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A Journey Through the Great Gardens of Europe

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Monet's garden in Giverny that inspired many of his masterpieces © mat's eye

Pounding the streets of Europe can take its toll on tourists, so if you're looking for a tranquil place to relax, take some time out in green spaces where nature can invigorate the body and the soul.  The beautiful parks and gardens of Europe are a great way to mix history and leisure, whether you're visiting the Renaissance gardens of Italy, English country gardens or formal French gardens. Here are some of my favourite European parks and gardens.

British Beauties

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Explore the narrow paths and hidden gardens of Hidcote Manor © Dave Catchpole

One of the best known gardens in the UK is Hidcote Manor Garden, which is a National Trust garden located near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. The beautiful arts and craft garden was developed by American horticulturist Lawrence Johnston and has a series of "outdoor rooms", including a kitchen garden and a fuchsia garden. The carefully laid out spaces have been separated with box hedges, hornbeam, yew and stone walls.

Another British beauty can be found in seaside town of Torquay. The superb gardens of Babbacombe Model Village can compete with the most beautiful gardens of Europe. The immaculate miniature landscaped gardens cover nearly 4 acres and are a visual treat throughout the year, from the colourful spring blossoms to the evergreen conifers. Visiting the gardens at dusk never fails to impress as the tiny twinkling lights just add to the magical atmosphere.

The 30-acre Burncoose woodland garden is another year-round delight that is worth visiting. Late winter and early spring is the perfect time for a stroll through the woodland's carpets of bluebells, daffodils, primroses, snowdrops and wild violets, and during the summer and autumn visitors can enjoy the intense blues and purples of the Burncoose hydrangeas. You can also take a piece of this garden home with you, from their on-site plant nursery.

Stourhead Estate is one of my favourite British gardens. The 1,072 hectare estate has a tranquil man-made lake as a centrepiece, and includes temples, grottoes, fantastic sculptures, rare plants and exotic trees. A walk through the landscaped gardens is a visual treat.

Wales is also home to some superb parks and gardens, including Bodnant Gardens. Administered by the National Trust, Bodnant has expansive lawns, a wooded valley, terraced gardens and quiet corners for reflection. Enjoy the glorious year-round colour, from bright spring bulbs to the red and golden hues of autumn leaves.

You'll find another horticultural treasure in Northern Ireland. Mount Stewart Gardens are located in County Down, and are one of the National Trust's more unusual gardens. It includes Italian and Spanish gardens as well as a lake and terrace.

Fabulously French

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Tender love in the Love Garden of Château de Villandry © Cristian Bortes

Although the Gardens of Versailles are probably the most famous French formal style garden, you can learn the history of its origins by visiting Vaux-le-Vicomte. Vaux-le-Vicomte inspired Louis XIV to hire the designer, Andre Le Nôtre, to create the same symmetrical paths and fountains on a much grander scale.

Another inspirational green space in France is Monet's garden in Giverny. The beautiful garden inspired many of the painter's famous works of art. Visitors to Claude Monet's garden can walk across the wooden bridge and see weeping willows and water lilies, as well as the colourful garden near the house.

If formal gardens inspire you, then you can't miss visiting the grounds of Château de Villandry, in Indre-et-Loire. One of the reasons I love the gardens here is that there is a great love story that goes hand in hand with the "Love Garden", which is a reflection of the romantic Renaissance era. The garden is divided into four sections: tender love, passionate love, fickle love, tragic love. There is also a fantastic maze.

Elegant Italian Gardens

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Isola Bella gardens are the epitome of luxury and extravagance © Andy Hay

The Italians are famous for their Renaissance gardens, such as Boboli Gardens in Florence. The formal gardens geometrical design is enhanced by features such as a grotto, an amphitheatre, and an amazing collection of sculptures. The garden at Villa Lante near Viterbo is another great example of a beautiful Italian Renaissance garden. The gardens feature fountains, grottos, and symmetrically arranged hedges that have been perfectly trimmed.

Another favourite Italian garden is the Baroque-style Isola Bella gardens. These elegant gardens are the epitome of luxury and extravagance. The terraced gardens include an amphitheatre, grottoes and perfectly manicured box hedges and exotic plants.

Delightful Dutch Blooms

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During spring Keukenhof is an explosion of colour © gnuckx

The most beautiful garden during the springtime just has to be Keukenhof, which is located near the town of Lisse in the Netherlands. It's the largest flower garden in the world, with seven million bulbs planted annually. The tulips, daffodils and hyacinths create an explosion of colour during the spring months and attract visitors from around the world from mid-March to mid-May. One look at photos from Keukenhof and you'll understand why it's one of my favourite gardens in Europe.

Although it's not as well known as Keukenhof, the Het Loo Gardens are another Dutch favourite of mine. Het Loo Palace is located in Apeldoorn. The gardens were designed by Claude Desgotz, who was the nephew of the designer of the gardens at Versailles. The garden has the characteristics of a Baroque garden with textbook symmetry, and an axial layout with radiating gravel walks, fountains and statues. The main garden is enclosed by raised walks. If you're looking for a little peace and quiet it's definitely worth visiting.

Spain's Simple but Spectacular Gardens

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The beautiful Moorish Generalife Garden of Alhambra © Conan

Perhaps one of the most celebrated gardens in Europe is the Generalife Garden of Alhambra, which is located on a hill in Granada, Spain. The simple Moorish design of fountains, ponds and pathways highlight the Arab influence on design and architecture in Granada. The gardens were designed and built during the reign of Muhammad III (1302-1309), and are the oldest surviving Moorish gardens in Europe.

Another Spanish gem worth visiting is the Baroque gardens at the Royal Palace of Aranjuez. The palace is a residence of the King of Spain and has extensive lawns with manicured flowerbeds that provide some peace and tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle of Madrid.

Written by Kerryn du Plessis, a travel writer for HomeAway.co.uk.

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