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HIDDEN CORNERS

Reach to the skies for a respite from London

February 25, 2007

What:

Kensington Roof Gardens

Where:

99 Kensington High St.

Why take the detour: The clamor on one of London's most vibrant thoroughfares may seem a million miles from the calm of the countryside, but Kensington High Street visitors need only look up for a pastoral respite. About 100 feet above the urban fray, the Roof Gardens are a 1.5-acre idyll of flamingos, exotic plant life and dozens of 60-year-old trees -- some more than 40 feet tall.

The gardens, created for the former Barkers department store in 1936 and now protected by a preservation order, are accessed by signing in at the front desk before ascending by elevator to the verdant enclave. It has three distinct areas, each linked by a winding stone path. Fountains, vines and gently swaying palm trees color the tranquil Spanish Garden, complete with Moorish arches and terra-cotta-tiled walkways.

In contrast, the leafy, sun-dappled Tudor realm -- with ivy-clad walls and secretive corners -- is etched with rose bushes and hanging wisteria. The highlight is the lovely English Garden, an unlikely rooftop woodland of fish-filled streams; hardy oak, walnut and pear trees; and a coterie of chatty ducks.

The sounds of the city are a distant murmur up here, where there is a fine-dining restaurant for sampling some of London's fruits and berries (in season), grown just a few feet from your table.

Consider a slow, al fresco lunch (two courses from $31) on the swanky terrace and you'll be overlooking the city's patchwork of gabled rooftops.

Details: 011-44-20-7937-7994; www.roofgardens.com. Open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays; admission free. Call ahead. The gardens are closed to the public when private functions are scheduled.

Getting there: Two-minute walk from High Street Kensington Underground station (Circle and District lines)

-- John Lee

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