Visiting museums will teach you about the culture and history of a region, especially in Italy with its Renaissance influences. You can see the talent of artists and architects from their paintings and buildings, their masterpieces. However, by walking through some of the beautifully constructed gardens of Italy, you experience the same rich history and splendor of a museum, only takes place under the bright blue skies with fresh air and bubbling fountains. Here are five gardens in Italy worth visiting!
Beyond the Medici-owned Palazzo Pitti in Florence are the magnificent Boboli Gardens. The grounds were originally designed by Niccolò Tribolo, but were added to over the centuries. With its well-planned gardens and sculptures, the Boboli Gardens served as the model for all European royal gardens. After spending an afternoon walking through the winding paths, you will understand why!
Once you enter the gardens (through either the Pitti Palace or the Porta Romana entrance), you will encounter the Amphitheatre, in which concerts are still held today. Here, a huge ancient Egyptian obelisk statue marks your entrance into this paradise within the busy city. Further down, explore The Large Cave, which consists of three “caves” embellished with decorations of carved stalactites and sculptures by Michelangelo and Giambologna. Michelangelo carved the Four Prisoners into the walls of one of these smaller caves in La Grotta Grande. Today, only copies of these original sculptures remain.
As you wander along the hilly paths, take a stroll down the Cyprus-lined Viottolone (the central avenue) to the Piazzale dell’Isolotto. A small island full of lemon trees and flowers sits in the middle of a large basin in the Piazzale dell’Isolotto. Neptune’s Fountain also rises from this basin. With all of the walking, you’ll be sure to work up an appetite. Don’t be afraid to bring snacks or wine because visitors are allowed to picnic in the gardens.
The Boboli Gardens open at 9 am and close about one hour before sunset. Admission costs three euro, and tickets can be purchased at the entrance to the Pitti Palace.
Villa Gamberaia is located on the Settignano hillside outside of Florence and is regarded as one of the most perfect gardens in Italy. It was built in the seventeenth century by the Florentine Zanobi Lapi who included many elements of a classic Tuscan garden: cypress allie, a bowling green, a nymphaeum, grotto gardens, woods, formal gardens, and a lemon terrace.
The high altitude of this villa offers splendid views over Florence and the Arno Valley, and the gardens of Villa Gamberaia have been praised by such authors as Edith Wharton and Charles Latham. Villa Gamberaia is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm. Admission for the villa and the gardens is ten euro.
If you’re a true gardener, Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo (on Lake Como) is the place for you. It was built at the end of the seventeenth century by Milanese Giorgio Clerici, but it was under the ownership of Gian Battista Sommariva that made it the gem it is today. He turned it into a haven for famous pieces of art and added the renowned romantic garden.
The villa eventually came into hands of Princess Marianne of Nassau, who gave it to her daughter Carlotta as a wedding present. Carlotta’s husband, Georg II of Saxen-Meiningen revamped the garden with his botanical knowledge, and helped spark the villa’s sterling reputation for its beautiful gardens. Today, the gardens include over 150 types of flowers in the spring: rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, to name a few.
Cedars, sequoias, and tropical plants also thrive in this garden. As you continue walking through the paths, you will venture into the Rock Gardens, Ferns Valley, Rhododendrons’ Wood, Bamboos’ Garden, and the agriculture tools’ museum. Pack a small cooler with your favorite Italian goodies and prepare to enjoy a romantic picnic in one of the designated picnic areas.
Villa Carlotta is open from the end of March to the middle of October from 9 am to 6 pm. For students, admission is 4.50 euro; adult admission is 8.50 euro.
If you’re looking for a day-trip from Rome, visit Villa d’Este in Tivoli. Often called “The Garden of Miracles,” this garden has made it onto the UNESCO world heritage list. All of the structures and elements of design have some meaning or significance to ancient Rome, the Renaissance, or the sixteenth century political struggles with the Church of Rome. While the other gardens are known for their botanical beauty, this garden is known for its amazing fountains and waterworks.
At the center of Villa d’Este is the Fountain of the Dragon. The fountain consists of four dragon-heads spouting water in a cave between two stairways and two dolphin-and-shell-shaped pools. The statue of Hercules is also located in this fountain. Down the Avenue of 100 Fountains is the famous Fountain of Tivoli.
But the most entertaining fountain of Villa d’Este is the Fountain of the Water Organ. This water-and-air-powered musical fountain is the engineering of 2000-year-old water technology! The fountain’s plumbing system eroded over the years, ruining its musical nature, but it was saved by British organ specialists who studied and actually rebuilt a similar plumbing structure just to figure out how to fix the original fountain!
The gardens open at 8:30 am and close one hour before sunset. They are closed on Mondays. Admission is ten euro.
Villa Melzi Gardens
Located in Bellagio, the Villa Melzi Gardens are a beautiful way to sightsee on Lake Como. As opposed to the traditional Tuscan and Italian gardens, Villa Melzi Gardens are proper English-style gardens. The pathways wind through the rolling shores of Lake Como, offering breathtaking views. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes because there’s a lot to see at Villa Melzi.
The Oriental Garden contains a water-lilies pool and exotic Nippon-acer plants. At the opposite end of the garden, the Bamboos Grove presents corresponding exotic species. Walk along the Plant-Tree Drive, which are shaded paths along the lake. The branches of the trees have been pruned into an umbrella-shape, which give some shelter from the hot afternoon sun. At the end of this drive is the terrace that overlooks the lake. A water-lilies pool and statues decorate this terrace.
Further down the path, you can take another break to cool down in the Chapel that will dazzle you with its neoclassical sculptures and carvings. And don’t forget to check out the Greenhouses and Rocky Garden. Also located in the gardens is a small museum that used to be the greenhouse for citrus trees during the winter months. It now houses artifacts from the Napoleonic era.
Make sure you have your camera ready for the Kiosk Zone, which used to be the former tennis grounds. A beautiful gazebo sits on the edge of the shore, allowing you to take a moment to marvel at the beautiful surroundings.
Villa Melzi Gardens are open from late March to late October. Admission is six euro.
What are your favorite gardens to visit in Italy?