• Gardens at Villa Rufolo in Ravello, Italy

    4 Great Garden Walking Tours

    <h2>A stroll through an ancient garden relaxes the soul and nourishes the senses. </h2> <br><img alt="Italian Lakes garden" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lM&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rPj" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br>  <p>We love a good walking vacation. It’s the best way to immerse yourself into the life and culture of a new destination. It’s also the best way to experience a beautiful garden — and we’ve seen many a beautiful garden. Here are four of our favorite garden walking tours:</p> <p><b>Villa Rufolo, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi/" target="_blank">Ravello, Italy</a></b><br><br>Overlooking Piazza Vescovado and with <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi/" target="_blank">magnificent views to the Bay of Salerno, Villa Rufolo is the cultural and historical center of Ravello</a>. Built by a wealthy merchant in the 13th century, the villa has been memorialized in literary works such as “Decameron,” by Italian renaissance author, Boccaccio. It’s storied past includes banquets for King Robert II of Naples and other Norman royalty and legends of hidden treasures.</p> <p>In 1851, Sir Francis Neville Reid, a Scottish botanist, fell in love with the property despite its state of disrepair and neglect at the time. He purchased the estate and began an extensive renovation on the property including the gardens.</p> <p>Know as the “Garden of the Soul,” <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi/" target="_blank">the garden of Villa Rufolo is bi-level with ancient walls</a> nearly hidden by cypress and lime trees. Reid stocked the garden with a variety of exotic plant species, which remain today. One such species is the Mediterranean cypress or pencil pine, which appears to originate from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. It was originally imported by the Phoenicians for its highly ornamental pyramidal form.</p> <p>Another beautiful plant in the gardens is the creeping or climbing fig. It originates in south-eastern Asia, is a vigorous climber with small, dark green heart-shaped leaves. Its aerial roots adhere to walls.</p> <p>The large-leaved lime or linden, is a deciduous tree with heart-shaped leaves with serrated edges. They produce fragrant whitish-yellow flowers in May and June, arranged in drooping clusters of two or more hermaphrodite flowers.</p> <p>Today, the <a href="http://www.villarufolo.it/" target="_blank">magical gardens and villa grounds</a> are open to the public year-round.<br><br><b>Gardens of Château de Marquessac, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/" target="_blank">Dordogne region, France</a></b><br><br><img alt="Gardens of Château de Marquessac" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lM&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rQ3" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>Step into the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/" target="_blank">otherworldly landscape of the Gardens of Château de Marquessac</a>, designed by a student of André Le Notre, the famous designer behind the gardens of the Château de Versailles. The <a href="http://marqueyssac.com/" target="_blank">formal French-style garden</a> is up-ended — almost becomes a playful version of itself — with dramatic swirls and rounds. The garden is comprised of rosemary, santoline and 150,000 pruned box trees.<br> </p> <p>Once you recover from the wonder of this sight, you’ll notice the garden’s <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/" target="_blank">prominent cliff-side position overlooking the Dordogne River</a>. You’ll see four of the famed castles of the area, including <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/" target="_blank">Castelnaud, Beynac and Fayrac.</a></p> <p><b>Botanical Garden, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba/" target="_blank">Cienfuegos, Cuba</a></b><br><br>An 1899 meeting between an American sugar planter in Cuba and two Harvard professors established The Harvard Botanic Station for Tropical Research and Sugar Cane Investigation in Cienfuegos, Cuba.</p> <p>In 1920, the ties between the garden and Harvard became more formal with a large endowment provided by the sugar cane farmer and the recognition of the garden as part of the university. Harvard Biological Laboratory was constructed at the garden four years later.</p> <p>During the 1930s, the garden reached its peak of beauty and diversity as a tropical arboretum. It was used by professors, students and visiting fellows to study tropical botany. Local citizens made up the grounds crew. With the Cuban revolution in 1959 and later the U.S. embargo American involvement was restricted and Harvard terminated its support. Today garden is run by the Cuban government and is both a <a href="http://www.uh.cu/centros/jbn/" target="_blank">National Monument and a popular tourist destination</a>.</p> <p>More than 2,000 species of plants thrive in this amazing 230-acre expanse in the gently rolling countryside just outside Cienfuegos. It’s the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba/" target="_blank">only plot on earth where you can see 280 kinds of palms </a>in a single setting. It’s also a marvelous place to spot hummingbirds, trogons and other birds.<br><br><b>Annapolis Royal’s Historic Gardens, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/novascotia/" target="_blank">Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia</a></b><br><br><img alt="Apple orchard" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lM&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rQ8" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>This 17-acre paradise, overlooking a tidal river valley, marks the first European settlement in North America. It’s <a href="http://www.historicgardens.com/" target="_blank">divided into themed areas</a> that tell the story of the area’s local history from a horticultural perspective of gardening methods and designs.<br> </p> <p>La Maison acadienne design is based on diary notes from the Acadian era and includes an orchard and willow hedge. It includes the only archeologically authenticated replica of a pre-deportation Acadian dwelling in the Maritime region — a 1671 time period when Port-Royal (later Annapolis Royal) was the center of Acadie.</p> <p>Herbs, flowers and heritage 18th-century apple trees fill the Governor’s Garden. They are arranged according to the traditions of the mif-1700s period, when <a href="http://www.historicgardens.com/" target="_blank">Annapolis Royal was the capital of Nova Scotia, then under British rule</a>.</p> <p>Other gardens include more than 3000 brightly colored annuals; hydrangea and day lilies; a rock garden; a heather bed and a rose garden with more than 270 cultivars.</p>

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  • View of a Cottage and Garden in France

    The 100,000-Year Vacation in France's Dordogne Valley

    <h2>From cave painters to cassoulet in southwest France.</h2>   <p>“It’s old, yes,” conceded Bart. “But only 27,000 years old. Not as old as some.” In fact, the cave etching we were facing, deep inside a hill in <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/" target="_blank" title="walking tours in France">France’s Dordogne Valley</a>, really didn’t look so ancient. In a region where signs of human life stretch back 400,000 years, the bison sketched in the cave’s eternal darkness was startlingly fresh.</p> <p>Yet, by comparison, the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia is brand spanking new. The Greeks didn’t even start to build Ephesus until a good 26 millennia after our cave artist laid down his tools.</p> <p>The chance to step through the time warp of all time warps wasn’t why I decided on  <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/" target="_blank" title="travel packages in France">a vacation in southwestern France</a>. But it’s why I’m most happy that I went. That week tested and twisted my sense of history in ways I never anticipated, and I have Bart to thank. He’s been the local Classic Journeys guide in Bordeaux and the Dordogne Valley for more than 15 years. The man seems to know everything and everybody. But his true specialty is orchestrating a deep dive into the human past.<br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/" target="_blank" title="Bordeaux and the Dordogne Valley">LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR CUSTOM TRAVEL PACKAGES TO FRANCE.</a><br><br>Bart really knows how to put the “pre” into prehistory. “But to keep it from being too overwhelming,” he deadpanned, “I’ll only focus on the last 100,000 years.” He pulled some strings to make it happen, negotiating that rare walk into a non-public cave. It was a cave-cave, the kind of granite burrow where a farmer stored his apple harvest in the cool air. There were no soaring caverns or floodlit stalactites, and we walked the whole way upright – no spelunking, thank you. At the end, we doused the flashlights, and Bart lit a candle to reveal that bison. He wanted us to be able to imagine crouching there in the candle’s flickering halo like the artist who may have “painted” the image by blowing on powdered pigment through a hollow bone.<br><br><img alt="Caves" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7mR&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002ons" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <p>Of course, most of the history is much closer to the surface. Bart introduced us to a friend who has one of the world’s largest collections of Stone Age relics, the kind of tools a gardener can hoe up in her artichoke patch. We went to La Roque Saint-Christophe, the troglodytic site where cave dwellers first carved shelters in the limestone wall tens of thousands of years ago. Fast-forward to the Middle Ages, and people still occupied those niches.</p> <p>And around here, you couldn’t ignore the Hundred Years’ War (which ended a mere 560 years ago) if you wanted to. As we took some <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bordeaux/" target="_blank" title="cultural walking tours in France">beautiful walks in the Dordogne and Vezere River valleys</a>, there was almost always a chateau or castle on the high horizon. Scenic to us, but purely strategic to the French and English armies who we imagined waiting for us there to come within bow-and-arrow range.<br><br><img alt="Chateau de Fayrac" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7mR&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002onx" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></p> <p>To be honest, I selected this region of France because they hunt truffles here. (We did, too.) An average dinner is a crusty crock of cassoulet. (I snagged the duck sausage.) And how can you argue with a medieval village like nearby St. Emilion where the specialties are cream-filled meringue cookies and Bordeaux wines. (Salut!) In my book, any travel experience with all of that is an automatic success.</p> <p>But if you’re like me, when you’re settled back in at home after a vacation, you surprise yourself with the things you remember best. I returned from this week with a real (and humbling) feel for where we fit on the human timeline. I’ll always be grateful to southwest France and Bart for giving me 100,000 years of memories.</p>

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