While heavenly in the first few weeks of spring, flowers are rarely the focus of an entire trip. Sure, you may be lured by a renowned botanical garden, or enjoy a hotel's impeccably landscaped grounds, but that's usually the extent of it. Not so with these colorful sites: from Morocco to Arizona, we've found the world's most unique floral regions, gardens, and, yes, flower festivals.
Each August in Medellín, regional farmers compete to build lavish, oversized floral displays known as silleteros. The overflowing bouquets are then mounted on wooden pallets and carried through the streets to a backdrop of frenzied cheering and live music—the sheer spectacle of it makes Feria de las Flores one of Medellín’s biggest holidays.
The mild summers in Japan’s northern Hokkaido Prefecture make it one of the most ideal places in Asia to grow lavender. At Farm Tomita, wide streaks of the purple herb grow in tandem with fields of baby’s breath, red poppies, pink garden catchflies, and orange poppies—creating a dazzling rainbow that at first appears Photoshopped. At the farm’s lavender-themed souvenir shop, you can buy anything from soap to incense to lavender-flavored soft-serve.
This lush desert city is home to precisely 54 public gardens, including the brand-new Mandarin Oriental Marrakech, whose villas are surrounded by 100,000 roses. In the Valley of Roses, about six hours south of Marrakesh, hikers can watch rosebuds being picked and dried for use in essential oils, potpourri, and rosewater.
Cape Floral Kingdom, South Africa
Named by UNESCO as one of the world's 18 biodiversity hot spots, the Cape Floral Kingdom has long enchanted botanists and nature photographers alike. Cape Fox tour guide Jaco Powell recommends traveling north from Cape Town along the N7 highway, which passes by many flower-rich areas. In late summer, flower-spotters should visit Namaqua National Park, where spectacular fields carpeted with wildflowers can be viewed on 4x4 trails and hikes. (Keep an eye out for the lotus-like king protea, South Africa’s national flower.)
Arizona-Sonora Desert, Arizona
Outside of Tucson, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum—home to a cactus garden with native wildflowers and even a butterfly garden—has two flowering peaks, in April and again in early fall (after August's monsoon rains). Still, in this abnormally lush desert, there's always something in bloom. By May, watch prickly pears sprout on the cacti and desert ironwood trees grow soft coatings of lavender flowers.
Nothing spells spring like a pilgrimage to Keukenhof, a breathtaking, if slightly surreal, tulip festival in south Holland that lasts for two months each year. This year the festival will run from March 23, 2017 through May 21, 2017 and feature "Dutch Design" as the annual planting theme.
No botanical garden comes close to the encyclopedia-worthy rosarium known as Roseto Finischi, which spans just a single acre in central Tuscany. Its pale brick walls contain more cultivars—arranged in groups, meticulously classified with their Latin name and original year of introduction—than any other private rose garden in the world. Walking through the closely planted bushes, you’ll breathe in the scent of (literally) thousands of roses.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The annual flower festival in Chiang Mai—a region known for its traditional floral art—doubles as a beauty pageant. Alongside marvelously bright flower floats—sculpted of African marigolds, globe amaranth, ban chun, and chrysanthemums—young Thai women file through the streets in floor-length gowns holding baskets of orchids, while uniformed local high school marching bands bring up the rear. After the parade, pick up a bundle of fresh-cut lilies along the Ping River at Ton Lamyai flower market, which is open 24 hours a day.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Up in the West Elk mountains, Crested Butte is renowned for its alpine views and first-rate skiing. But in July, during the weeklong Wildflower Festival (now in its 29th year), the town’s many hillside trails come alive with billowing crests of pink, orange, and gold. Hike up into higher elevations to glimpse alpine sunflowers—though small, these fist-size flowers are often decades in the making and bloom only once in their life.
Visitors are not allowed to enter Claude Monet’s stone house at Giverny, but his painterly presence lingers outside, in the narrow footpaths bordered with nasturtiums and the luminescent water-lily pond immortalized in his Nympheas paintings. While strolling the gardens, which Monet obsessively designed and tended to himself in the late 1800s, be sure to have your camera handy—the brilliant flower beds, composed in wild strokes of purple, white, gold, and red, are a masterpiece unto themselves.
Kauai’s Lawa’i Valley is one of the wettest places on earth, so no matter when you go, something is bound to be in bloom—though spring and summer pack the biggest punch. Brand new is the McBryde Garden Biodiversity Trail, which begins in an 80-foot tunnel of swirling mist and condenses the entire 450-million-year history of plant evolution into a tidy 10-minute hike. Keep an eye out for the tropical fruit orchard, flaming red coral trees, and pua kala blossoms.
Mainau Island, Germany
Happen to be in Zurich this spring? Hop up to Lake Constance, in Germany’s southwest corner near the Swiss border. Mainau Island, affectionately dubbed Blumeninsel, or “Flower Island,” features more than 110 acres of wide paved paths, sweeping lawns, and vast, radiating flowerbeds. While you’re there, climb a staircase waterfall brimming with tulips; after you leave, visit a seventh-century castle in nearby Meersburg.
Other articles from Travel + Leisure:
- This Polish Village Has Been Covered in Flower Paintings Since the 19th Century
- America's Best Spring Drives
- Take a Road Trip Across the Country Visiting Your Favorite Childhood Literary Characters