Go Green: Hanbury Gardens and Europe’s other garden gems

Posted in: Italy

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Hanbury Gardens at La Mortola, photo by hiddeneurope
Hanbury Gardens at La Mortola, photo by hiddeneurope

We know Cheapos want the best deals and aren’t necessarily keen about attractions that levy a hefty admission fee. But there are times when a modest admission fee is money well spent. And nowhere more so than in some of Europe’s finest gardens and parks, where visitors can often linger for an entire day, roaming at will and enjoying a mix of history, a beautiful landscape, and some much needed seclusion. You don’t need to know your willow from your wisteria to appreciate a garden. Read on.

Great European gardens

Our favorite European gardens certainly include Mount Stewart and Glenveagh in Ireland (free entry at Glenveagh), Kalmthout Arboretum in Belgium and the Tresco Abbey Gardens in the Isles of Scilly.

But our favorite gem, one of the very best gardens that Europe has to offer, lies on the Riviera coast of Liguria (just inside Italy and merely a stone’s throw from the French border).

The Hanbury Gardens at Cape Mortola (Liguria)

The Hanbury Gardens at La Mortola are a Riviera highlight, but one too often missed in favor of the glitz and the gloss of the famous capes across the French border. Thomas Hanbury was a Quaker entrepreneur who arrived on the Riviera coast in 1867. He could have had his pick of any of the great capes, but he chose Capo Mortola for his grand botanical experiment, amassing taxa from across the world and acclimatising them on the wild headland that juts out into the Mediterranean.

Palazzo Orengo in Italy's Hanbury Gardens

Palazzo Orengo in Italy's Hanbury Gardens, photo by hiddeneurope

This is not a place for studied formality, but a rambling maze of paths and stairways, rocky alcoves and wooded glades offset by stunning views of a Palladian villa (the Palazzo Orengo) and the azure Mediterranean beyond. Guidebooks will tell you to allow a good three to four hours to explore the gardens, but that is nowhere near enough to really appreciate all that the Giardini Botanici Hanbury have to offer.  We recommend arriving in the morning (gates open to the public at 9:30 AM) and stay until dusk (6 PM or even later during the extended summer opening which runs till mid-September). Admission is €7.50.

The Roman road at the Hanbury Gardens

The gardens incorporate a fabulous sunken Roman road, complete with a plaque recording the names of those who walked the route, a roll call that includes emperors, popes and kings – from Niccolo Machiavelli to Napoleon Bonaparte. For these travelers, on the Via Julia Augusta, Capo Mortola was merely a staging post along the road. For Thomas Hanbury, the taming of this stretch of the Mediterranean was his life’s great work. It deserves a whole day, as it is one of the truly fine unspoiled landscapes of the Ligurian coast.

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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2 thoughts on “Go Green: Hanbury Gardens and Europe’s other garden gems”

  1. Absolutely, Mary (above). Montjuich is so varied, with its fortified acropolis, a fascinating cemetery, slopes that plunge down to Barcelona harbour, football stadia. Even a cable car if we rightly recall. It is one of Europe’s great urban parks. Another urban gem is the Parc de Bagatelle in Paris. And many European cities boast superb botanic gardens, eg. London (Kew), Naples (near the city centre on the Via Foria), the University Botanical Garden in Lisbon, the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, the Central Botanical Garden in Kiev, and the Tbilisi Botanical Garden – one of the world’s truly great gardens in a fine location above Rustavelis Gamziri in the heart of the Georgian capital.

    When we wrote our piece above, we had great gardens in non-urban settings in mind, but good that you have reminded us to mention a few more city-based gardens too. Thank you, Mary. Such gardens are often a wonderful place to escape city bustle, and good for people-watching too.

    Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
    hidden europe

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  2. I spent a lovely day in Monjuic Park in Barcelona. It has a number of tourist features in the way of museums and art galleries, but also miles of quiet green walks punctuated by fountains with a fabulous view of the city.

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