Following on from the tour to Spain hosted by general manager Peter Moxley last November, The Telegraph journalist Helen Yemm has taken the time to write a review of the trip, which visited a selection of public and very private gardens and enjoyed a taste of Spain’s capital city, including a personally guided visit to Madrid’s Museo Nacional Del Prado.
“I had the great good fortune to do a little ‘taster’ for this lovely tour late last November, when the dying days of a memorably evil British summer were fading into the mists of winter: being whisked away to Spain was a treat indeed.
Madrid itself (which I had not visited before) with its grand boulevards, fountains and magnificent trees looked spectacularly elegant. Our hotel (the Plaza Mayor) was well placed in the historical centre of the city and indeed the memory of a leisurely stroll shortly after our arrival as a golden sun set slowly over the plains behind and beyond the Royal Palace and the evergreens of the adjacent Sabatini Gardens, is something that will linger forever. As will, incidentally, the glorious exterior elevation and surprise, lofty ‘tropical garden’ interior of Madrid’s rail station: truly imaginative and amazing. In the subsequent two days, the wonderful gardens and stunning property interiors in and around Madrid that we visited were an eclectic mix of the historic-palatial-and-public, the palatial-but-private, and the small-private-and-extremely-personal, which made for a totally intriguing tour.
But here I particularly want to put on my ‘alternative’ hat – since in addition to writing a weekly newspaper column I host garden tours, together with the help of a specialist leader, for The Daily Telegraph.
So much of the success of a guided tour of any kind, I feel certain, depends on the sheer quality and personal energy of the tour guide (or ‘leader’, call him or her what you will), and we had an absolute cracker in Anneli Bojstad.
Anneli is actually Swedish but has a Spanish husband and is bringing up her children in Spain. (There is gardening ‘in the family’, furthermore – her mother-in-law is a renowned gardener and the author of GREAT GARDENS OF SPAIN). Not only has Anneli acquired impeccable historical knowledge of her half-adopted country that she imparts with great clarity, but perhaps because she is herself from elsewhere, she seems to have an instinct for imparting the kind of cultural information about Spain and Spanish society that is of interest to visitors. Furthermore, she is personally well acquainted with the owners of the private gardens and houses we visited, and the warmth of these relationships seemed, on my visit, to be transferred via osmosis to our group. All these factors together result in an extremely special and well-rounded tour.
Finally, but in a similar vein of appreciation, an unexpected bonus was an unforgettable visit to a tiny bit of the vast art collection at the Prado. This is a Madrid ‘must-see’ that might seem a little daunting with no guidance, but we had the benefit of another expert, art historian Susana Blas. Our visit was, of necessity, brief, but in her infectious break-neck-Spanish-English, her detailed explanations and interpretations made the few pictures we had time to study absolutely come alive. I so envy those who have more time to spend with her.