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Explore the Western Mediterranean’s natural beauty in May 2017

In May 2017, Aegean Odyssey will begin her first cruise of the season from the picturesque island of Madeira, exploring beautiful coastlines and the dramatic landscape of the Canary Islands before sailing onwards to Morocco and Seville. This voyage will allow guests the chance to experience some of the natural wonders of the world, including the Caldera de Taburiente National Park in La Palma and the stunning Botanical Gardens in Funchal. Professor Sandy Primrose has highlighted some of the wonderful gardens guests can expect to see during this cruise.

A tradition of laying flower carpets in the streets of Funchal © Sandy Primrose

A tradition of laying flower carpets in the streets of Funchal © Sandy Primrose

In 2017, we are in Funchal for the start of the annual flower festival – a major highlight on Madeira Island. It is difficult to be precise at this stage as to what of the festival we will see. If we are in luck then we will see the magnificent carpet of exotic flowers, particularly king proteas, that is laid out on the pavement along the entire length of Funchal’s main street, the Avenida Arriaga. The Flower Exhibition should be in place and this is an exhibit of the finest flowers grown around Madeira. Independent of the flower festival we will not be able to miss the wonderful selection of exotic trees that will be in bloom in Funchal: jacarandas (particularly along the Avenida Arriaga), Australian flame trees, cock’s comb coral trees, red hot poker trees and African tulip trees.

Jacaranda tree in Funchal © Sandy Primrose

Exotic tree in Funchal – Jacaranda tree © Sandy Primrose

In Madeira and Tenerife we may see the strange looking dragon trees (Dracaena draco) which belong to the same family as asparagus! The oldest of these, El Drago Milenario (the thousand year dragon tree) is at Icod de los Vinos in Tenerife but it is only 300 years old. When the leaves and bark of this tree are cut they bleed a resin known as dragon’s blood that was used as a wood stain by Italian violinmakers such as Stradivarius.

Dragon tree

Dragon tree found in Madeira and Tenerife © Sandy Primrose

Each of the islands that we will visit has a sub-tropical climate and multiple ecological zones and this has resulted in an amazing diversity of form and colour of the native plants such as Echium (e.g. Pride of Madeira), Aeonium (tree houseleek) and Argyranthemum (marguerite). The origins of this diversity will be discussed in one of my lectures (Macaronesia: the Galapagos of Botany).

Pride of Madeira (Echium Candicans)

Pride of Madeira (Echium Candicans) © Sandy Primrose

When we reach Morocco more botanical pleasures await us. Outside Taroudant is a unique botanical lodge originally designed as a conservation experiment by two landscape architects, Arnaud Maurieres and Eric Ossart. The lush gardens boast over 900 varieties of rare and exotic plants collected during their travels through the many deserts of the world.

In Marrakesh, a site not to be missed is the stylish Jardin Majorelle. Although only about one acre in size it consists of a series of stylish desert gardens. Created by the painter and plant collector Jacques Majorelle, it opened to the public in 1947. In 1980 it was bought by the French couturier Yves Saint Laurent to save it from destruction by speculators. There are a number of other notable gardens in Marrakesh including the Dar Si Said which houses the Museum of Moroccan Arts. This has a lush riad-style garden filled with an array of citrus trees, flowering shrubs and aromatic herbs. It smells gorgeous when the Brugsmansia is in bloom.

The stylish Jardin Majorelle Garden

The stylish Jardin Majorelle Gardens

Seville has some stunning city parks such as the Parque de Maria Luisa and the Paseo de Colon. Stretched along the banks of the Guadalquivir are two wonderful gardens, the Jardin Americano and the Jardines del Guadalquivir. The former is a botanical garden full of species donated by countries in the Americas for Expo 92. It is divided into different areas including palms, cacti, tropical and sub-tropical plants and many plants have labels describing their uses. The Jardines del Guadalquivir also were built for Expo 92 and is a park with sculptures and various themed areas.

Summer house in Maria Luisa park in Seville

The summer house in Maria Luisa park in Seville

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Professor Sandy Primrose  MBE will be lecturing on the following cruises in 2017: