Spring has sprung and summer’s begun, and Mother Nature’s truly outdone herself. Postcard-perfect picnics? Scenic strolls? Lazy afternoons basking in the colour of lavish gardens? It’s the lush life for us! From colourful cities to evergreen islands, we’ve put together a list of bloomin’ lovely destinations where the grass is greener and stopping to smell the roses is a given.
When it comes to big cities maximising on green spaces, Barcelona’s got it down to a tee. It might be famous for its museums and nightlife, but there’s a greener side that’s got the nod of approval from nature-lovers. Beautiful parks and botanical gardens are scattered throughout, offering a pocket of peace away from city life. Parc de la Ciutadella is a crowd-favourite, where water spouts from gilded dragons and families lazily row around the lush lake. In the hilltop neighbourhood of Montjuic, you’ll find another welcome burst of botany, where flower-filled gardens sprout against a breathtaking cityscape backdrop.
This dinky isle packs a big punch when it comes to flower power. It more than lives up to its ‘floating flowerpot’ moniker, with two thirds of the island designated as a national park and a bounty of gardens to explore. Madeira’s Botanical Gardens are a love letter to nature, filled with more than 2,000 species of plants, from pom-poms of pink hydrangeas to weird-and-wonderful fauna. Monte Palace Tropical Garden is also wonderous for a wander. Head to the Oriental Garden and you’ll spy koi carp popping to the pond’s surface. Beyond the cities, choose a levada walk which winds you through the UNESCO-protected pocket of Laurissilva forest, a sweeping carpet of sunshine-yellow foxgloves and electric-pink lilies.
Nature and the Netherlands go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise that the capital’s big on blooms. The city’s rich natural heritage is clear to see at the Hortus Botanicus, one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens. Spend a day here peeking at the petals of rare species or ogling at crowds of cacti that are more than 2,000 years old. Searching for some fresh-air fun? Head to Amsterdam’s largest city park, Vondelpark, for a picturesque pedal or a casual stroll. The Keukenhof Gardens are also in day-tripping distance, best visited in spring when you’ll be treated to a carnival of colour with a sea of more than seven million tulips.
Gothic Girona’s treasure trove of museums, galleries and churches is reason enough to hop on a plane to Spain. But after a sightseeing-stuffed day, the city’s green spaces are a welcome reprieve. La Devesa Park is one of Catalonia’s largest urban parks and is perfect for plodding. We know that no visit to Girona would be complete without walking the city walls, but do you know the best bit about these rampart ramblings? Spiral staircases lead to secret gardens which offer a stretch of serenity away from the crowds. If you’re visiting during spring, don’t miss the city’s flower festival, when Girona’s transformed with eye-catching exhibitions celebrating everything botany.
Divine. Breathtaking. Magical. Descriptions of Santorini are never short on superlatives. The best way to experience a snapshot of Santorini’s natural beauty is via one of the many hiking trails that are scattered throughout the island. The Fira to Oia walk is one of the best, guiding you along the cusp of the island’s iconic caldera. The views are sublime, a patchwork of green olive groves, a kaleidoscope of wildflowers and of course, the endless blue of the Aegean. Once you reach Oia, take a stroll through the town where rainbow displays of bright bougainvillea provide a pop of pink amongst the whitewashed houses and sky-blue domes.
Corfu’s long been a haven for sun-seekers thanks to its golden beaches and all-singing, all-dancing resorts. But did you know it’s often nicknamed the ‘Emerald Isle’? Over half of Corfu is covered in a dazzling display of cypress trees, olive groves and orchards, and a summer-sweet aroma follows you wherever you go. If you can lure yourself away from the beautiful beaches, the Royal Achilleion Palace is dreamy for a day out. Once the retreat for an Austrian empress, its garden terraces enchant with eye-popping views. It’s also got A-list credentials, serving as a scene-stealer in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.
Sorrento’s a colourful jewel on the sweeping Amalfi coast. It’s quintessential Italy at its finest, with quaint streets dotted with boutiques, frescoed churches tucked into every nook and cranny and a jigsaw of quirky houses where bougainvillea billows from balconies. Searching for out-of-this-world views? Then add Villa Comunale Park to your Sorrento to-do list. This pint-sized park has a large terrace where you can gaze out at Mount Vesuvius standing sentinel over the bay. Further afield, you can take a boat to nearby Capri and explore the gardens of Villa San Michele. Built on the ruins of a Roman villa, a wisteria-weaved pergola frames a captivating vista over the twinkling Bay of Naples.
Amidst the smoking spectacle of Mount Etna, Sicily’s diverse landscape unfolds in all its glory. Dramatic mountain ranges slope into white-sand beaches and rugged cliffs give way to wildlife-stuffed nature reserves. Zingaro Nature Reserve is a wanderlust-inspiring haven for hikers. Here, bright buds dust the hillsides and secluded coves offer an inviting spot for a dip. In Madonie Natural Park, you can discover fairytale forests of centuries-old beech and ash trees where golden eagles perch high on the branches. Look out for rare species of flora and fauna too, many of which grow nowhere else in the world!
In Nice, you don’t have to choose between vibrant city life and serene nature, as it’s got the best of both! For your flower fix, take a trip to the historic Course Saleya market, where mustard-striped stalls have been tempting visitors with technicolour treats for more than 120 years. There are few more picture-perfect places for an afternoon stroll than the Promenade du Paillon. This verdant oasis weaves through the heart of the city, from Place Masséna to the Théâtre National de Nice. For those with more of an adventurous streak, Parc du Mont offers a plethora of hiking trails. Trek through the hilltop forest to the 16th century Fort Albon, and you’ll be rewarded with uninterrupted views of the Cap-Ferrat peninsula.
Posted: 23rd May 2022.