They served as a means of projecting power and wealth, but were also places to stage a certain kind of joie de vivre. Alongside pomp and circumstance, palace gardens in Europe paid homage to nature and these green idylls offered a soothing kind of refuge from daily life.
Many of the palace gardens that tourists can visit today are defined by baroque splendour – just think of Versailles or Potsdam’s Sanssouci, the royal residences outside Paris (France) and Berlin (Germany). But there are also other styles to discover, as this guide to Europe’s somewhat lesser-known palatial gems shows.
“A water park is what you would call it these days,” says an employee at the Hellbrunn Palace Park in Salzburg. But these jaunty water features were actually commissioned by a prince-archbishop back in the 17th century.
In the rain grotto, the sea god Neptune cheekily sticks out his tongue at everyone who passes by. And an artificial downpour soon descends upon visitors. A hydraulic water automat is responsible for this trick fountain.
“The 400-year-old water features are still originals,” says palace administrator Ingrid Sonvilla.
After these encounters with splashing fountains and water-spouting figures, accompanied by bird calls from music machines, visitors can walk through the landscaped garden to dry off. Here they find giant trees, mystical grottos, carp ponds, secluded arbours, and a stone mechanical theatre.
This Mannerist palace park is a complete work of art based on the Italian model.
As if in a fairytale, Kylemore Abbey, with its turrets, sits enthroned in the rugged landscape of Connemara in the west of Ireland. Benedictine nuns took over the castle in 1922, converted it into a convent, and restored the historic Victorian walled garden.
A high brick wall surrounds the 2,200sq m garden that is today full of vegetables, fruits and flowers. “Only plants that existed in the Victorian era grow in our garden,” says Anja Gohlke, Kylemore Abbey’s head gardener.
The big carpet bed in Altenstein Castle Park in Thuringia, Germany, certainly is a feast for the eyes. More than 6,000 plants grow over 130sq m. These carpet-like decorative beds came into fashion in the second half of the 19th century.
“Between 1890 and 1914, a new pattern was designed every year,” says park manager Toni Kepper. “We replant annually according to these designs.”
Cedars, golden ash, copper beeches, a Caucasian wingnut, and a sequoia: majestic trees populate the palace gardens. The garden designers Prince Hermann von Puckler-Muskau and Peter Joseph Lenné were responsible for its creation.
At 160ha, the landscape gardens of Altenstein Castle, south of Eisenach, is considered the largest in Thuringia, a former sovereign state that therefore had many wonderful castles with gardens. And today many of these horticultural gems have been restored.
The origin of palace gardens dates back to the Renaissance in Italy. And the Chigi family has cultivated the gardens of their Villa di Vicobello in Tuscany since the 16th century. Depending on the season, camellias and wisterias, azaleas and oleanders bloom on various terraces.
In the citrus garden, 250-year-old orange and lemon trees are fragrant. Many spots offer sweeping views of the city of Siena and the Tuscan countryside.
“The villa was built as a place of pleasure,” says current owner Agostino Anselmi Zondadari.
“Even my great-grandmother enjoyed the picturesque sunset in our garden.”
Today’s guests can also embrace an attitude to life dedicated to pleasure. – dpa
You may think that some of the sections in this gorgeous garden in Salzburg, Austria are familiar – that’s because the property has been featured in a few films, the most important one being The Sound Of Music. Numerous iconic scenes in the film starring Julie Andrews were shot here, including one where her character Maria and the von Trapp children danced around the garden’s Pegasus Fountain, while singing Do Re Mi.
Mirabell Gardens is located within the Mirabell Palace, which was built in 1606 by Salzburg’s Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich for his mistress Salome Alt, and her children. The spacious garden features several fountains, an outdoor theatre and a beautiful sculpture collection.
Today, the place is often used as a wedding venue. – Melody L. Goh
Important to know: These gardens are not all open year-round. Some charge admission. Spring and summer are the best times to see the gardens in full bloom. It is advisable to always inquire about the current opening hours before visiting.