If the sight and scent of flowers fills you with joy, possibly even to the point of shaping your holiday planning, you’ll know how important it is to get your timing right. Regardless of where you’re going, you’ll want to make sure that you’re visiting at the very best time, when you can expect to find nature in full bloom. And fortunately, that often coincides in Europe with that sweet spot when you can expect minimal rainfall and warm weather and also avoid peak summer crowds.
As the days start to shorten and temperatures dip, now is the perfect time to start planning ahead for next year. With winter looming, what better time to get something in the diary so you can start dreaming of nights getting lighter, the weather milder and flowers beginning to bloom?
Not sure where to go? Here’s a rundown of some of my favourite European destinations where you can expect a splash of colour and the heady scent of floral blooms at key times during the year.
Nowhere welcomes spring quite like Holland where the beautiful flower gardens at Keukenhof in Lisse are one of the largest in the world. Extending over 32 hectares, the gardens are awash with colour, the result of planting around 7 million flower bulbs. In 2024, the gardens are open from 24 March to 12 May, but you’ll find the most vibrant displays blooming from mid-April onwards.
In Italy, nothing heralds spring quite like a field of red poppies! In Umbria and across Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia in central Italy, this explosion of colour carpets the landscape from late April and throughout May. Scattered by the wind, the poppies emerge along train tracks and roadsides, and throughout ploughed fields, olive groves and vineyards.
Given that May is such a wonderful time for both colour and scent, it’s not surprising that a visit to the magnificent garden at La Foce in Tuscany is one of the highlights of our May walking tour in central Italy. At this time of year, the garden is awash with spring flowers and irises, and framed by a magnificent wisteria-clad pergola and walls swathed in climbing roses, jasmine, and honeysuckle.
Meanwhile, across the Tuscan sea on the island of Elba, you’ll find the air filled with the scent of wild lavender, and pathways through the Mediterranean scrub and yellow broom sprinkled with colourful flowers and edged by fragrant clumps of rosemary.
France, and specifically Provence, is synonymous with scented fields of lavender in June. Meanwhile, over in France’s Maritime Alps, the slopes are swathed in vivid clumps of wildflowers, set against a backdrop of craggy peaks. The heady smell of thyme fills the air, and wild orchids and blazing blue gentians provide a splash of colour.
The same is true of Slovenia where you’ll find a treasure trove of alpine floral offerings in the Julian Alps. As the snow melts, flower lovers can enjoy the spectacle of alpine slopes bursting into life with dazzling displays of Sweet William and flaming Carnic Lilies and walk through meadows and woodland sprinkled with striking blue flowerheads and lily of the valley.
Delve deeper into the floral world of the Julian Alps at the International Wild Flower Festival at Lake Bohinj between 24 May and 9 June 2024. Festival events take place at various locations in Bohinj, across an area of over 300km².
If you visit the awe-inspiring Dolomites in July, you’ll find lush green slopes and snow-capped peaks set against glorious blue skies. Lying predominantly in Italy’s South Tyrol, on the Austrian border, the landscape of the Dolomites is essentially one of spiky peaks and dense forests. However, by late June and into July, the Alpine flora is in full flow with eyepopping displays of golden hawksbeard, purple gentians, edelweiss and carpets of red Alpenrose.
But don’t let the peaks put you off. While the region is a paradise for serious hikers, it’s also suitable for gentle strollers who can amble through wildflower-strewn meadows and pretty hamlets festooned with blazing red geraniums and a profusion of flowers on roadside verges.
By August, many of Europe’s most beautiful flowers are wilting. You’ll still find blinding displays of bougainvillea along the Amalfi Coast, but the sunflowers in the Tuscan countryside will be beginning to droop by the end of the month.
The good news is that the shift into September transports you into a multi-hued world of autumnal shades and foliage, even on a city break. In Florence, take time out of a busy sightseeing schedule for a walk in Le Cascine park where a swirl of fallen amber-hued leaves carpets the paths and walkways.
For even more spectacular displays of autumn colours, head for the beech forests in the Mugello where the foliage is aflame with burnished shades of red, and the heady scent of chestnuts, truffles and mushrooms fills the air in the village markets.
Meanwhile, in the northern Italian region of Piedmont, autumn is a wonderful time to experience the best of the region. Early morning mists shroud copper-tinged foliage, and October is the very best month to enjoy the region’s mouthwatering food and wine.
Have you ever visited any of these places? Do you prefer spring blooms or autumn foliage? Do you have any top tips for destinations for flower lovers?