The modern landscape has a secular ancestor, the venerable historic English gardens. Encompassing centuries of life, different gardening styles and mixtures, each of them has its uniqueness thanks to its past and influencers. Oasis of joy far from the city’s hustle and bustle, these gardens and parks offer inspiration and relaxation. Let’s walk through some of the most amazing English gardens:
A mix of elements put together, on an otherwise common land, succeeded the exploit of becoming UNESCO World Heritage Site and this has a name – Studley Royal Water Garden, in North Yorkshire. Developed on the basis of the Fountains Abbey, a 12th century monastic ruins, some of the most complex Cistercian ruins in Europe, together with a medieval era deer park and a 18th Georgian style water garden results a spectacular English flavored spot. The centuries old garden with its woods, cascades, ornamental lakes, neo-classic temples, canals and statuary samples compose dream vistas and a serene out of time atmosphere. Other not to be missed attractions here at Studley Royal Water Garden are the impressive Jacobean mansion and the Victorian style church. Simply gorgeous!
Hidcote Manor Garden, in Gloucestershire, proved to be a true “Arts and Crafts” style garden, masterpiece of a passionate plantsman and product of his artistic and aesthetics sense. Hidcote Manor Garden is famous for its collection of rare species of shrubs, trees and plants brought from other continents and its original design. Conceived as a cascade of “rooms”, each with its own personality and plants combination, and flowering during different periods of the year, a year round spectacle is directed. The gardens hide several inviting spots carefully pictured, splendid views of the Vale of Evesham, the central gazebo, a glasshouse or a circular pool crowned with roses. A small piece of heaven not only for botanists or avid gardeners, but for all those who adore the nature in all its phases and aspects.
An internationally famed garden, in the proximity of London, Sissinghurst Castle Garden tends to be an oriflamme of the English style garden and is the last century creation of the writer Vita Sackville-West. Sissinghurst property owned an Elizabethan Palace that was saved from ruin and brought to life, to what is nowadays a charming spot. The turbulent history of Sissinghurst from prison, to private home, to the Rose Garden of England, that became today, can be traced through ancient walls and remains. What is called the Sissinghurst’s garden is in fact a suite of about ten different gardens, each with its character and separated by hedges and walls, the most loved among them is the Rose Garden that still conserves great part of Vita’s original roses among the several hundred cultivars planted here. Riding, calm peaceful walking or local wildlife spotting are some of the activities that you may enjoy here. Poetic, romantic and serene, an expression of the majestic mother nature would be the definition of this garden.
A premium botanical garden in England today, unknown two decades ago, the historic garden of Heligan was considered by The Times a revelation after “…the garden restoration of the century”. Covered by weeds for too much time, a real secret garden, today The Lost Gardens of Heligan were given their well-deserved place. This exuberant 200-acre area hides jungle promenades with tropical species, mysterious grottoes, a selection of lakes and a farm. A great place to explore on sunny days, through this somehow wild environment, among rhododendrons of Sikkim, tree ferns of New Zealand, alpine ravine or Italian style garden. Or maybe you prefer loafing within the bamboo tunnels, banana plantations, luxuriant arbors and striking views, dreaming to distant territories.
Vestige of a glorious past, Leeds Castle is the testimony of a millennia old history and a long row of metamorphosis: Norman fortification, royal residence of medieval queens, Jacobean provincial residence, Georgian mansion, refuge for the rich and famous and lately one the most popular historic spots within the country. Influences of the former owners can be felt within the various rooms of the castle, showing accents of the medieval age or the Tudor’s, within the collections of furniture, porcelain or art. This former palace of Henry VIII, with its today’s gardens and parkland is a place of historic adventure for the whole family. The principal attraction is the yew trees Maze, composed of no less than 2400 trees, in circular shape, reflected in a queen crown form. Once the maze solved, an underground grotto is your way out to the civilization. Some curious falconry display, or a ride on the castle’s train to visit the property by land or by water with the Black Swan Ferry Boat will make your day special. Positioned on two islands in the middle of a luxuriant lake, together with its glorious gardens, adventurous playgrounds and events schedule, Leeds Castle offer a privileged experience to each visitor.
The Douro Valley of Portugal is the true home of the famous Port Wine. The wine region was established many centuries earlier and is ready to share with its visitors the old secrets of wine making, though various types of wine tours, vineyards tours and lunches, gourmet local food and wine tasting. Douro Valley is universally recognized as one of the regions producing the best and finest wines on earth and is classified UNESCO World Heritage Site. See below some of the oldest and most interesting wineries – quintas.
The oldest Port wine producer, Croft Port, has been in existence since 1588 and is known as the inventor of the rosé Port. Croft Port has their main headquarters Quinta da Roeda. Having an almost half millennia history, the owner of Quinta da Roeda prouds with its rare collection of Vintage Ports, wood aged tawnies that passed the test of time. An authentic and unique vineyard experience waits for you here, together with Port wine tours, Roeda vineyard tours and other unforgettable activities dedicated to wine lovers, such as grapes foot-treading. Also enjoy a gorgeous landscape and the magnificent panorama of the Douro River.
Claiming to incorporate “the true spirit of Douro Valley” Quinta da Pacheca, dates back to 1738. It is one of the most famous and one of the oldest wineries in Douro and among the first to bottle wine under its own brand. Quinta da Pacheca hosts the international awards winner “Wine House Hotel” an emblematic entity for the ‘tourism of charm’ specific to Douro, specialized in oenological and gastronomic tourism. During your visit, you will be able to experience wine tasting in its own home, winery tours, local food flavor, wine courses and discover the process of winemaking and the history behind the scene.
The largest winery in the Douro Region is without doubt Quinta das Carvalhas. And thanks to its privileged position on the mountain of Carvalhas and the scenery surrounding the vineyard it is considered to present dramatic images that are found on postcard of Douro Valley. The Quintana das Carvalhas is a jewel among vineyards, with a positioned on the left side of the Douro River lining to Pinhão and on the Rio Torto’s right bank, with the guest house of Casa Redonda right on top, visible from all surroundings. Some of the best wine tours are organized at Quinta das Carvalhas, together with never forgettable wine tasting sessions during which fine wines like Douro DOC White wine, Douro DOC Red wine and Superior Tawny Port Wine are to be enjoyed.
Among the first vineyards opened for public visits in the region, Quinta do Panascal pioneered also in offering audio guides for the wineries and vineyards, allowing tourists to wander in their rhythm through this fairy tale landscape of Távora River during a very educational and original tour. Having a prestigious, bicentenary history behind, Quinta do Panascal and Fonseca company are producing the “Bentley” in terms of Port wine, made with the highest passion by true enthusiasts for the connoisseurs.
Besides all traditional activities offered to visitors like Port wine tasting or workshops, you can enjoy here also boat trips on the Távora and Douro rivers, archery, canoeing, mini challengers or traditional games.
A character winery, erected on a superb terroir on the Douro River, reflecting the history of a family and the projection of a dream, Quinta do Pôpa, shows the intimacy and the passion for wines passed from generation to generation. This is one of the most appreciated quintas by tourists and offers among the most wonderful wine experiences in Duoro area, delivering delightful endeavours as winery individual guided tour, wine tasting, wine blending, wine pairing, local gastronomy products, wine brunch, lunches in the vineyard.
Two and half centuries of traditional wine making, Quinta Nova is considered to be “One of the most beautiful sceneries in the country”. The main attractions of this area are: 1) the Quinta Nova Luxury Winery House – a nineteenth century manor, among the firsts Portuguese wine hotels, gifted with splendid panoramas over the river and vineyard. 2)Mirabilis Grand Reserva White – a valuable wines collection; “The Wine Studio” – a traditional winery. 3) Conceitus Winery Restaurant – a favorite in the region for its exceptional local dishes. The hosts receive their guests with a special selection of activities like: winemaker for a day, wine tasting, food tasting, one day in the crop, train tours, pedestrian trails, elicopter tours, boat tours, historical tours, golf, jeep tours and mobile spa.
Europe has a famous paradise known as the Greek islands! Greece inherited the lion’s part of the islands that are located in the Mediterranean Sea. The Greek islands are in fact a huge puzzle with 1200 and 6000 islands depending on various criteria. Each has its own atmosphere and unique charm. Which island is the most interesting and unique? That is tough question!! Let’s have a look…
Crete is nestled midway between the two continents of Europe and Africa. It is the largest Greek island, an emblematic representative and a sample of the country’s culture, landscape, gastronomy and hospitality. An impressive mix of hectic waters, gorgeous beaches as Frangokastelo or like the unique pink sand Elafonissi, Venetian style towns like Rethymnon and Chania, reminiscences of magnificent civilizations as the palace of Knossos and extravagant mountain views. Don’t forget to take a ride to some of the wineries spread all over or visit the home of Zorba the Greek. There is nothing more appealing than enjoying the sunset on the seafront, while indulging in Cretan cuisine dish and a glass of fine Cretan wine.
Among the most beloved vacation destinations in Greece are the Cyclades Islands, an archipelago of 24 islands in the Aegean Sea. Its two most famous islands are Santorini and Mykonos. The dramatic blue and white architecture, folk music, traditional villages connected by singular Byzantine footpaths, scenic landscape with pristine beaches and surrounded by an emerald sea contribute to the magic of this area. Mykonos is popular because of its amazing beaches and vibrant nightlife. The island of Milos is known for its rocky coastline and wild picturesque beaches. The island of Delos has an astounding collection mosaics and monuments and is also a world heritage site of UNESCO. Kea is a magnet for those that enjoy bird-watching and exploring the largest oak forest. Santorini is preferred by honeymooners in search of romance and luxury. And don’t forget about the food, a real delight: pitarakia cheese pies in Milos, capers and fava in Santorini, and kopanisti cheese in Mykonos, taste the wine – an absolute must in Santorini.
Sprinkled over the Saronic Gulf, near the region of Athens, a series of islands very popular among Europeans and local visitors. They are Aegina, Hydra, Poros, Spetses and Agistri. Visitors will experience a splendid nature, traditional local architecture, historical treasures and glamorous atmosphere. Aegina is the host of the temple of Athena Aphaia, a spectacular Doric temple and a Byzantine village now in ruins. The small island of Agistri has ancient scenic villages and inviting turquoise waters. Poros is called paradise by the sailing fans and also hides some ancient ruins – the Temple of Poseidon. Hydra has a historical harbor, with plenty of stylish boutiques, well preserved ancient stone dwellings and flavored tavernas. Spetses a pine scented Eden, dotted with myriad of aqua creeks and a nautical history.
Luxuriant and ever green, the Ionian Islands bear the mark of their turbulent history, resulting a unique cultural heritage, architecture and gastronomy. The Old Town of Corfu, a UNESCO monument site, is the perfect symbol of the historical influences, with its Italian style buildings alleys, varnish palaces and imposing squares arranged around churches. Also, pay a visit to Achilleion, the summer palace of Empress Sissy and Kaiser Wilhelm of Austria. The masterpiece of mother nature around here is indubitable Kefalonia with its impressive Mount Aenos National Park where you will find waterfalls and gigantic caves. In terms of seclusion and sumptuous beaches Shipwreck Beach of Zakynthos is the place to visit and is accessible via boat. Plus do not forget these beautiful beaches: Porto Katsiki in Lefkada or Myrtos in Kefalonia.
The Sporades Islands are an archipelago of 24 islands, but with only 5 inhabited: Skiathos, Alonissos, Skopelos and Skyros. The main attraction of the Sporades are the gold sand fine beaches, but supplementary offers are present too like sea kayak, sailing boat, mountain bike, wind surfing, hiking trails or scuba diving. Skiathos means particularly nightlife and beaches, like the splendid Ambelakia and also impressive trekking routs thorough the Koukounariés forest, around Lake Strofilia or Kanapitsa Peninsula. Skopelos, is a natural green paradise, covered with oak forests, traditional villages and monasteries and together with Alonissos are hosting a National Marine Park, great place for spotting endangered Mediterranean species like the monk seal, fishing or birds watching.
The Northeast Aegean Islands, are a set of 13 islands and located near Asia Minor. The most notable are Chios, Limnos, Samos and Lesvos. Again, it is a region that is known for exquisite beaches and natural treasures. In Lesvos you will find a petrified forest Ikaria has warm thermal springs. Limnos landscape is dotted with sand dunes and volcanic rocks. Archaeological tours of the Temple of Hera are popular in Samos. The ancient city of Ifestia can be found in Limnos. The medieval fortress found in the village of Mesta on the island of Chios. There is an ancient acropolis in Kastro, Thasos. If you like to indulge in sport activities: wind surfing on Keros Beach, Limnos (the best location in Europe), swimming at sparkling Seitani coves in Samos, or relaxation in thermal springs of Ikaria and Lesvos.
A new rising star of international tourism, a tropical wonderland, flanked by the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean, Costa Rica contains spectacular flora and fauna. A wide diversity of parks and reserves invite you to indulge in Costa Rica.
The most popular touristic attraction in Costa Rica is indisputable Poás Volcano National Park, part of the Central Volcanic Cordillera Conservation Area. Its great merit is that everybody has the possibility to explore an active volcano. Poas is supposed to be the largest active crater volcano in the world, nestled at about 2708 m above the sea level. Laguna Botos is an extinct crater filled with water and exposes the fauna and flora of the local cloud forest and dwarf forest. Being a powerful geothermal area, it’s not unusual to observe exploding, bubbling geysers that reach up to 250 m height. Tempting, right?
If you want to experience a major ecosystems of Central America, then Corcovado National Park of Osa Peninsula is a must see and a never forgetten backpacking vacation. This stunning collection of biodiversity and exotic wildlife are worth the endeavor. Here is sheltered the last old growth wet forest of the Pacific side of Central America, and thirteen major ecosystems of the area which includes: mangrove swamps, highland cloud forest, lowland rain forest, jolillo palm forest, and a coast line that contains no less than 39 km of pristine beach. Corcovado is called home by the four monkeys species of Costa Rica, particularly the endangered red-backed squirrel monkey, sea turtle, harpy eagles, scarlet macaws, jaguars, Baird’s tapir and many more.
A genuine tropical paradise adventure can be found in the Tenorio Volcano National Park where a virgin rainforest combines with cloud forest and flavored with emerald waterfall. Walking through suspended bridges into the rainforest dome, hiking to the turquoise sparkling blue Rio Celeste Waterfall, trail to Lago Danta or to Miravalles volcano, are a rare pleasure. Even if the two volcanos, Tenorio included, are regarded as dormant, there is still enough geologic activity for hot springs to bubble or geysers to throw away boiled water and chemical gases. The volcanic soil combined with the springs embroider a mind-blowing color for the waters of Rio Celeste, a piece of heaven grabbed in a river, as the name states.
Respecting the proverb tough essences are to be used in small doses, Manuel Antonio National Park is the perfect fit, the smallest park in Costa Rica but rated in 2011 by Forbes as one of the world’s most beautiful parks. A mixture of white sand beaches, trails, wild life, panoramas and waterfall compose one of the richest biologic places on earth. Spotting wildlife is among the best at Manuel Antonio National Park, about 180 birds’ species plus around 100 mammals’ species: 2 and 3 toed sloths, iguanas, lizards, white face monkeys and squirrel monkeys.
One of the most famous cloud forests, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, gained its fame particularly for its extremely rich biodiversity with over 3000 species of plants among which over 755 trees, inhabit here. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is the perfect exponent of the cloud forest and thus the perfect place to experience it. The rampant vegetation, the variations in temperature and altitude produced a heterogenous selection of greenery and creatures as ocelot, jaguar, quetzal, Baird’s tapir, three-wattled bellbird or bare-necked umbrellabird.
An important reservation for aquifers and the largest national park of Costa Rica is Braulio Carrillo National Park. The wide area of virgin dense rainforest includes a highway that pass through the forest and allows splendid views without descending from your vehicles. Birds are everywhere: hummingbirds, snowcap, black-crowned antpitta, brown-billed scythe bill, golden-browed chlorophonia, flame-throated warblers, tanagers or latticed-tailed trogon are the happy ever inhabitants of the zone.
As each reserve has its uniqueness and Tortuguero National Park has its own. You can observing the sea turtle nesting and explore the park by water via small boat, kayak or canoe. Tortuguero, with its protected beach areas, is considered a major location for sea turtle nesting, one of the most important on earth. The exaggerated rainfall together with the lagoons, canals, beaches and wetlands compose a rich habitat for river turtles, sea turtles (green sea turtles, leatherback and hawksbill), southern river otters, spectacled caimans, crustaceans, fish and the endangered West Indian manatee.
Mexico is today the proud owner of the most prominent evidences of the glorious ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations, which is a magnet for tourists from around the globe. The sophisticated archaeological ruins form the most impressive collection on the American continent, a great part being classified as UNESCO world heritage monuments and offer a valuable immersion into the past not only for history lovers but also for archaeology amateurs. As testimony of a great bygone civilization we can observe on spot ancient fortified cities, towering pyramids, sumptuous decorated palaces and temples or ritual sacred sites.
The starting point of a tour of Mexico’s ancient civilizations is positioned just a few steps outside Mexico City, jumping strait into the capital of the old Mesoamerica – Teotihuacan known as “Birthplace of the Gods” in the ancient Aztec culture. A fabulous archaeological site, home to the third largest pyramid of the world “Pyramid of the Sun”, Teotihuacan displays the remnants of a flourishing era and a glimpse of life that disappeared more than a millennium ago. The ruins include a monumental thoroughfare, Avenue of the Dead, leading to the “Pyramid of the Moon”, which is surrounded by 12 temples designing the Plaza de la Luna. Frescos, mural paintings and decorations are to be admired in the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, Temple of the Plumed Conch Shells, Jaguar Palace or Tepantitla Palace, with its renowned Paradise of Tláloc. The “Temple of the Feathered Serpent” is another focal point of this impressive ruins structure, believed to have been the supreme leader’s residence. All these fabulous ruins are waiting to welcome you into the Teotihuacan and discover the hidden treasures of the Aztec world.
Monte Alban is another must see if you wish to discovery Mexico’s ancient history. The city was the capital of Zapotec culture and was a military and ceremonial center of this pre-Columbian civilization that dates back to 500 B.C. The ruins were laid down in the Oaxaca Valley, and they revolve around the Gran Plaza, an open space surrounded by pyramids, tombs, buildings, temples and ball courts. A veritable testament of the civilization’s architectural style and level of culture, Monte Alban is an elaborate architectonic site with different types of constructions, underground passages, evidence of water storage systems and astronomical observatory. Pay a visit to discover the Plaza de los Danzantes or the Stones of Conquest, relics of triumphs and battles of this millennia-old capital of Zapotec people and find out about ceremonial precincts or ritualic ball games.
Chichen Itza, a place of colossal cultural significance, is ” the most impressive testimony to the Maya-Toltec civilization of the Yucatan” states UNESCO. Chichen Itza is the most visited Mayan ruin in Mexico and is also considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. This ancient capital of the Mayans and the largest archeologic site in Yucatan, is surrounded by magic and mystery because it shelters the famous Pyramid of Kukulcan (El Castillo), the Temple of Warriors, the astronomic observatory, the castle and the ball court, temples and sacrifice altars. The “time templates” displayed here allow the visitor to gain a drop of Mayan wisdom through their astronomical calendar and natural light spectacle that takes place during equinoxes (the serpent shadow that ascends or descends on El Castillo).
Another top Mayan ruins site is Uxmal, a religious center whose name signifies that it was “built three times”. A well-restored archaeological structure, Uxmal and the three neighboring cities Sayil, Labná and Kabah constitute the perfect example of the late Mayan social and economic structure, before its collapse during the Classic Period. Visitors will be charmed by the Governor’s Palace, with its mosaic façade featuring 103 masks of Chac, the rain god, the Pyramid of the Magician, the Nunnery Quadrangle, the Great Pyramid or the Temple of the Doves. All these buildings belong to the Puuc architectural style, the Governor’s Palace being one of the best existing exponents of the Puuc architecture.
An architectural site of a smaller magnitude, but the only one erected on coast and one of the last built by the Mayans during the post classic period is Tulum. It served as seaport and major commercial point, trading jade and turquoise. Tulum is not as grandiose as the other famous Mayan ruins, but it reigns over a wild coastline, a sparking sandy beach and crystal clear-turquoise waters of the Caribbean. The ruins are surrounded on three sides by a limestone wall, a fortification that helped preserving the site. Of course, Tulum, has its own Castillo, the most imposing existing structure on spot and the Temple of the Frescoes which invite you to experience the life of Mayan world.
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South Africa, the diamond of the African continent, is gifted with many treasures that are waiting to be discovered, particularly its majestic landscapes and memorable wildlife. The game reserves and protected reserves are known breathtaking sceneries, endangered fauna and endemic flora. It is a destination that is host to magnificent safaris and terrific outdoor activities. No less than 19 national parks and true wildlife sanctuaries, where you can spend your entire vacation exploring and experiencing the uniqueness of South Africa.
The most famous game reserve in South Africa is the Kruger National Park, and it covers roughly two million hectares of wild territory. Kruger National Park is the heart of the kingdom of the big five game animals – African elephant, African lion, black rhinoceros, Cape buffalo and the African leopard – plus numerous unique bird populations: martial eagle, saddle-billed stork, lappet-faced vulture, ground hornbill, Pel’s fishing-owl and Kori bustard. To provide you a glimpse of South Africa’s bird population there are about 800 bird species, as many as found in the North American continent put together.
Addo Elephant Park is the third largest South African Park. Within the shadows of the bushveld valley of the Sundays River, Addo Elephant Park is the sanctuary of over 600 elephants, more than 400 cape buffaloes, endangered black rhinos, Transvaal lion, various species of antelopes, spotted hyena or the unique dung beetle, endemic to Addo.
The Garden Route National Park stretches for 2000 kilometers along the southern coast of South Africa and offers some dramatic coastal scenery that is surrounded by the beautiful mountain ranges of Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma. There are many activities available. Bird watching where you will see a rich collection of 371 bird species including such rarities as African (black) Oystercatcher. Whale and dolphine watching – 15 species of dolphins and whales can be found in the coastal waters. As a mountain paradise that includes areas of the coast; the Garden Route contains plenty of opportunities for adventures like mountain biking, forest excursions, hiking, or water sports.
And of course, there is much more, another rare pearl is the Augrabies Falls National Park, host of the Augrabies Waterfalls, a real goddess of the thunders. Even the meaning of the name in the local language is ‘Place of Great Noise’. The river Orange is the genial constructor of a 90m high thundering waterfall, one of the largest in the world. The falls and water course, with its grid of channels, next to the fascinating geology of Augrabies displaying large, ancient granite cliffs and rocks, compose a unique and picturesque environment inviting to relaxation and reverie. A true African experience, wilderness and nature greatness in pure estate.
Table Mountain, is thought to be 600 million years old and forms a dramatic backdrop to Cape Town. Tourists are drawn to the mountain for numerous reasons; the scenery and the unique biodiversity. They can enjoy a delightful ride up the side of the mountain via the cable cars. And it is a popular hiking area because it contains one of the richest natural botanical gardens on earth. There are at least 2200 species of plants and about 1470 flowers, most of them indigene to this region. You can also spot penguins (the one and only opportunity in Africa) or baboons here. Table Mountain National Park a place of mind blowing panoramas, sumptuous valleys, magnificent beaches and bays, the royal Table Mountain and the mythical Cape of Good Hope.
Croatia is an eastern European country that is known for it’s numerous islands and long rugged coastline that stretches along the eastern side of the Adriatic, facing Italy. There are over 1,000 islands that contribute to the geography of Croatia. Many of the islands are uninhabited. The coastline extends for over 3,600 miles. Here is a list of a few of the beautiful villages of Croatia.