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The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT -

Pas­sen­gers will meet Monty Don on an 11-day Bri­tish Isles, Cas­tles, Gar­dens, His­tory & Birdlife cruise aboard MS He­bridean Sky’s sis­ter ship, MS Is­land Sky, de­part­ing May 29; from $13,890 a per­son twin-share, from Ed­in­burgh to Lon­don. Botan­ica World Dis­cov­er­ies also op­er­ates gar­den-themed cruises to Ja­pan and South Korea be­tween Jan­uary and April, and river cruises in Europe, in­clud­ing tulip time in Hol­land and Bel­gium, ru­ral France, Por­tu­gal, Spain and Scan­di­navia. More: 1300 305 202; botan­ica.travel. walled gar­den is just as en­chant­ing with its an­cient and wonky yew hedges trimmed Dutch style, once known as wob­bly top­i­ary.

In Belfast the sump­tu­ous Ed­war­dian in­te­ri­ors at Mount Ste­wart are as di­vert­ing as the whim­si­cal (and world-fa­mous) gar­dens cre­ated by Lady Edith Lon­don­derry. The great and the good, in­clud­ing Churchill, ate in the break­fast room with 14 dogs and Ed­ward the macaw (there were flamin­goes on the lake). The gar­den is filled with al­le­gor­i­cal al­lu­sion and cu­ri­ous stat­ues rep­re­sent­ing fam­ily and friends (her hus­band is a chee­tah). And there’s a good shop where I pick up some vin­tage Ir­ish li­nen.

Back on MS He­bridean Sky, our fan­tas­tic kitchen team is flat out; most meals are taken on board and the food is very good, with lunch and din­ner of­fered on the lido deck as well as in the el­e­gant din­ing room. Early ris­ers gen­er­ally con­gre­gate in their PJs at the 24-hour tea and cof­fee sta­tion in the club lounge, sneak­ing a pre­break­fast pas­try or two.

Many days bring a choice of shore ex­cur­sions. In Wales we can visit the vil­lage of Port­meirion or bet­ter yet the re­mote gar­den of the town’s cre­ator Clough Wil­liams-El­lis. At age 21 he in­her­ited the 16th-cen­tury Plas Bron­danw and, with the Snow­do­nia Moun­tains as back­drop, cre­ated an en­chant­ing, the­atri­cal gar­den.

Next stop is the jaw-drop­ping 32ha Bod­nant, perched above the River Conwy. We ar­rive on a glo­ri­ous sunny day when the fa­mous labur­num walk is ablaze — like mov­ing through a tun­nel of light — and the rose gar­den is brim­ming with thou­sands of blooms so fra­grant that some of us are swoon­ing.

Near Dublin there’s Pow­er­scourt, a mini Ver­sailles, where 100 men laboured 12 years to carve out the enor­mous ter­races and lakes un­der the in­struc­tion of a slightly squiffy gar­den de­signer who was ap­par­ently con­veyed in a wheel­bar­row bran­dish­ing a bot­tle of port. In the restau­rant in the glo­ri­ous shell of a house (gut­ted by fire in the 1970s), I eat a scone the size of my head.

Out­side Water­ford we ex­plore the vast Mount Con­greve and its 16km of path­ways cuffed by 3000 va­ri­eties of rhodo­den­drons, great borders stuffed with pe­onies and vast wa­ter­falls of wis­te­ria spilling over high stone walls. And the ro­man­tic Lis­more Cas­tle, perched on a cliff above the River Black­wa­ter, home to Lord and Lady Burling­ton, heirs to the glit­ter­ing duke­dom of Devon­shire, where the stun­ning Ja­cobean gar­den is the old­est con­tin­u­ously cul­ti­vated in Ire­land and the west wing houses a bril­liant con­tem­po­rary art gallery.

To­wards cruise end, I’m laid up in my cabin with a gar­den-va­ri­ety form of swoon­ing Stend­hal syn­drome. My In­sta­gram ac­count has ex­ploded with thou­sands of pho­tos of wob­bly top­i­ary, pe­onies the size of din­ner plates and rare Hi­malayan pop­pies.

There’s not much the ship’s doc­tor can do. Fe­male pas­sen­gers have it bad, be­cause Botan­ica World Dis­cov­er­ies has one more ace up its sleeve — a visit to the ship by the de­light­ful, slightly crum­pled rock star of the mid­dle-aged gar­den­ing world, Monty Don.

Pass the smelling salts.

Chris­tine McCabe was a guest of Botan­ica World Dis­cov­er­ies.

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