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SECRET GARDENS

There’s nothing quite like a sunny patch of lawn, a gentle breeze and some fragrant flowers to really help you relax, especially when in the middle of a busy city.


WORDS Hilary Doling

When Brad and Angelina took their high-profile brood to Venice, the kids spent much of their time dashing round the expansive gardens of the Hotel Cipriani. In Venice’s watery world palazzos are squeezed together like crowds at Carnivale, so it is rare to find a private courtyard, never mind a fully-fledged garden. Luckily, the Cipriani is on its own island, so it has that rare commodity– space.

I’m with the Jolie-Pitts on this one. The best way to negotiate five star hotel living with a family is to find a city hotel with a garden. That way the little ones can let off some steam at the end of a sightseeing day without jumping on that carefully made hotel bed or running in the hallowed corridors. I have planned my hotel stays around the world on the basis of their secret gardens as my son has grown and I’ve found that city museums are viewed as so much more enjoyable if he knows there’s open air and green space coming later.

There is a big clue in the name of the island that Hotel Cipriani inhabits; it is called Giudecca, which means ‘the garden of delights’. Arriving on the hotel’s private launch you come first to the lily pond and formal flowerbeds but there is much to explore. The garden is divided into different areas by vine-covered walkways and pretty stone walls. Statues peek from hidden corners, pathways meander and a wide lawn invites bare toes to run on it. There is even a small creek and the chef can help families explore the delights of the kitchen garden with its herbs and tomatoes.

Mums, possibly more than dads, will love the fact that wedged beside the Palazzo Vendramin and the canal beyond, you’ll find Casanova’s Garden. Apparently Casanova had secret trysts here attracted by the wine, as well as the women, of the island, and Hotel Cipriani has restored a small vineyard in his honour. If your family can stand to leave the gardens, the hotel can also organise kayak trips or a water-bike tour of the lagoon.

The beautiful gardens at the Mount Nelson in Cape Town are perfect for dignified tea parties.

"Statues peek from hidden corners, pathways meander and a wide lawn invites bare toes to run on it."

In London, our favourite hotel is The Goring, right near Buckingham Palace and while the hotel may not have Buck House’s palatial grounds, its city garden, with a perfect square of green lawn criss-crossed by paths, is a pretty serene spot. The Goring knows how to use the space in a kid-friendly manner; the hotel’s garden Easter egg hunts are legendary and the concierge can organise all sorts of fun activities in the grounds during your child’stay. Inside, the hotel’s V.I.(little)P programme includes access to The Goring bedtime story library, a cuddly ‘Baaa-bara Sheep’ to keep, a For Kids Eyes Only pack and a Goring Passport for them to document a personal record of their trip to London.

Across the English Channel in Paris, the HÔtel Le Bristol is the place to be. This has the largest garden of any of the Parisian palace hotels. Last year, the hotel renovated its famous gardens adding a new terrace, a cobblestoned path, magnolia trees and even more flowers. I love the fact that the character of this garden changes with the seasons with tulips and daffodils in spring and geraniums and roses in summer. I defy any child not to fall in love with the hotel’s wooden horse Pégase, which pulls a tiny cart. The hotel’s resident felines, the aristocratic Fa-Raon and Kléopatre, love to prowl the gardens and children are equally keen to play cat hide-andseek with them. The Hotel de Russie in Rome by the Spanish Steps would be my other European pick. The hotel has 2800 square metres of terraced gardens full of palm trees, yews and climbing roses.

Above: A quick game of tip.

There's always time for a wheelbarrow ride at Hotel Cipriani.

After a South African safari holiday full of roaring lions and wild bush settings, it would have been difficult to adapt to our city stay, even in glorious waterside Cape Town, were it not for the fact that we checked into the Belmond Mount Nelson. This pink palace at the foot of Table Mountain is an oasis of leafy tranquillity. A programme of kids’ activities, which includes cricket matches, swimming, tag games and treasure hunts, attests to the amount of outdoor space at the hotel. Its expansive grounds house three pools, ponds, lawn and rose gardens. Hard to believe that right outside the hotel walls you are in the centre of fashionable Kloof Street. Kids will also love the extravagant afternoon teas. After a stay here, my son renamed the city ‘Caketown’, instead of Cape Town, in honour of Mount Nelson’s impressive spread.

Those who think Los Angeles is really one big freeway haven’t had the good fortune to stay at Hotel Bel-Air. The hotel was developed in the 1920s by Alphonso Bell as “a haven of rest... in big, noisy, congested Los Angeles”, and he succeeded. Families can seek sanctuary in five hectares of gardens with, we are told, 2000 botanical species including a 60-yearold lonchocarpus tree and a four-metre bird of paradise. Parents will love the purple cascades of bougainvillea; children will prefer the tiny hummingbirds that make their home here and the swans that drift across the hotel lake. Big kids’ thumbs up for the jasmine popsicles served around the pool too.

In Asia our family have been very happy to escape the crowds in busy, bustling Bangkok at Four Seasons Bangkok where the hotel’s covered walkways are built around a central green space with a magnificent 25-metre outdoor swimming pool surrounded by lush tropical gardens, a waterfall and lotus ponds. At the Shangri-La Singapore, just off frenetic Orchard Road, you can stay in the Garden Wing, or the ultra-luxurious Valley Wing set among six hectares of verdant landscaping.

In the course of all our wanderings, I’ve discovered something else about secret gardens– it’s not just my son who benefits from them. A secluded spot with some fresh air and a few flowers does wonders for my travelweary spirit too.


Stay:The Goring www.thegoring.com 
 Hotel Le Bristol www.lebristolparis.com/eng 
 Belmond Mount Nelson, Belmond Hotel Cipriani www.belmond.com 
 Hotel De Russie www.roccofortehotels.com 
 Hotel Bel-Air www.dorchestercollection.com
 Four Seasons Bangkok www.fourseasons.com/bangkok
 Shangri-La www.shangri-la.com/singapore



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