The best urban gardens in Europe


The best urban gardens in Europe

Winter may be a fallow period, but it's also the time to plan a mean, green city break for spring…

Kate Weir

BY Kate Weir14 May 2018

When the RHS Chelsea Flower Show once again springs up in London (19-23 May, 2020), a crop of globally inspired show gardens will burst into life alongside a bed of home-grown talent. In celebration of the city in bloom, we’ve sought out secret spots of glorious urban greenery at some of Europe’s best boutique hotels with gardens, where you can wake up and smell the roses on your city break.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show | Mr & Mrs Smith

If you’re staying in the capital to see the gardens IRL, there are green-fingered hotels in and around the Royal Borough close enough to smell the daisies – and lilies, junipers, irises…

The Franklin, Chelsea
Just a 20-minute walk from the show, this Anouska Hempel-styled stay has exclusive access to Egerton Gardens, a private green space with precision-cut lawns, a backbone of mature trees and benches to perch on. Interiors take their cue from modern Italian opulence (velvet, taffeta, mirrored panels) and the bar’s floral and herbaceous cocktails (try the Lavender Blossom, Chrysanthemum or White Rose) are thyme-ly affairs.

Ham Yard Hotel, Soho
More village than hotel, this Firmdale triumph (30 minutes from the show by Tube) has high-end boutiques, a teppanyaki restaurant and salon on its doorstep. Ride up to its roof and you’ll find its city-central ‘village green’: a roof terrace bedecked with ferns and flowers, and home to two beehives and the kitchen’s herb and vegetable plots. To sample just-plucked goods order a raw garden bowl paired with a delicate Dutch Tulip drink.

Number Sixteen, South Kensington
This Firmdale den (a 20-minute walk from the show) bears Kit Kemp’s signature array of dazzling hues and prints. Its lush garden, tucked away from the bustle of the high street, is a fern favourite with locals. There’s a cache of tables amid the trees and bushes for alfresco dining, a glittering pond, fountain and pagoda. And, if you need a stronger chlorophyll fix, Kensington Gardens is a 10-minute walk away.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show | Number Sixteen, London | Mr & Mrs Smith

Pick of the bunch in London…

Chelsea Physic Garden
London’s oldest botanical garden has more than 5,000 types of plants, cultivated in a mini microclimate, including medicinal herbs and edibles. Check for walks, talks and workshops.

Belgravia in Bloom
This annual festival in neighbouring Belgravia adds a little extra oomph to Chelsea’s springtime. Shop fronts blossom brightly and special themed events are held throughout.

The Petersham Covent Garden
This date-night stop and offshoot from Richmond’s well-loved Petersham Nurseries uses spoils from the Boglione family farm and gardens to decorate the dining room and dishes.

The Ivy Chelsea Garden
The clue’s in the name: this outpost of the legendary bistro is strung with lush foliage, lined with potted plants and rocks chic outdoorsy prints.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show | The Ivy Chelsea Garden | Mr & Mrs Smith

From the capital to the countryside, there’s a fleur-y of plant-based activity in France’s hotels…

Saint James, Paris
This city-centre château, formerly a hot-air-balloon landing site, is ringed by well-tended grounds. Flights of fancy are buoyed by Bambi Sloan’s quirky interior design (outré wallpaper prints, ‘tiled’ carpets…) and by the mock-balloon pavilions in the garden – a whisper-quiet open-air sanctuary at the heart of the 16th arrondisement, with alfresco tables for chef Adrien Brunet’s mad-genius menu or a glass of vin.

La Divine Comédie, Avignon
This opulent antique-graced hotel has a wide swathe of Provençal city Avignon as its backyard – in fact, it’s the city’s largest private garden at 2,600m. In this walled wonderland, there’s a green rabble of elderly trees, fragrant flower beds and shrubs, elegant statuary and swaying bamboo stalks. Plus, you’ll find a shaded pool and Jacuzzi at the hotel’s spa area, from which you can spy the Palace of the Popes.

Pick of the bunch in France…

Herbarium bar at Hôtel National des Arts et Métiers, Paris
Here, former perfumer Oscar Quagliarini determines your drink using scent-tester strips and puts his encyclopaedic knowledge of drink history to use to make utterly unique potions.

Catherine Muller Flower School, Paris
If you’re serious about shaping up your posies, book an intensive four-day course at this well-renowned institute, where you’ll learn decorous tips and tricks in elegant surrounds.

Peonies Paris
A chic café in millennial pink and green where plants hang out in abundance. Sugared petals are sprinkled on home-made cakes and flower-arranging classes are held close by.

Les Halles covered market, Avignon
More than 40 vendors, including crudo and wine bars, are wrapped in this gaze-snatching structure’s living wall. A striking example of urban greenery and an excellent snacking stop.

Sniff out the lesser-known horticultural hangouts in Italy’s perennially charming cities…

Hotel Vilòn, Rome
This patron-of-the-arts stay is within bulky-bag-carrying distance of shop-lined Via Condotti and the Spanish Steps are close by. But, its most cherished asset can only be seen from a few of the rooms’ terraces: the Palazzo Borghese’s secret inner garden and loggia. Cultivated by 17th-century power couple Giovanni Battista Borghese and Eleonora Boncompagni, its lavish fountains and statues are open to Rome’s elite only.

Villa Cora, Florence
This gilded and frescoed stay was built by Baron Oppenheim for his new wife, whose favourite flower was the rose. Thus, the gardens are filled with roses of all hues, rooms are dotted with blooms and even the bath products are floral (perhaps a more romantic tribute than the nude statues in his wife’s likeness…). And, there are more natural wonders to see in the Boboli Gardens, a short walk away.

Isola Santa Cristina, Venice
La Serenissima’s limited space makes accessible gardens a rarity. Aman Venice has a private patch of green with a canal view, but you could have a whole island to yourself: a vast space with orchards, vineyards and farmland, just north of the city, with a boat at your disposal. The elegant villa at its heart hosts 16 guests, plus a chef, yoga instructor and other staff can be ferried out.

Pick of the bunch in Italy…

Acqua di Parma boutique, Rome
Signature scent Colonia, packed with patchouli, rose and lavender, leads more floral notes than Monty Don’s diary in this fabulously fragrant Piazza di Spagna store.

Gardens of Bomarzo, Lazio
Also dubbed ‘the Park of Monsters’, this green space – an hour’s drive from Rome – has giant creatures of myth and legend hidden within its lush greenery.

La Ménagère, Florence
Modern arrangements descend gracefully from the ceiling of this beautiful eatery, bar and florist, where flowers and herbs are liberally added to dishes and drinks.

Festival dei Giardini, Venice
In October, get privileged access to hundreds of historic and lovingly tended private gardens in the Floating City, or join the WigWam Club (for a €20 fee) for access to year-round tours.

Plants have firmly taken root in Spain’s sun-drenched cities, with a penchant for alfresco socialising…

Casa Bonay, Barcelona
At the top of this 19th-century Spanish townhouse is a fern-filled garden with banquettes for groups and intimate tables. Here, DJs spin and films are screened. As you descend, the stay only gets cooler, with industrial-chic rooms, a sociable coffee bar, an actual proper bar and a workspace, plus three shops selling indie books, svelte shirts and hotel exclusives – all in Barcelona’s iconic Eixample ‘hood.

ABaC Barcelona
This futuristic cuboid stay is surrounded by greenery: an alfresco dining terrace overlooks laser-cut lawns, trees and stone-hewn torsos, and the Superior Room and Penthouse terraces come with a halo of foliage. It’s best known for its top-tier restaurant, where plants crop up in surprising ways (artichoke bark, violet ice-cream, thorn consommé) and Gaudí-enhanced Park Güell is close by.

Can Bordoy, Palma
A new arrival in Palma, this romantic casa has courtyards laced with vines and trimmed with treelets, and a lounge where chandeliers and creepers entwine. But, its walled garden is a perennially lovely treat, filled with jacaranda, olive and orange trees gathered around a sizeable city-centre pool – a rarity in Mallorca’s capital. Plus, restaurant Botànic gives vegans something to chew over with its fine plant-based fare.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show | Can Bordoy, Palma | Mr & Mrs Smith

Pick of the bunch in Spain…

Labyrinth Park of Horta, Barcelona
An intricate maze ups the family fun factor at these statue-studded neoclassical gardens (the city’s oldest) in Barcelona’s Horta-Guinardó district.

Cafè Orion, Barcelona
This petite café is notable for its top-tier cakes and pastries, cups of locally roasted Nomad coffee and artsy installation of plants, prints and copper piping.

Abaco, Palma
You’ll feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a spring goddess’s bower upon entering this baroque-style bar, where baskets of fruit overflow and flowers abound.

La Rambla flower market, Palma
From Monday to Saturday, florists sell the best of their bunches, adding kaleidoscopic colour to tree-lined La Rambla.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show | Labyrinth Park of Horta, Barcelona | Mr & Mrs Smith

Seed planted? Explore well-made beds at our boutique hotels with gardens.