Those who walk here move on the green traces of the past. A tour to discover the castle gardens that are worth seeing from the West of Ireland via Salzburg to the heart of Tuscany.
They served to represent power and were at the same time places for the staging of joie de vivre. Many palace gardens are decidedly baroque chic, just think of Versailles, Sanssouci or Herrenhausen. But there is often much more to discover, as our trip to special, sometimes lesser-known parks shows.
Hellbrunn: where Neptune sticks out his tongue
“Nowadays you would call it an amusement park,” says an employee of the Hellbrunn Palace Park in Salzburg. But the daring water features were commissioned by a church prince as early as the 17th century.
Neptune, god of the sea, cheekily shows his tongue to all who pass through the rain cave. An artificial downpour is already falling on visitors. A hydraulic water machine makes this fun possible. “The 400-year-old fountains are actually still original,” says Ingrid Sonvilla, longtime castle director.
After these encounters with spray fountains and figures gushing water, accompanied by the bird calls of musical machines, the visitor strolls through the landscaped garden to dry off. Pass giant trees, mystical caves, carp ponds, secluded pergolas, and a stone theater. This Mannerist castle park is a total work of art based on the Italian model.
Mirabell Gardens: the baroque jewel in bloom
For now we will stay in Salzburg. Anyone who has never been to Mozart’s city has probably already seen the photos of the Mirabell Gardens. The large and symmetrical parterre of the garden determines the postcard view of the thriving Baroque jewel in the city center. “We like to use begonias, because the frost flowers here stand up to bad weather, such as rain and heat,” says head gardener Peter Ebner.
Born in Salzburg, he controls the sowing. “Twice a year we plant 35,000 plants, plus 12,000 bulbs for spring flowering.” You populate the baroque fields with basil, sage, iris and dahlias, cut the avenue of linden trees in the shape of boxwood or take care of thousands of rose bushes: everything is done by hand.
All that is left for the visitor is to enjoy the result of this “insanely laborious” gardening result. And to let the theater of the hedge take you back to the Baroque era, when the garden was the setting for comedies.
Kylemore Abbey: Journey into the Victorian Age
Like in a fairytale, Kylemore Abbey towers over the rugged landscape of Connemara in western Ireland with its turrets. The Benedictine nuns took over the castle in 1922, transformed it into a monastery and restored the historic Victorian walled garden.
A tall brick wall surrounds the 24,000-square-foot Victorian walled garden filled with vegetables, fruit and flowers. “Only plants that existed in the Victorian era grow in our garden,” says Anja Gohlke, the German-born head gardener at Kylemore Abbey. The former home of their 19th century predecessors now serves as a museum.
Château de Miromesnil: crazy in the garden
Miromesnil Castle in Normandy is an insider’s tip. The owner of the castle, Nathalie Romatet, maintains the tradition of the “potager”, the vegetable garden. Romatet calls it “an organized madness”.
The beds are geometrically arranged in a very French way, but the exuberant floral splendor in the mixed borders of regional greens, berries and herbs gives it an English flair. Potagers are attracting more attention in many places: in recent years more and more castles in Europe have taken intensive care of their traditional vegetable gardens.
Altenstein Castle Park: ornamental carpet-like flower beds
The “Big Carpet Bed” in the castle park of Altenstein in Thuringia is an eye-catcher. More than 6000 plants grow on 130 square meters. These decorative carpet-like beds became fashionable in the second half of the 19th century. “A new motif was designed every year between 1890 and 1914,” says park manager Toni Kepper. “According to these patterns, we replant every year.”
Cedars, golden ash, copper beech, a Caucasian winged walnut and a sequoia: majestic trees decorate the castle grounds. Garden artists Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau and Peter Joseph Lenné were involved in its design.
In the staging of the natural landscape, the winding paths are arranged so skilfully that they arouse the desire for further discoveries. At Hohle Stein with the Chinese house, climb the steep steps to the Blumenkorbfels and above the rolling Teufelsbrücke, suspended between two rock needles.
The Altenstein Castle Landscape Park south of Eisenach is the largest in Thuringia with 160 hectares. Due to its former small state, the state is full of castles with gardens. Many of these horticultural jewels have been repaired.
Vicobello: A place of fun
The origin of the castle gardens dates back to the Renaissance in Italy. The Chigi family has been tending their Italian garden in their Villa di Vicobello in Tuscany since the 16th century.
Depending on the season, camellias and wisteria, azaleas and oleanders bloom on various terraces. In the garden of lime trees, 250-year-old oranges and lemons smell in terracotta pots. Mulberry trees and holm oaks, ginkgo and cedar from Lebanon are also centuries old.
A path leads along the terraces as if on a balcony. From many parts of the garden you can enjoy a broad view of the city of Siena and the Tuscan countryside.
“The villa was built as a place of pleasure”, says the conductor Agostino Anselmi Zondadari. “My great-grandmother also enjoyed the picturesque sunset in our garden.”
And today’s guest is also overwhelmed with a joyful attitude to life. This is typical of the gardens of European castles and villas, which once served to represent power, but always also artfully staged joie de vivre.
Important to know:
The gardens are not all open all year round. Some have an entrance ticket. In spring and summer it blooms a lot. It is advisable to always inquire about the current opening hours before visiting the site.