Spring holidays: From rural Dorset and coastal Anglesey to Prague's blossom and Amsterdam's tulips

Winter has passed and longer days lie ahead. Chris Leadbeater celebrates the season of renewal by seeking out its highlights, from gambolling lambs and boxing hares to tulips and cherry blossom

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The Independent Travel

Perhaps Gerard Manley Hopkins described it best. "Nothing is so beautiful as spring," the Victorian poet mused in his succinctly titled composition "Spring". "When weeds in wheels shoot long and lovely and lush .... The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush the descending blue; that blue is all in a rush with richness .... What is all this juice and ... joy?"

Juice and joy seems an apposite summary. After Friday's spring equinox, daytime now outweighs night. The most welcome of the seasons is always marked by an abundance of regeneration, winter beating its retreat in a haze of frolicking newborns, irrepressible flora and Mother Nature brushing off various cobwebs. And all of them good reasons for days away. Whether you want flourishing foliage or migrating marine mammals, the next few weeks are awash with solid reasons to pack a travel bag.

See Cornwall tickled pink

The tender touch of the Gulf Stream ensures that Britain's most south-westerly peninsula turns its attention to spring before the rest of the mainland. Indeed, it already has. Shades of renewal are freshly daubed across Cornwall's magnolia trees – at leafy enclaves such as Caerhays Castle (01872 501 310; caerhays.co.uk), a manor house near Gorran on the Cornish south coast whose gardens sway with 80ft tall, 100-year-old Magnolia campbellii. The grounds are open to visitors until 21 June (daily, 10am to 5pm; admission £8).

Nearby, at Veryan-in-Roseland, luxury hotel The Nare (01872 501 111; narehotel.co.uk) is offering four-night Spring Garden Breaks from £790 per person from 11-30 April, with breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner. The deal includes tickets to three of the Great Gardens of Cornwall – the group (greatgardensofcornwall.co.uk) which features Tresco Abbey Gardens in the Isles of Scilly as well as Caerhays.

Gaze at tulips near Amsterdam

There will also be seasonal hues aplenty at the Keukenhof (00 31 252 465 555; keukenhof.nl) – the Dutch landmark whose 79 acres of petals and prettiness make it the largest flower garden in Europe. Pitched in Lisse, 20 miles south-west of Amsterdam, it is easily accessible from the Netherlands' key metropolis. Its spring festival runs until 17 May (daily, 8am to 7.30pm; admission €16/£11.50).

With seven million bulbs planted ever year, the park is a riot of yellows, reds and golds (see cover image) whose beauty reaches a peak in mid-April when the resident tulips hit their stride. The annual Flower Parade, slated for 25 April, is another highlight.

A three-night break in April at the five-star Hotel Pulitzer in central Amsterdam costs from £439 per person with easyJet flights from Stansted and room-only accommodation via Expedia (020 3564 0868; expedia.co.uk). DFDS Seaways (0871 574 7235; dfdsseaways.co.uk) offers a two-night mini cruise from Newcastle, including two nights' onboard accommodation, coach transfers and admission to the Keukenhof Gardens, from £99 per person.

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Find cherries on top in Japan (Reuters)

See the hill come alive in Prague

You don't have to venture as far as the Far East to glimpse cherry blossom in a magical setting. Prague does as good a job as Tokyo of scattered pink and white thanks to its key green lung. Petrin Hill rears to 1,073ft (327m) on the west side of the River Vltava, towering above the elegant district of Mala Strana.

You can ride a funicular to the summit (from a base station at Ujezd and Lanove Drahy; 00 420 296 191 817; dpp.cz; CK24/70p; daily, 9am to 11.30pm). But the most picturesque prospect is to stroll up through the cherry trees which crowd the eastern slope and peer back down at the orange rooftops of the city through the blossom-swaddled branches.

A three-night break at the four-star Golden Wheel Hotel, in Mala Strana, costs from £539 per person, including breakfast, return flights from London and private transfers – with Kirker Holidays (020 7593 1899; kirkerholidays.com).

Have a day out by a hare's breadth in Cheshire

If tottering lambs are one sign that winter has had its moment, then long-eared aggression is another. Spring is the time for "March Madness", the peak of the mating season for Britain's hare population, when young males jostle for female affection (and fend off the competition) by "boxing" – rearing upright and punching at each other with swift, darting paws. This fascinating (if somewhat comical) phenomenon is visible at Lyme Park, near Disley in Cheshire, a 16th-century mansion complemented by a deer park in the Peak District National Park (01663 762 023; nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme-park). Its grounds are open daily, 11am to 5pm, entry £6.30 (the house is open Friday to Tuesday, 11am to 5pm; combined entry £9.90). The Old Hall Hotel (01298 22841; oldhallhotelbuxton.co.uk), in the nearby Derbyshire town of Buxton, has double rooms from £86, which includes breakfast.

Observe an ancient avian courtship in Sweden

Mating rituals also come to the fore at Lake Hornborga, some 85 miles north-east of Gothenburg, in western Sweden. Each spring, between mid-March and mid-April, this pristine body of water opens its arms to 10,000 cranes – bewinged wanderers who come to Scandinavia from Spain to indulge in an oddly formal courtship. Specifically, they dance, spending their days in the fields by the lake, bowing to, and circling one another, even leaping into the air in a rite that often bonds two birds for life.

The lakeside Hotel Andrum (00 46 515 720 384; islanna.com/tradushotell) has treehouses sleeping two, with private balconies from SKr750 (£58) per night, including breakfast. British Airways (0844 493 0758; ba.com), SAS (0871 2267760; flysas.com), Norwegian (033 08 28 08 54; norwegian.com/uk) and BMI Regional (0844 417 2600; bmiregional.com) serve Gothenburg Landvetter from various UK airports. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) serves Gothenburg City Airport.

Go grey in the US

Spring perhaps reveals itself at its most graceful in the waters of the Pacific, and in the progress of the grey whales who embark on a 13,000-mile round trip between Alaska and Mexico from October to May. They leave their icy northern waters as winter approaches, swimming south to the calving grounds of the Gulf of California, before returning home from January onwards. They are very visible off the coast of Washington state – using the proximity of the landmass as protection against shark attacks on their young – in April and May.

America As You Like It (020 8742 8299; americaasyoulikeit.com) can arrange a nine-day "Washington State – Olympic Peninsula" road trip which follows the edge of this raw north-westerly corner of the US in time to spot whales off the likes of Ruby Beach. It costs from £1,157 per person, including flights from London to Seattle, car hire and room-only accommodation.

Do it all again Down Under

One of the joys of spring is that it happens more than once every year. By September, the Southern Hemisphere is reaching for the sun – not least in Australia, where the country's biggest state is known for wildflowers. Western Australia blooms with abandon as the winter recedes, its capital framing a feast of flora in the annual Kings Park Festival (throughout September; bgpa.wa.gov.au). Perth's largest open space has staged this bonanza of iridescence, guided walks and music since 1964.

For more haphazard bursts of nature, Fitzgerald River National Park (parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au), 260 miles south-east of the city, is also a wildflower haven. Wexas (020 7590 0686; wexas.com) has a 12-day self-drive "Margaret River and the West Coast" holiday – which starts in Perth before forging to the south – from £2,235 per person, including flights, car hire and room-only accommodation.

Find cherries on top in Japan

Few images symbolise the arrival of spring quite like the great waves of sakura – cherry blossom – which sweep across the landscapes of Japan between mid-March and mid-May. This soft-tinted tidal wave has just begun its journey in Kyushu, the most south-westerly of the four main Japanese islands, and will make its way up to northerly Sapporo over the next 10 weeks. En route, it will roll across the Prunus serrulata trees of Maruyama-koen Park in Kyoto, set Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park ablaze, and point its paintbrush at the Hamarikyu Gardens in Tokyo.

Hotel availability for this popular spectacle is now in short supply, but Inside Japan (0117 370 9751; insidejapantours.com) can organise a 13-night Japan Elegance private tour which visits Kyoto and Tokyo from £2,106 per person. The price includes accommodation with breakfast and all internal transportation, but not international flights.

Be awfully sheepish in rural Dorset

Can spring be spring without the vision of newborn lambs idling unsteadily in dewy fields? If not, then Willow Farm Cottage may be the ideal spring escape hatch. This four-star property is located near Gillingham in the east of Dorset, on a 60-acre working farm where the patter of tiny sheep is heard every year. Guests at the cottage have the chance to bottle-feed these wool-clad babies between March and June. Seven-night stays at the cottage – a barn conversion with garden and hot tub – are still available during April and May, from £490 per week, via The Little Domain (01237 459 931; thelittledomain.com).

The property is also a 30-mile drive from Forde Abbey (01460 220 231; fordeabbey.co.uk), a 12th-century priory-turned-country house which is surrounded by 30 acres of gardens, woods, and spring rebirth. The gardens are open daily, 10am-6pm (£10).

Encounter coastal creations on Anglesey

There will be swathes of colour on Wales's largest island in the coming weeks – but due to artistic endeavour rather than the relentless rotation of the calendar. Four on Anglesey is a free al-fresco exhibition which will see a quartet of landscapes conjured on to eight-foot canvases by painter Anthony Garratt. The creative process commenced last Friday and will run until this Saturday, with the artworks being prepared at four points along Anglesey's 124-mile coastal path. Watch the pieces as they develop, or catch them later in the summer – they will be left in situ until October. Menai Holiday Cottages (01248 430 258; menaiholidays.co.uk) offers weekly stays at Foel Stable Cottage (sleeps five), in Brynscencyn in the south of the island, from £465 in April.

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