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  • Willis McCutcheon

Ten of My Favourite World-Class Gardens!

Those that know me, know that in addition to my passion for luxury hotels and experiences, I am an avid gardener. In my opinion gardens are outdoor museums, detailing the history and culture of a location through the preservation of extraordinary landscapes. So, I got to thinking… what if I could bring both worlds together, world – class gardens with an amazing luxury hotel. It was near impossible to choose, but I have narrowed down the choices – these are my top ten, in no particular order.

Many of the hotels on this list offer exclusive amenities, upgrades, and unparalleled service when you book with your Virtuoso Travel Advisor.


Phoenix, Arizona

Not far from downtown Phoenix lies one hundred-forty acres of preserved Sonoran Desert wilderness, with fifty-five-acres under cultivation; the expansive garden is truly one-of-a-kind. Started in 1939, it is home to over 50,000 plants that thrive in the hottest and driest climates of the world, including 485 rare or endangered species - it is considered a top attraction in the area. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, it is dedicated to helping people recognize the unique cultural relationship between people and plants in the region. The garden is regarded as a global leader in research and conservation of desert plants and their habitat, the preservation efforts have identified new species as well as threats from climate change that impact various desert environments throughout the world.

Source: Desert Botanical Garden


Royal Palms Hotel & Spa, The Unbound Collection, by Hyatt

Since its beginning in 1929 as a winter retreat for a prominent New York family, the Royal Palms Resort has offered generations of guests the intimate atmosphere of a luxurious private residence along with the amenities of an award-winning resort. Nestled at the base of Camelback Mountain between Scottsdale and Phoenix, this enchanting Spanish Mediterranean mansion offers on hundred nineteen newly renovated guest rooms, casitas, suites, and villas. On every stroll through the resort's winding pathways, beautiful courtyards, and gardens, you will discover private nooks, crackling fireplaces, cascading courtyard fountains, and treasures from the original owners' worldwide travels. With the botanical gardens only twelve minutes away this is the perfect place to stay and appreciate the history and natural beauty of the region.

Source: Royal Palms Hotel & Spa


Asheville, North Carolina

Established in 1889 and regarded as the grandest estate ever built in the Americas, Biltmore Estate was the private retreat for the Vanderbilt’s. The vast French Renaissance chateau boasts two hundred-fifty rooms, but most impressive is the eight thousand acres of wooded trails and pristine gardens. It was conceived by Fredrick Olmstead, the preeminent landscape architect of the time, best known for designing New York’s Central Park, among many others. The estate is home to one of the largest Azalea collections in the country, a Walled Garden, an Italian Garden, a Rose Garden, and a three-mile landscaped road that leads to the estate. Not surprisingly, the grounds of this remarkable estate are an attraction unto themselves, offering a host of experiences, including miles of trails, a winery, a working farm, and a museum dedicated to the Biltmore Legacy.

Source: Biltmore Estate


The Cottages at Biltmore Estate

Truly immerse yourself in the storied past of this remarkable estate. Situated on the ground of the Biltmore Estate, The Cottages are an exclusive getaway (only two of them), tailored to your every need. These historic homes, original to the estate are beautifully updated, offering a unique experience in an oasis of service, style, and charm. With access to the Biltmore Inn facilities, twenty-four-hour concierge, incredible dining options and a world-class spa there is no reason to leave the grounds. Spend several days exploring the vast amenities, from the gardens to the winery, there is something for every nature lover.

Source: The Cottages at Biltmore Estate


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Lying at the foot of the Corcovado Mountain is a magnificent three hundred-fifty-acre garden that opened in 1822 and is an oasis in the busy city of Rio. It captures the diversity of Brazil’s native flora (as well as foreign) and is home to over eight thousand species of plants. The impressive Avenue of Palms, lined with one hundred -thirty-four ancient Royal palms over thirty meters high, leads to a lake dotted with giant water lilies and there is an orquidário with over six hundred varieties of orchids. Less than half the park is cultivated, and the remaining space is home to an Atlantic Forest with over one-hundred-forty different types of birds and some of the most important and endangered flora in Brazil. Another garden on the global stage with a space dedicated to sight-deficient people, the area was designed to be experienced through touch and smell, allowing visitors to interact with the flora and learn about them through the Braille signs. The garden with designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO offering a collection of monuments of archaeological, artistic, and historical significance.

Source: Jardim Botanico


Copacabana Palace, a Belmond Hotel

Situated on one of the most iconic beaches in the world, Copacabana has a storied past and is a destination unto itself. This incredible property offers two hundred thirty-nine guest rooms, individually designed with antique furniture and original artwork. Aside from the Michelin-starred restaurant, tennis courts and a host of other offerings, the exclusive spa focuses on using local botanical ingredients, indigenous to Brazil – the perfect way to relax after exploring Jardim Botanico.

Source: Copacabana Palace


Wicklow County, Ireland

Ranked as the third best garden in the world, according to National Geographic, this forty-seven-acre garden has a history that stretches as far back as 1731. Initially the private estate of the Powerscourt’s, the sixty-eight room Powerscourt House is a stunning representation of Palladian style architecture, designed around a medieval castle and was home to the 1st Viscount Powerscourt - who is responsible for the creation of the sprawling gardens. With the profile of Sugar Loaf Mountain as its backdrop, the gardens were created to become part of the wider landscape and in doing so, established one of the most magnificent vistas in Ireland. A leisurely stroll from the Powerscourt House takes you from palatial terraces, along statue lined paths towards the oldest part of the garden, The Walled Garden (among many others), further along is an incredible man-made pond, complete with a dolphin fountain surrounded by a multitude of ancient trees. Six kilometers from the house, is Irelands highest waterfall, tumbling from a height of one-hundred-twenty-one meters, it is an impressive way to culminate your garden experience.

Source: Powerscourt Estate House & Garden


Powerscourt Hotel & Spa, Autograph Collection

Seven minutes from the gardens and within the Powerscourt Estate, this hotel is one of Ireland’s preeminent five-star hotels. Designed in Palladian style architecture (just like the original Powerscourt House) the hotel has one hundred -ninety-eight generously sized guest rooms with uninterrupted views of Sugar Loaf Mountain. The hotel offers multiple dining options an award-winning spa, access to incredible golfing and complimentary bikes for guests to explore the estate.

Source: Powerscourt Hotel & Spa


Lisse, Netherlands

Just under half an hour from Amsterdam is the largest spring garden in the world. Situated over seventy-nine sprawling acres of a 15th century hunting ground, the landscape was designed in 1857 and serves as the foundation for the park today. Opened in 1950 it is home to over eight-hundred varieties of tulips (the star of the Dutch Golden Age) and numerous spring flowers, it is a spectacle of color but short lived, as the over seven million bulbs planted each year bloom between mid-March to mid-May. Within the grounds is the Keukenhof Castle, and estate built in 1641 and boasts its own impressive collection of gardens and pathways, open throughout the year.

Source: Keukenhof Garden


Pulitzer Hotel, Amsterdam

The one-of-a-kind Pulitzer Amsterdam is a remarkable property winding through twenty-five historic canal houses and between two of Amsterdam's most iconic canals. Half an hour from the Keukenhof Garden, the hotel offers its own garden nestled in a beautiful courtyard between the buildings and the hotel has an impressive modern art collection. Offering two-hundred-twenty-five residential guest rooms, all with unique features, this hotel is the perfect place to stay and just steps from some of the most iconic Amsterdam attractions.

Source: Pulitzer Hotel

JARDIN MAJORELLE Marrakech, Morocco

Started in 1924, this two-and-a-half-acre retreat dotted with numerous fountains and ponds is not far from the bustle of the city center but is a tranquil world unto itself. Established by Jacques Majorelle, a French Orientalist, the garden is home to over three-hundred plant species from five continents as well as an artist’s landscape garden, where art and nature unite. Perhaps the most well-known feature of the complex is the Cubist Villa painted in an electrifying shade of blue, Majorelle Blue to be exact – and it is a striking contrast against the natural hues of the space. Leading into the 1980’s, the garden was left to deteriorate until the formidable Yves St. Laurent purchased the property with the intent to return it to its original splendor. That he did, in addition to adding modern irrigation and new plant species, this retreat formed the inspiration for many of his collections. Today the garden is open to the public and houses both the Berber Museum and the Yves St. Laurent Museum.

Source: Jardin Majorelle

WHERE TO STAY Amanjena, Aman Hotels

Everything about this property is mesmerizing, much like the incredible Jardin Majorelle. The property has thirty-two guest pavilions each with a wood-burning, sunken fire pit and a private garden terrace. The seven two-story maisons are like elegant Moroccan townhouses, each with inward-facing windows, a wall fountain, and a marble-columned bathroom – there is even a private swimming pool and garden. Slip away to the full-service spa, with its truly Moroccan hammam and essential-oil massages; you will be invited to soak in a rose-petal bath and sip mint tea. Fifteen minutes from the garden itself, this hotel is an amazing compliment to the beauty of Jardin Majorelle.

Source: Amanjena


Cape Town, South Africa

Arguably one of the greatest botanic parks in the world, this stunning thirteen-hundred-acre garden has the Eastern slopes of Table Mountain as its backdrop. Founded in 1913 with the purpose of protecting and cultivating South Africa’s indigenous plants, it was one of the first gardens in the world with this focus. Situated in the Cape Floristic Region, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this impressive garden is home to over seven thousand species of plants, most notably: one of the largest and most spectacular collection of Protea’s. The garden also features a fragrance garden and Braille Trail, allowing the sight-impaired to immerse themselves in the scents and sounds of the area. The Botanical Society Conservatory focuses on housing plants from various regions and champions exploration, conservation, and sustainable use of South Africa’s exceptionally rich biodiversity.

Source: Kirstenboch National Botanic Garden


One&Only, Cape Town

Set in the heart of the city’s vibrant waterfront and a short fifteen-minute drive to Kirstenboch, the property features its own inner-city islands, One&Only Cape Town is an enchanting urban oasis on the doorstep of awe-inspiring cultural and natural wonders, including the iconic Table Mountain. Bespoke adventures in the region are curated with unrivaled passion and knowledge. The resort offers one hundred thirty-two guest rooms, a captivating destination spa, and a selection of the city’s most celebrated dining experiences.

Source: One&Only Cape Town


Place d’Armes, France

Perhaps the most notorious garden on this list, the Gardens of Versaille, dating back to the 17th century is just as captivating as the palace itself. The garden was a labour of love that lasted forty years, the designer André Le Nôtre was a visionary and earned his place in the history books for his work. He conceived a collection of meticulous gardens with three-hundred-seventy-two statues, private groves and parks laced with twenty miles of canals and fifty-five spectacular water features. Comprised of a series of flat parterres the gardens reveal themselves with every step, allowing one to appreciate a different vista. Perhaps the most impressive feat was the mile long Grand Canal, which is in optical illusion as the two lateral canals made to form a crucifix, appear to be the same size but they are not. The furthest one is double the size, to play with the perspective when viewing the canal from the palace. Closer to the palace are the formal gardens that are a remarkable example of the embroidery parterre, a formal flowerbed garden following an intricate pattern. Nearby is Europe’s largest orangery, with more than one thousand trees including, orange, lemon, oleanders, pomegranates, and palm trees. Impressively, the three-hundred-year-old hydraulic system for the various water features are still in use today. A series of storms in the later part of the twentieth century meant much of the garden was replaced, giving it youthful and fresh look, as it would have been when first built.

Source: Gardens of Versailles


Airelles, Le Grand Contrôle

Set within the gates of Versailles, the recently opened Airelles hotel, Le Grand Contrôle was built in 1681, more than two centuries later, the property has been entirely restored, offering an exclusive peek into the world of Versailles. The fourteen rooms and suites are complete with period furnishings and fittings for a royal stay. Paying homage to the rich history, every element touches upon its former 18th-century splendor, furniture and paintings that once had a place in the palace have been reunited with their former home. This outstanding hotel offers an incredible restaurant and the Valmont Spa – this is the art of French hospitality at its finest.

Source: Airelles, Le Grand Contrôle


Tivoli, Italy

Deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the incredible water gardens of Villa d’Este are without a doubt a remarkable display of 16th century Italian gardens. Built in a former Benedictine monastery, the historical villa is a sight to behold, but more impressive are the sprawling gardens, which served as a model for the creation of gardens all over Europe. Designed over two steep slopes that descend from the palace (similar to an amphitheater), they were created to showcase the opulence and power of Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este. The innovative design is perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the space, it is a system of 51 fountains and nymphaeum’s, 398 spouts, 364 water jets, 64 waterfalls, and 220 basins, fed by 875 meters of canals, channels, grottos and cascades, and all working entirely by the force of gravity, without pumps. Over the centuries, the palace and the garden were challenged by environmental deterioration, World War II and variety of owners. Much of the garden has been beautifully restored to is original splendor and continues to inspire – a true masterpiece of perfect harmony between, architecture, horticulture, water, music, and masonry.

Source: Villa d'Este


The St. Regis, Rome

It was only fitting to select an iconic brand of luxury hospitality to match the unrivaled beauty of Viila d’Este. Under an hour from Tivoli, in the center of the city is The St. Regis Rome (dating back to 1894) – offering an exquisite combination of history and charm. The hotel encapsulates the beauty of Rome and maintains its timeless elegance. All one hundred sixty rooms, including an exclusive collection of suites, are enriched by precious fabrics and objets d'art.

Source: St. Regis Rome


Haidian District, Beijing

A short drive from Beijing city center lies the best imperial garden in the world and the largest of its kind. Considered a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design and regarded as a symbol of one of the worlds major civilizations, UNESCO designated it a World Heritage site, due in part to its overwhelming influence on the development of this cultural form throughout the East. Opened to the public in 1934, the garden served as the summer retreat for imperial families as far back as the 12th century and is a stunning collection of man-made ancient structures. The garden design harmoniously blends nature and water features within a vast system of courtyards, pavilions, and imperial buildings. Notably, Kunming Lake comprises seventy-five percent of the gardens two hundred -ninety-hectare footprint and serves as the anchor point for the gardens lay out.

Source: The Summer Palace


Aman at Summer Palace, Aman Hotels

Offering fifty-one beautifully appointed guest rooms, that draw on the Ming Dynasty aesthetic, with polished Jin clay tiles, latticed woodwork, and bamboo blinds – this hotel is a must for those that want to truly experience the historical Summer Palace. It is housed in a series of historic dwellings adjacent to the East Gate, it is the perfect gateway to appreciate China’s imperial past.

Source: Aman Summer Palace

Interested in booking a tailor-made trip to any of these incredible destinations with access to the best of the best experiences, and perks along the way? Feel free to reach out for more information.

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