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
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.
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.