Wilanowie Palace Gardens
As much as I can appreciate “grand” gardens like those found at Versailles or Florence’s Bobili, give me Wilanów’s quaint elaboration and peaceful setting any day. You needn’t spend the day at Wilanów, but you can. There is enough garden and park landscape to see, photograph, and wander beside quiet streams and its grand canal for many hours.
Wilanów Palace is one of those gems hidden behind the growth and structures of modern society. Off a busy road, a short walk through an outer park (not part of Wilanów), you come to a gate in a high surrounding wall. Peering at you is the golden façade of the Palace, far in past an oval lawn with a centerpiece fountain. When you walk through the gate, you have left the 21st Century.
Splendor is the right word to describe Wilanów: it’s not a crowded park, and even when there seems to be a lot of people, or perhaps a tour group shows up as you align a photograph in one of the rose gardens, the outer gardens can quickly absorb you into their high-hedged privacy. Benches do not line the hedged lanes or forest walkways, but instead pop up in the most likely of places, just when you want to sit and admire a lake view, rising statue, and Roman bridge.
The park has been built over a 300-year period, begun with the original manor construction in 1677 under King Jan III Sobieski’s direction. Three formal gardens exist on the palace grounds. A one-acre flower garden on the north end, next to the Orangery, has a fountain, ancient-style statues, and benches to immerse yourself in the flower scents carried on the breeze.
The double-level landscape garden stretches north and south behind the Italian manor house and French-style palace (filled with all sorts of Polish art, original furnishings, and grandiloquent architectural touches). As you come round a hedged lane you’ll encounter statues in dramatic poses set on high pedestals. Some statues sit within a grotto cut into the hedge, to frame the figure’s intense or subtle expression. Evergreens shaped into flat-topped cones give height to the boxwood borders within which seasonal flowers—tulips, roses, bright annuals—grow in the soil beds.
On the south side of Wilanów Palace, beneath the royal residence apartments, is yet another formal garden. The Neo-Renaissance rose garden is set in-the-round, on a plateau overlooking the southern park. Labyrinth hedge-works hold high rosebushes that dapple the green landscape in reds and whites and yellows. From here you can walk on a path or across a wide plain into the small forest on the southern wing boarding the old defensive wall.
A stream runs through the forest from beneath the west wall, and feeds the lake on the east end of the grounds. I think this is the quietest area of the park, and I found few people along its roving lanes. A Roman bridge spans the stream—a nice place to stop as it is in a clearing and gets mid-day sunshine. Downstream is a stone crossing over a brief waterfall. This path leads to a small pond, a bit overgrown but with ducks and other migratory birds, and a few benches beneath willow trees makes a good rest.
Beyond this pond you round an enormous hedge—20-feet tall—and come to yet another defining image of this fabulous park. A narrow lake runs north-south along the shallow embankment. The setting and site is dramatic because the tall hedge separates the park view with the open water and lush forest beyond the far bank. You can rent a small boat for languid rowing and get a completely unique perspective of the park. Otherwise, this is the only spot in the park where benches line the hedge. It’s also the coolest section of the park on hot days, especially past mid-day.
(read more about Wilanowie Palace Gardens highlights here)