At the RHS Hampton Court Flower show this week, destinations from Charleston to Galicia, Normandy to Peru, came alive in the gardens from around the world. Each was inspired by the plants and landscapes that make these little corners of a country unique and special. The show is on for a few more days, so do go along to see these and many other beautiful gardens to find some inspiration for your next holiday.
As I was visiting on the 4th July, celebrations were in full swing at the three USA gardens from Oregon, Charleston and Austin.
Landscapes of Austin
At the Austin garden, the strumming of singer songwriter Carson McHone took me straight back to our holiday in Texas a few years ago, remembering all the street performers playing in the bars and by the food trailers in Austin. The stone walling, beaten earth paths and and rusting metal bowl filled with water were just as I remembered, even in the smart hotel where we stayed on our trip to Texas.
I loved the soft swathes of grass that looked as if they were rustling in the breeze, mixed with the dusty reds and yellows of Echinacea and other wild flowers. The spiky Agave were there too, to remind us that Texas is tequila country and they mix a mean margarita in Austin.
Mountains and Vineyards of Oregon
In the Oregon garden it was all about the mountain landscape with rocky outcrops and mountain streams backed by pine forests (or as much of a forest as you can realistically transport and plant at a garden show). There were a few vines too to show that they are a wine growing region and at the front a naturalistic planting of daisies and grasses looking as if they might be growing in the border of some farmer’s field. To represent the many cycling routes around the state, the edge of the borders were decorated with bicycle wheels.
Hidden gardens of Charleston
Quite different to the naturalistic feel of the other USA gardens was the Charleston garden, which exhuded elegance and old world charm. Box hedges surrounded the manicured lawn with wrought iron benches to linger a while. The pink and white planting gave a romantic feel mixed with a few more tropical shrubs. It was just the sort of place you’d like to take iced tea with your grandmother and hear her reminisce about her days as a southern belle.
The Inca Garden with inspiration from Machu Picchu
The Inca civilisation of Peru that created awe-inspiring structures like Machu Picchu was the inspiration for a tropical garden sponsored by British Airways and Journey Latin America. From the outside we were met by a wall of native foliage with banana plants and sculptural leaves, but as we walked further into the garden, the carefully crafted dry stone terraces like those at Machu Picchu were revealed.
Water trickled down from the grassy terraces into pools that could be used for irrigation, with gardens of maize, potato and quinoa standing in well kept rows. The planting was spiky and exotic with variegated red and green planting mixed in with the yellow and orange astromeria. Perhaps if the explorer Hiram Bingham had been able to step back in time, this is what he would have seen of Machu Picchu when the Incas were at their full power, rather than the deserted remains of a lost civilisation that we think of today.
The Normandy 1066 Medieval Garden
To celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the ‘Le Clos d’Hastings’ garden took on a medieval theme that reflected the garden plants and countryside from both sides of the channel in Normandy and the area around Hastings. The garden was divided diagonally into two parts with a woven hazel fence, the ends of the branches sprouting in places.
On one side of the fence was a field of crops waiting to be harvested; flax and wheat speckled with red popies and daisies. On the other side of the fence were garden plants in shades of white and purple, a rich mixture evoking the Bayeux tapestry. At the back of the plot, a green hedge was planted with saplings to represent the farming landscape of Normandy while at the front a couple of Norman soldiers were standing guard, quite happy to pose for photos!
From Galicia in Northern Spain – the Route of the Camelia garden
One of my favourites among the world gardens was the Route of the Camellia garden, sponsored by Turismo de Galicia. I visited northern Spain a few years ago on a family summer holiday and well remember the mixture of brilliant sunshine and showers that we had – there’s a good reason why it’s called ‘Green Spain’!
The garden celebrates the pilgrim’s route of Santiago de Compostela, which I’d love to hike some day, with the pilgrim’s symbol of scallop shells scattered on the path. Overhanging the romantic shrine to the Virgin Mary was a Camellia tree, frequently found in this part of Spain. Since the camellia flowers in the spring, designer Rose McMonigall had used pink coloured shells to represent the camelia petals that might drop onto the pilgrim’s path.
RHS Garden Holidays
If you’re a garden enthusiast, take a look at the RHS Garden Holidays, which are organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, offering tours of the world’s great gardens, accompanied by horticultural experts.
RHS Hampton Court Flower Show
The RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show takes place 5-10 July 2016 – visit the RHS website for more information on this and all the other RHS flower shows.
Thanks to RHS Hampton Court Flower Show who provided me with free entry to the show.
At Ottley’s Plantation Inn, I felt I was stepping back in time, into a luxurious Caribbean lifestyle. The last remaining plantation inn on St Kitts, the hotel is a haven to relax in the elegance of the Great House, surrounded by beautifully kept gardens, flower filled borders and avenues of royal palms. The hotel is close to the rainforest that clothes the slopes of Mount Liamuiga, where you can take nature walks, with open views towards the ocean. Read on for more about this special hotel.
The history of Ottley’s Plantation Inn
The hotel is named after the first owners, the Ottley family who arrived from Yorkshire in the 18th century to establish a sugar plantation. Over the years the house and estate has passed through many different hands and was a private home when the parents of the present owners took it over in 1988 to reopen as an inn. The original building was enlarged by adding a second storey while maintaining the traditional style, to create the pretty yellow-painted Great House with white verandahs that you find today. Backed by forest trees and the extinct volcano beyond, with beautifully kept lawns stretching out towards the sea, Ottleys looks as if it might have been a wealthy plantation owner’s home for ever.
Traditional Caribbean hospitality
These days guests can share in a little piece of plantation history. With only 24 rooms spread between the Great House and stone cottages in the grounds, it feels as if you might be staying at the home of a rather grand friend. The hotel is very much a family affair, run on a day to day basis by sisters Nancy and Karen, together with Nancy’s husband Marty and their father who although retired still lives on the estate. In the evenings, the family mingle with guests, adding to the feeling of traditional hospitality, and Marty gives regular nature walks around the grounds explaining about the different trees and flowering plants.
My Classic Caribbean bedroom
My gorgeous bedroom was in one of the stone cottages in the grounds, with cream tiled floor and walls, contrasting with the dark mahogany plantation shutters and furniture. Throwing open the shutters and looking out towards the ocean, I felt like a heroine in Gone With The Wind, who might any moment be dressing for dinner to catch the eye of a favourite beau. Dark wood and rattan chairs, pretty floral quilts, porcelain lamps and traditional woven mats completed the romantic old-style Caribbean atmosphere.
The spacious cream bathroom had a large mirror and stone-effect double sinks with gold taps. There was a large jacuzzi bath as well as a shower and I enjoyed the little personal touches like a vase of flowers from the garden, as if the mistress of the house had cut a few of her favourite flowers for me specially.
Just outside the cottage was a private area to sit and doze in the shade or read, with a plunge pool to take a refreshing dip.
Ottley’s Plantation Inn is on the Atlantic coast of St Kitts, set on the lower slopes of Mount Liamuiga, a little above the road that encircles the island. As you turn off the main road and up the long, tree-lined drive, it feels as if you are entering a private hideaway, where the sea breeze ruffles the tops of the palms. From the verandah of the Great House or the window of my bungalow I could just see the Atlantic ocean across the beautifully manicured gardens filled with fragrant frangipani and bougainvillea. Although the hotel transports you to an elegant world of the old Caribbean, it’s only a 10-15 minute drive from the island’s capital of Basseterre and the airport.
I ventured into the Great House where the luxurious plantation style continued in the guest sitting room with traditional dark wood furniture, comfortable flowery sofas and the paintings of local artists on the walls. At the back of the room was a bar, for evening drinks and a small library and reading area.
The Royal Palm Restaurant
Dinner is taken in the Royal Palm Restaurant which is open to the garden on one side, within the walls of the plantation’s old boiling house. With elegant wrought iron furniture, pink table cloths and arrangements of flowers from the garden, the restaurant offers a fusion menu that draws on the best of Mediterranean inspiration combined with Caribbean flavours. With the fairy lights and candles on the table, the restaurant takes on a very romantic feel as darkness falls and you are surrounded by the chirping of the tree frogs in the garden. As the food is excellent and there are no other restaurants close by, many guests book a package that includes dinner for their stay.
On the other side of the black volcanic stone wall is the spring fed swimming pool looking out over the garden at one end and adjoining the bar, where they make an excellent rum punch.
After my restful night’s stay I enjoyed a hearty breakfast of Caribbean style eggs and fresh orange juice from the breakfast menu. Breakfast is served in another informal dining room within the boiling house, with open sides overlooking the garden.
The Mango Orchard Spa
Nancy showed me around the Mango Orchard Spa, in a pretty wooden cabin under the trees, overlooking the wooded nature walk, where the vervet monkeys play in the branches. You can book a very special facial treatment or soothing massage here surrounded by sounds of the rainforest.
A beautiful Caribbean wedding setting
The idyllic location, traditional character and beautifully kept gardens make Ottley’s a popular setting for Caribbean weddings which can be held in different parts of the grounds, in either the woodland area or on the rolling lawns. The circular base of the old sugar mill near the Great House is often used as a stage for the wedding ceremony, surrounded by the dappled green of the forest with pink flower petals scattered over the old brick floor.
Who is Ottley’s Plantation Inn best suited for?
We think you will love Ottley’s Plantation Inn if you are looking for the old-world charm of the historic plantation inn and a place to relax and unwind. The hotel is best suited to couples looking for tranquility or a romantic break and travellers aged 40+ will feel at home.
Good to know
Getting around the island’s beaches and sights by taxi can be expensive, although the hotel runs a daily shuttle into Basseterre and the main beaches such as Cockleshell and Frigates Bay. However if you are interested in a more active holiday of watersports, sightseeing and eating in different restaurants you could combine a few days relaxing at Ottleys with a stay at one of the other hotels that are closer to the beach or town.
To Book Ottley’s Plantation Inn
Book your stay at Ottley’s Plantation Inn on their website at Ottleys.com and follow them on Facebook. To compare prices and book for hotels on St Kitts use my Hotels Combined Booking comparison page.
Visitor Information for St Kitts
To plan your visit to St Kitts check out the tourism board website at www.stkittstourism.kn or follow their social media channels: Twitter @StKittsTourism | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | Pinterest |
British Airways flies to St Kitts from London Gatwick twice a week on Saturdays and Wednesdays with the flight going on to nearby Antigua. There are regular ferries every day to Nevis, with a journey time of 45 minutes from Basseterre, making it easy to plan a combined stay on both islands.
To start and end your holiday on St Kitts in style, the YU Lounge offers a private terminal at the airport. A private car will meet you from the plane and whisk you to the luxurious lounge where snacks and drinks are available. While you are waiting your luggage will be picked up and you’ll be cleared through security by the YU Lounge staff.
Thanks to Ottley’s Plantation Inn who hosted Heather’s 1 night hotel stay and to the St Kitts tourism board who provided Heather’s visit to St Kitts.
More things to do in St Kitts
“I could lie here and look at those mountains for hours” said Guy, as he sank into the easy chair in the corner of our bedroom. From Mas Gorral, our villa in Costa Brava, we could look over the countryside to the Pyrenees, the rising sun lighting up the teracotta rooftiles and the mellow stone of the farmhouses in the distance. The small town of Pontos lay below us, with birds chirping and a view of the pine forest where we never did manage to go for a walk. These are the memories that you bring back from a holiday and turn over in your mind when it’s raining in Bristol!
We were staying at Mas Gorral through Charming Villas Catalonia, a company that specialises in luxury villas that are full of character, in the Costa Brava region of Catalunya. Richard and Sara who run the company are based nearby in Besalu and give the villas a personal touch, helping you choose the villa that suits your needs and are on hand to sort out any issues that arise.
I hope you enjoy the video below about Mas Gorral with Charming Villas Catalonia
Rustic Chic in our Costa Brava Villa
Our five bedroom villa, Mas Gorral was an old rambling farmhouse that easily accommodated our party of nine, made up of our family as well as Guy’s sister and family. I enjoyed imagining the history of this place, how rooms had been added to over the years, to suit the needs and ambitions of various owners. With everything built of local stone, bound together by ochre mortar, teracotta roof tiles and green creepers clothing the walls, it was difficult to tell what was original and what was modern.
Inside the theme was rustic chic, with mottled plaster walls left natural in places, in others painted creams and yellows. Exposed beams held up the ceiling with stone sinks in the kitchen and three bathrooms. Every room was huge, with imposing antique armoires and chests of drawers to match the scale of the house.
Quirky artwork and furnishings
From the eclectic furnishings I imagined that the owners had travelled far and wide; a black Chinese laquer cupboard, a carved Asian wooden chest and a large leather topped desk that wouldn’t be out of place in an English gentleman’s library. The quirky feel continued in the bold, colourful artworks – verging on the surreal, and inspired perhaps by Salvador Dali who was born just down the road in Figueres.
On the landing a larger-than-life lady in an aviator’s helmet, surrounded by startled cherubs; is she kissing one of them or trying eat it? The long legs of a woman diving into a hat were propped near the kitchen and in the dining room we are greeted by the back of a reclining woman with ripples of creamy flesh.
A bracing swim in the pool
On the green lawn below the house, our swimming pool overlooked the valley and the forest. Being from England we are determined to make the most of every ray of sunshine and the girls were dressed as if for the hottest of August days in skimpy tops, loose flowing skirts and strappy sandals. They lay on the sunloungers ignoring the tramontana wind but after a while were forced to retreat to a more sheltered spot on the upper terrace.
We gathered around the pool daring each other to go in. A toe dipped in the water told us it was not going to be warm, it was April after all! My son took a plunge and dive bombed in, splashing everyone else. Then the girls followed, surfacing from the cold water, eyes wide with the shock. A brisk couple of lengths and they ran back inside for a hot shower!
Lunch on the sunny terrace
In the entrance hall hung a row of straw hats, waiting to be borrowed for a snooze in the sun or a walk around the garden. Although it was only April, the sun shone for us and we took full advantage of the warmth for lunches al fresco on the sheltered terrace. Feeling the sun on your back in the springtime when there’s still blossom on the fruit trees and wildflowers in the fields is one of the pleasures of being in Costa Brava.
After a day of walking the town walls in Girona, a seaside jaunt to Cadaques or a Dali inspired visit to Figueres we’d return to Mas Gorral to loll around on the white cotton sofas in the barn-like sitting room. Our hire car from Auto Europe was despatched to the local supermarket to return with mountains of food and all the cousins decided what we would eat and cooked it together.
Time for dinner at the long table
Later books would be cleared from the long wooden table where the girls had been working on university assignments and the table was laid for dinner. During the day we’d tried the local specialities; dreamy ice cream from Rocambolesc in Girona, seafood tapas and local wine at Enoteca MF in Cadaques. But in the evening we’d fall back on our home-cooked favourites, chicken kebabs barbecued on the terrace or mountains of meatballs and pasta.
On our last evening, however we took inspiration from the staff at Enoteca MF in Cadaques who we saw peeling a huge pile of red shrimps which were pulverised to make a shrimp carpaccio. In our version it was seafood linguine but the cousins pitched in to peel all the prawns from the supermarket.
Wine and cards in front of the fire
After a candle-lit dinner around the huge table, the fire was lit to take away the evening chill and we sat around playing cards and drinking local wine. The house became a backdrop for family conversations, catching up on news, planning bright futures. The card games were fircely contested, but at the end it’s not about the winning or losing but about the time we spend together. With our children flying the nest to carve their own paths in the world, these memories of time spent together become ever more precious.
All too soon it was time to leave our lovely villa at Mas Gorral. The views over the garden are still there, the teracotta roofs of Pontas below the house and the snow capped Pyrenees in the distance, waiting for the next guest.
As we reluctantly handed back the keys to Richard and drove to the airport past fields of yellow rapeseed scattered with poppies, the sun on the terrace was still warm in our memory. We’d had a chance to catch up, to cook together and splash in the pool. We’d recharged and soaked up the sunshine and made some memories to take home. Isn’t that what holidays are all about?
Have you any favourite holidays memories of spending time with your family? I’d love to hear them in the comments.
More memories from Costa Brava
Plan your stay in Costa Brava
Thanks to Charming Villas Catalonia for providing our villa Mas Gorral near Figueres. Charming Villas specialise in luxury and character villas in Catalonia from rustic villas in the countryside to modern coastal villas. They have over 80 villas to choose from and as Richard and Sara who run the company are based locally they are able to help with planning your holiday and on hand to sort out any issues.
Mas Gorral has 5 double bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, plenty of living space, a terrace, large garden and swimming pool. You can rent Mas Gorral through Charming Villas with rental rates starting in May at €2500 per week, rising to €3750 per week in high season. As Mas Gorral is in a rural location, we recommend that you hire a car to get around.
Thanks to Auto Europe for providing our hire car for exploring Costa Brava. Auto Europe work with 20,000 car rental locations in 180 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, as well as North and South America.