Back to my travelogue . . .
The next stop on our cruise was Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Our schedule only allowed for a quick, afternoon stop in Belfast. To make the most of our time there, my sister and I had signed up for a bicycle tour -- a leisurely ride through the heart of Belfast. I was really looking forward to the tour -- not just because I was craving some exercise by this point in the trip, but also because I'm particularly interested in how Northern Ireland has moved forward after The Troubles, and I really wanted to see the Belfast Murals, which were to be a highlight of the bike tour. (Many of the murals are featured in the Cranberries video above, by the way.)
It was pouring rain. And cold. An altogether miserable day for a bike ride.
We opted for Plan B, and hopped on a tour bus headed to the estate and gardens of Mount Stewart, about a 45 minute drive from Belfast.
Although I still regret not getting to see the murals, Mount Stewart turned out to be a spectacular destination -- and now holds the #1 spot on my list of Best Gardens in the World.
Although it was still raining when we arrived, it gradually stopped over the course of our afternoon, and we were able to fully enjoy the gardens.
The climate in this area is mild and temperate, allowing plants from all over the world to thrive. Mount Stewart was formed by the Stewart family (the Marquess of Londonderry) in the early 1800s. Now owned by the National Trust, family members still live in the estate. In the early 1900s, Edith Stewart (Lady Londonderry), a passionate gardener, created this incredible place.
The gardens are especially famous for their hydrangeas. . .
and rhododendrons. We just missed the rhododendron season by a week or two, which was disappointing . . . because it must be spectacular.
They had some of the BIGGEST rhododendrons I've ever seen. Like this one . . .
Yep. That's all 5'8" of me . . . standing under one of the rhododendrons. (Look at those leaves!!! Can you imagine what the BLOOMS must have been like???)
There were formal gardens and sunken gardens and Spanish gardens. There was a lake walk and a family burial garden. The gardens were just unbelievable -- any way you wandered.
We spent most of our time exploring the gardens outside, but did make it in for a quick tour of the estate house as well. Spectacular. Of course. We sort of felt like we were at Downton Abbey. (Sort of. It was actually a lot more . . . lived in and comfortable than Downtown Abbey . . . while still being very grandiose.)
This is the view from the main entrance. . .
That's Strangford Lough - the largest sea inlet in the British Isles. When we arrived at the house, the tide was out. When we came out -- surprise! The tide was in. It was just a lovely, lovely place.
And while it was disappointing to miss out on the murals, this weather-inspired change of plans turned out to be quite spectacular!
Next week, I'll start in with my tales of Dublin. (We spent several days in Dublin, so there is much to tell.)