Royal Gardens at Herrenhausen – nature as a work of art for the Electress of Hannover.

The Royal Gardens at Herrenhausen are among the finest in Europe. Electress Sophie von Hannover was the mastermind behind these splendid gardens. She had the country estate and summer retreat of Herrenhausen laid out in the beautiful baroque style favoured by the House of Orange.

Hannover in Lower Saxony is home to one of Europe's most beautiful parks – Electress Sophie of Hannover's Royal Gardens at Herrenhausen. Work on the Great Garden, the baroque centrepiece, began in 1666. It was laid out in its present form under Electress Sophie of Hannover between 1696 and 1714. The ornamental box trees in the parterre and 30,000 summer flowers present a picture of neat, ordered nature. Snow-white sandstone sculptures add gravitas to the plantings: a club-swinging Hercules guards the central axis while Venus and a cherub keep an eye on proceedings. The baroque garden boasts many other rarities and superlatives, including the grand cascade from around 1670 – one of the gardens' oldest surviving structures – and the tallest garden fountain in Europe at 82 metres. The garden is also home to Germany's first garden theatre. With its gilded figures, this is as spectacular a setting today as it was in Electress Sophie's day. The Berggarten has prairie and fenland areas, glasshouses with orchids, a rainforest, cacti, a tropical conservatory and rare old trees such as a cucumber magnolia from 1794. Another highlight is the grotto from 1676 in the north-west of the Great Garden. Its restoration for EXPO 2000 gave it a second lease of life, and it was redesigned by the artist Niki de Saint-Phalle between 2001 and 2003. The orangery from 1720 and the Wilhelm Busch Museum with its collection of 2,000 drawings are also worth a visit. Other destinations for days out in the region include the magnificent Guelph palace, now the main building for Hannover University, Hannover Zoo and St. Michael's Church in Hildesheim, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985.

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