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Spring travel, green with envy

White rail fences carve up the green pastures of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Country, where limestone bedrock benefits the region’s famed verdant landscape, racehorses, and bourbon.
White rail fences carve up the green pastures of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Country, where limestone bedrock benefits the region’s famed verdant landscape, racehorses, and bourbon.Credit: Patricia Harris for The Boston Globe

Spring travel is often a delightful surprise. When we visited Mérida in western Spain in late April one year, we were charmed to find the city overrun with nesting white storks. Everywhere we turned, we saw stork nests atop the ruins of medieval churches, on the arches of an ancient Roman aqueduct — even on the metal poles for power and telephone lines. Its remarkable Roman ruins make Mérida fascinating at any time, but the springtime colonies of storks add a touch of magic.

In fact, spring tends to bring out the best in any destination. Longer days, golden sunlight, and sudden pops of bright color make any place look great, and the hints of warmer weather to come put everyone in a good mood.

That’s certainly the case on Nantucket, where 3 million daffodils transform the island into a blur of yellow from now until mid-May. How can anyone remain dour in the presence of such an unrelentingly cheerful color? The blooms reach their peak around the end of April, when islanders who have survived yet another gray, dank winter are happy to welcome even day-trippers and weekenders who journey over for the silly costumes, antique car parade, and lavish tailgate picnics of Daffodil Weekend, April 26-28 this year.

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But the yellow cheer of Nantucket seems downright monochromatic compared to Ottawa’s exploding crayon box of lipstick red, egg-yolk orange, blushing pink, and demure violet tulips that bloom through the first three weeks of May. The Canadian Tulip Festival has its roots in World War II, when members of the Dutch royal family sought refuge in the Canadian capital. By way of thanks, the Netherlands provides Ottawa with a steady stream of tulip bulbs, and the party to celebrate this year’s blooming runs from May 3 to May 20.

Festival or not, the blossoms are a good incentive to visit the stately city. They add a lively grace to strolls around Parliament Hill, the National Gallery of Canada, along Dow’s Lake in Commissioner’s Park — or down the chief shopping and dining drag of Elgin Street, sometimes dubbed “the boulevard of blooms.”

Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier Airport is located in the section of the capital district known as the Green Belt — mostly for its proliferation of golf courses. But to our minds, nothing beats the approach to Lexington, Ky.’s Blue Grass Airport. When the plane tilts its wings and dips low, the window fills with a vision of the complex geometry of horse farms, with their white rail fences and strikingly green pastures.

The same limestone bedrock that makes central Kentucky’s grass so rich also builds strong bones in the thoroughbred racehorses bred and raised there. Even apart from the thrills and pageantry of the racing season at Keeneland, which runs through April 26, it’s a hoot to drive around the region and see the frisky young foals gallivanting around the pastures under the watchful eyes of the brood mares.

In addition to building lush grass and strong horses, the limestone is key to making strong spirits, as the rock filters impurities from the ground water. We like to strike the trifecta of great bourbon, beautiful horses, and stunning green countryside by visiting venerable Woodford Reserve Distillery, set along Glenn’s Creek in Versailles.

For all the beauty of the rolling Kentucky pastures, none have quite the monopoly on green as the Irish, and few places are as verdant as Powerscourt, a country estate and gardens a few miles south of Dublin in Enniskerry, County Wicklow. The 1,000-acre property might be the greenest corner of the Emerald Isle.

The formal showcase Powerscourt Gardens — where the manor looks out across the landscaped grounds and small lake to the hunched backs of the Wicklow Mountains — are among the most visited in Ireland.

Weekenders often opt to stay at the adjacent Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt resort, a hotel built in a neo-Palladian style with Georgian flourishes that echo the original manse.

The property is crisscrossed with woodsy trails that suddenly open into green glades, and the adjoining Powerscourt Golf Club is known for, well, its manicured greens.

Parisians embrace spring with their customary flair, making the City of Light a liberating getaway this time of year. We always love how they make the city parks an extension of their living spaces, luxuriating in the grass to soak up the sunshine, read a book, or spread a picnic.

The Tuileries Garden has been a favorite of Parisians ever since the French Revolution, and families tend to promenade in the open areas and gather around the outdoor cafes near low shade trees.

And in springtime, look for young lovers lolling in the sunshine in the corner of the Tuileries known as the Jardin du Carrousel .

The lush green grass, the labyrinthine system of hedges, and Aristide Maillol’s monumental bronze nudes strike just the right note for innocent flirtation and perhaps a little springtime courtship.

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