motivates you to travel is deeply personal and have spent more than 20 years creating meaningful travel experiences that start with getting to know you and how you want to see the world.

Our specialists have traveled widely in their destinations and one of them will be your dedicated expert, from your first phone call until you return home. When they’re planning a trip, they won’t just ask you how you want to explore, they’ll ask you how you want to feel. And, by understanding the meaning behind why you want to travel, they can create experiences with the power to change your perspective — experiences that will stay with you long after you return home


A Guide to Sunny SouthWest Germany

By Terry Dale, President & CEO of USTOA

Hohenzollern castle / TMBW, Gregor Lengle

With ancient art caves, rolling green valleys, and vibrant cities, the lively region of SouthWest Germany offers a varied treasure trove of experiences for visitors.  There is a wealth of luxury, culinary, and wellness opportunities for travelers who want to visit the sunny side of Germany. Here are some top tips and trips to keep top of mind for your next European vacation.

Kurhaus in Baden-Baden © TMBW, Mende

WHAT TO DO

SouthWest Germany is renowned for its Black Forest and Black Forest Highlands, where picturesque farms, villages, and vineyards dot the wide-open valleys and mountains. Crystal clear lakes and vineyards can be passed by bike, hike, or car. On the border of the Black Forest sits Baden-Baden, a spa town with traditional 19th century baths. The region’s capital city of Stuttgart is home to wineries, artists, and attracts car-lovers for its world-renowned Porsche and Mercedes-Benz Museums.

Hiking at the Swabian Alb © TMBW, Gregor Lengler

HOW TO GET THERE

Located in the heart of Europe, it is easily accessible. Rail is the convenient alternative to flying and is often the quickest way of getting around Europe and SouthWest Germany. By air, travelers can fly into Stuttgart Airport, Frankfurt Airport, Munich Airport, Zurich Airport, and Basel Airport. SouthWest Germany has an excellent network of highways if travelers prefer a car. River cruises also often make stops in the region.

Typical Christmas treats at the Christmas market © trickytine/Christine Garcia Urbina

WHEN TO GO

SouthWest Germany is a four-season destination with a pleasant and mild climate year-round. For spring, explore the blooming countryside and its forests and lakes. Summer is for watersports like tubing and paddle boarding, as well as city festivals. Fall foliage offers scenic hikes and cycling. During the winter, Christmas markets are a popular attraction.   

Porsche Museum, Photo Courtesy of Tauck

INSPIRED TO TRAVEL?

Call your travel advisor or find a new one at www.ustoa.com/travel-advisor-directory and ask them about SouthWest Germany.

Trips from USTOA tour operators include:

  • Collette’s Classic Christmas Markets includes a winter excursion to the scenic Black Forest before visiting the Christmas markets of Würzburg. The nine-day tour is available in November and December 2021 starting at $1,849 per person.
  • Grand Circle Travel’s Romance of the Rhine & Mosel is a 16-day river cruise of the Rhine and Mosel rivers with excursions to the Black Forest Open Air Museum via Strasbourg, and a cuckoo clock presentation. Departures are available from April to October starting at $4,495 per person.
  • CroisiEurope River Cruises offers a Bountiful Christmas in Alsace and The Black Forest with a four-day cruise along the Rhine to explore the Black Forest and Christmas traditions. Sailings are available in November and December of 2021 and 2022, starting at $736 per person.
  • Tauck takes travelers to The Rhine and Moselle on a 15-day river cruise to experience Heidelberg Castle, visit the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, and an optional excursion to the spa town of Baden-Baden. Departures are available October 2021 and April, May, August through October 2022m starting at $7,590 per person.
  • SITA Tours’ 12-day Germany’s Southern Highlights  is a river cruise that includes visits to Baden-Baden’s thermal baths, the Black Forest, and more. Departures are available throughout 2021 and 2022 starting at $5,875 per person.
Cuckoo Clocks of SouthWest Germany, Photo Courtesy of Grand Circle Travel

ARE YOU A TRAVEL ADVISOR?

SouthWest Germany is offering a complimentary Going Cuckoo specialist program filled with interactive quizzes, games, and videos to become an expert on the region. Travel advisors will learn what to pack, when to go, where to stay, and what to do while visiting the region so that they can become a go-to agent for SouthWest Germany vacations.

Find more information about SouthWest Germany at www.tourism-bw.com.

Travel advisors can register for the training by visiting www.going-cuckoo.com


Travel Expert Terry Dale Chronicles His Trip to Turkey

What it’s really like to travel internationally in the age of COVID-19

By Terry Dale, President & CEO of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA)

If there is one lesson I learned from my recent travels to Turkey, it’s that the value of tour operators has increased tenfold. Even though I’ve spent countless hours in airports and traveled to more countries than I can remember, I still experienced a wave of anxiety when I thought of traveling during the age of COVID-19. Between negative tests, quarantine requirements, and travel restrictions, it’s nearly impossible to manage it independently while trying to enjoy your travels.  

While I successfully produced a negative COVID test in time for my departure flight out of Fort Lauderdale, others were not so lucky. I took the trip to Turkey because I had the honor of speaking at a travel conference in Istanbul. But on the opening night of the event, nearly 15 attendees were missing because they did not fulfill all the testing requirements to fly.

Each country has its own protocols that need to be followed, and it’s constantly evolving. With the ever-changing landscape of travel requirements and lockdowns, this is a challenge for airline employees, travelers, and destinations alike.

Surprisingly, I was not asked to show my test results at any of the airports in route to Turkey, even though they were requested while flying back to the U.S. It was clear that a global health credential system would be so useful for travel, so that each visitor and employee know exactly what is going on. It’s 2021, paper CDC cards with the dates of vaccines and written confirmation of test results seem primitive!  

One observation was that every airport I visited was bustling with people wearing masks and social distancing. The pent-up demand for travel is real and immediate.

As for Turkey itself, the weather was rainy and grey, but the people brightened the destination each day. At a small, vibrant and colorful restaurant in Istanbul, the waiter treated us like royalty. The meal served left my stomach full of chicken kababs, hummus, and olives, and even though I don’t know much about Turkish food, I know it was delicious.

A river cruise of the Bohasmas is a must-do while in Istanbul. In the quick trip up the narrow straight, visitors can gaze at Asia on one side and Europe on the other. The two major continents come together where you stand, and it is stunning.

Terry Dale of USTOA (left) with the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mehmet Ersoy (right)

Turkey is ready to be open for business. At every hotel, the sanitization protocols were thoughtful and professional to make sure travelers feel safe. There’s a natural culture of service and hospitality that makes everyone feel welcome. Plus, there’s great value for American travelers given the exchange rate. After meeting with the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mehmet Ersoy, I felt confident that Turkey is going to bounce back quickly.

It was a learning experience to make the trip as a vaccinated business traveler. If it were a vacation or personal adventure, it would have been much more manageable and relaxing using a tour operator or one of our travel advisor partners.

In closing, I was grateful for the opportunity to meet some incredible people (see below) and experience the thrill of travel once again.