May 2015
  • Day12

    Finale

    May 18, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 20 °C

    Why is it that holidays pass at the speed of light ? Something to do with the enjoyment factor I suspect, but all too quickly we woke up on our final day and the journey home had to be contemplated.
    We decided to treat ourselves for our final evening by dining at Rossellini's, the Michelin starred restaurant at Palazzo Avino. It was to be our personal Ruby Wedding Dinner for the two of us and it was certainly special. There are two options here, you can dine inside or outside on the terrace. As it was a lovely evening we chose the latter and the view to die for, plus the sunset. I'm not sure which was the more memorable the setting or the food. I guess the chef would require me to say the food and I could not deny him that honour, because he and his staff certainly deserved the accolade.
    Ravello and Palazzo Avino are places that are certain to hold in life's memory bank and I thank the hand of fate that pushed us in their direction. We spent the final day visiting the gardens of Villa Rufolo, (which whilst good were not a patch on Villa Cimbrione), indulging in a little light shopping and having lunch at our favourite garden cafe. Before we could blink, it was time to depart for Napoli airport and the homeward journey. Dinner on this occasion consisted of a packet of breadsticks that happened to be abandoned on the floor of the car - unopened I hasten to add. How the mighty are fallen, but then we could scarcely complain, following the 10 days it had been our privilege to experience. Until the next time!
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  • Day9

    Amalfi

    May 15, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Amalfi is a small port about 5 miles virtually vertically downwards from Ravello and was the settlement that put this coast on the map so to speak. It was certainly around in the time of Tiberius and hit its's wealthy peak C11 -C13th. Seagoing merchant ships brought all sorts of spices and fascinating cargo from the East and the small town flourished, several of it's more wealthy merchant families founding Ravello towards the end of this period.
    We caught the local bus and so had a good opportunity to look at the heavily terraced land that swoops down to the sea. Every inch is carefully cultivated for agriculture. There are lots of market garden crops, vines and above all lemons. The Amalfi Coast is famous for the production of a large oval lemon that proved vital to the seamen of old in the prevention of scurvy. The lemon ice cream and sorbet is to be recommended, plus the limoncello that is made in abundance.
    Amalfi is tiny and clings to the steep hillside seemingly like a limpet. The buildings are multicoloured and it was heaving with cars, bikes, dogs, cats and humanity when we arrived. On the seafront there is a small roundabout that was choked with every kind of vehicle you could imagine. People shouted, horns blared, arms were waved and in the middle of it all stood a very well turned out policeman watching it all pass him by! You knew you were in Italy. The narrow Main Street climbs steeply up from the sea and there are no shortage of temptations in the many shops and restaurants with their wares spilling out on to the pavement. There were two main attractions we found (apart from the gelato that is!), the magnificent Duomo and the paper shop and I don't mean for the purchase of The Times or its Italian equivalent.
    The Duomo is approached up a long flight of steep steps and is two for the price of one in reality. There is a very old simple plain basilica, which is now used as a museum and showcase for the many beautiful artefacts in the churches possession. You then descend down to the crypt, the like of which I have never seen in my life. There is not a square inch that is not decorated. The walls and floor with many coloured marbles, all inlaid and worked into intricate patterns and the ceiling painted. You then ascend to the 'new' Gothic Cathedral which is more of the same. In truth, a bit much for me, but you cannot help but admire the artistry involved in it's creation.
    The older parts have clear Byzantine and Moorish influences and the portico reminded me strongly of The Mesquita in Córdoba. I will include some pictures to give you a flavour. Peter says he's Duomo'd out and I may struggle to drag him to another in the near future, but you have to 'gather ye rosebuds while ye may!'.
    The valley behind The Amalfi mountains has been renowned for hand made paper making from medieval times and this is a skill that is still perpetuated today. The idea came from the East centuries ago and we wandered around a fascinating museum and shop displaying all sorts of wares connected with paper. Some of the paper was so fine, you would be frightened to show it a ball point pen, let alone mess up a note! The thought of screwing it up and starting again would be out of the question. Eventually we found our way back to the bus and ascended to the relative calm of Ravello, a jewell in anyone's crown.
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  • Day8

    Pompeii

    May 14, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Today has been all about once more taking a step backwards into Ancient Roman Culture. Having previously visited Hadrian's Imperial Villa at Tivoili, we did have an idea what to expect and of course Pompeii is well known the world over, as the city that perished in the Vesuvius eruption of AD 79, but the sheer scale of it is overwhelming. We did not manage to visit it all or Herculaneum, it's smaller cousin similarly destroyed the other side of the volcano. One of us did feel that wandering about more ruins in the heat, this time with the world and his wife for company could only be stomached in two hour bursts!! For those of you who have not been able to visit, it is absolutely fascinating. The work that has been accomplished over the years is tremendous, but it is still a gigantic archaeological excavation to be honest. Pompeii and the majority of its occupants were buried over a two day period in a 6 mtr layer of red hot ash, pumice and cinder, spewed out by the volcano in a series of enormous eruptions, beginning first thing one morning, accompanied by earthquakes and lightening. The poor inhabitants must have justifiably thought the end of the world was nigh and most, understandably, attempted to take shelter in their homes, not realising that what they really needed to do was flee whilst they had the chance. The sky turned black and the terrified inhabitants huddled in their houses waiting for the eruption to pass and hoping to survive the debris field raining down on them. What we of course know today, is that there was worse to come. The enormous mushroom cloud that rose some 20,000 ft into the sky eventually fell back to earth and scorched down the sides of Vesuvius at speeds of 65mph. Known as a pyroclastic flow, it incinerated everything in its path, both animal and human. It was this that destroyed Herculaneum, which up to now had avoided the majority of the searingly hot debris and it was then buried by a thick layer of scalding mud. Anyone who had survived in either town so far, stood not a chance. The site was abandoned for many years following the disaster and it was not until Hadrian's reign that an attempt was begun to recover the position. Clearly, archaeologists have discovered a vast amount about the lives of Roman citizens from Pompeii, as here, unlike other places, life stopped dead on that fateful morning, with the detritus of everyday life in place. What does seem haunting is that Pompeii's remains are surrounded by modern day Napoili. The juxtaposition between the fate of these ancient Romans and the Napolese going about their everyday business is poignant to say the least.
    We returned to Palazzo Avino for a late lunch pleased to have had the chance to experience Pompeii firsthand, but somewhat chastened. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my pear, Gorgonzola, rocket and walnut salad, with honey dressing, it was in my mind that all those centuries ago the townspeople of Pompeii did not get beyond breakfast.
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  • Day7

    Villa Cimbrione

    May 13, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 17 °C

    Today we wandered along through Ravello's narrow streets, stopping regularly to gaze at the spectacular views eventually reaching the Villa Cimbrione. This is an old estate perched on the cliff top that was rescued from dereliction in the early 1900s by Lord Grimthorpe from Yorkshire. He came to this part of Italy in an attempt to recover from a serious depression following the early death of his wife, and fell in love with Ravello. As a consequence he purchased and restored Villa Cimbrione, creating a fabulous garden, heavily influenced by English designers such as Peto, Lutyens and Jekyll. Lord Grimthorpe was involved with the Bloomsbury Group, many of whom came here to stay and Vita Sackville-West organised much of the planting. It is a glorious garden, with amazing sea views throughout. I am sure it would be only too easy to recover from anything here. Lord Grimthorpe loved it so much, he left instructions that his ashes be interred at the base of a small temple overlooking the sea and Amalfi. I can think of worse places to rest in peace!Read more

  • Day6

    Ravello

    May 12, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 24 °C

    Yesterday, we moved on alone for the second section of our trip. We travelled by car from Frascati to Ravello on the Amalfi Coast. It is a 3 hour drive, mainly on the A1 which is the motorway running from Milano down to the Sicily ferry. The scenery gradually changes, becoming flatter, as one moves further south. We passed Monte Casino, immediately recognisable perched on its craggy hilltop. Basking gently in the sun, one could only imagine the vicious battle that raged here some 70 years ago. Just past this point we turned off the motorway and tracked through the outskirts of Napoli, which is as manic as you would think. Mountains reared up ahead of us and it gradually dawned that we would have to climb up and over them to reach our destination. Our young driver, with typical Italian flair, handled it all with impressive sang froid, meeting large vehicles and reversing back down steep gradients where necessary. As we climbed, the views became ever more stunning. We stopped at the top of the pass to look out over Napoli, the sea and of course Mt Vesuvius. It was quite a sight laid out at our feet. Continuing on our way we now descended the other side . Views of the Mediterranean came into view and we gradually approached our destination, Ravello, a small town perched high above the Azure blue sea. We are staying at the Palazzo Avino which is as gorgeous as we had hoped, with more spectacular views from every part of the hotel out over the mountainous coastline and the sea. It is undoubtedly the spot to relax after a busy week and we have spent today exploring Ravello on foot. It has an atmosphere all of its own and is pretty special to be honest. There is a Duomo of course, with a pair of carved marble Urns from the 2nd century AD. Peter remarked that he didn't think he had ever touched anything that old and yes, incredibly you could do just that! There was a pulpit and Amphora from the C7th, with clear Byzantine influences. It is a simple but very beautiful cathedral rather like the little village itself.Read more

  • Day5

    Giardini della Landriana

    May 11, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 21 °C

    Amazingly, today is our final garden day and as a contrast to gardens of the past, we drove out to visit Giardini della Landriana which occupies 25 acres and was bought by the Taverna family as bare land surrounding the house in 1954, with no garden what so ever. Lavinia Taverna has been the driving force in creating the beautiful garden you now see, together with input from the English Landscape Architect Russell Page. It is a clever mix of Italian formality and exuberant English planting style, with plants from all over the world living harmoniously side by side to glorious effect. A man made lake was dug out which Russell Page advised should not be too large and apparently every time he came to visit, it seemed to be larger! Lavinia clearly knew her own mind and whilst she was willing to listen to his advice, it was not followed slavishly, if her gut instinct told her otherwise. Formal and informal rooms open and close as you wander through the garden and the combinations of plants are inspiring. It is of course much easier to create a series of strong gardens within a garden when you have the space to play with. A recurring theme is the restriction of the species planted together in any one space, which adds to the rhythm of the garden. There is a long walk of olives trees under planted with pink shrub roses and edged with a pretty variegated hebe. Standing tall and spaced out at the back of the border are statuesque hydrangeas and clothing the wall behind a glorious wisteria . On the other side of the wide pathway is a clipped grey foliage hedge. It is a sight to behold, even though the roses were not quite at their best. Another week of this weather will see a cloud of pink blooms nestling under the grey/ green olive. The old fashioned Rose garden runs gently down the valley and was at its fragrant and stunning best and so cleverly under planted with undemanding, but attractive ground cover. The lake is ringed with flowering yellow flag iris and gradually the new leaves of the lotus are emerging from the water and will eventually completely cover the surface. It was beautiful today. A long white planted double border walk runs back up the garden from the lake, punctuated with the tall dark green cypress for strength and stability, which is so effective. There is a a moorish influenced water lily pond formally edged with liriope and terracotta pots of clipped box and yew. One of the cleverest rooms was pure Russell Page with a nod to Lavinia. A hedged room planted with Orange trees and under planted with a mix of red leaved, lime, apricot and lilac and purple flowers. There were two small ponds full of croaking toads and it was glorious to behold. I should mention that all is peaceful apart from the birdsong. We were accompanied by a cuckoo all around the garden, a bird we rarely hear now in England and the tap, tap tap of a woodpecker. This was a so different yet again to anything we have seen this week and a miracle of clever ideas and a testament to how quickly a garden will establish in such conditions. A lovely Mediterranean salad lunch was taken outside and we took our leave with some regret.
    Our final afternoon was spent in Frascati at the Aldo Brandini villa and garden and here once more (if it that was possible ) was something else completely different. The words 'a gentle faded splendour' come to mind. Its situation high above the town of Frascati is fabulous, looking right out over the town and Roman plain with The Vatican and St Peter's dome on the horizon. The estate is still in the Aldo Brandini family and one can visit the grounds under one's own steam. It is quite a climb to the several different levels and there is a great deal of work to be done both to the planting and the structure, but this was obviously a tour de force in it's day. Facing the villa is what has been described as a water theatre and there is a balcony at the top of the house where the family and their guests would assemble to watch the show. A cascade runs down the slope between two pagodas and over the edge to drop in a curtain to the pool below. In an amphitheatre underneath are giant tableaux of the gods with their own fountains and centrally placed is Atlas with the world on his shoulders. This giant globe revolved due to careful application of the force of the water. A faded refection of it's former glory, this was in some ways quite sad to see, but perhaps a fitting reminder of how quickly man's achievements can fade into obscurity at the flick of a hand and the turning off of a historic switch of one type or another.
    At this point there was only one thing to do - that's right find the nearest gelatoria! The final dinner at Villa Grazzioli was memorable, again for the sumptuousness of our splendid faded surroundings and the amusing attention of the ever present Claudio, who gives meaning to the phrase 'the charming Italian!' He was sorely tried this weekend I suspect, having being charged with keeping happy a tricky group of English guests who were irritated at being supplanted elsewhere, 55 toga loving swedes and to add insult to injury an family of Chinese who appeared to order the entire A la Carte menu and insist on photographing the arrival of every dish with great enthusiasm. It made for fascinating entertainment.
    We have had a wonderful week, in great company and seen gardens that will for ever hold in the mind as some of the most beautiful examples of man's ingenuity in conjunction with the natural world. Thank you Lesley, John, Linda, Pat and Jane for making our Ruby Wedding week everything we could have hoped for.
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  • Day4

    Ninfa

    May 10, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 19 °C

    Today is our Ruby Wedding Anniversary and we can think of no finer place to be on such an occasion than Ninfa. This is the garden we had been waiting to see more than any other and it certainly did not disappoint.
    The land surrounding Ninfa was given to yet another Pope in the 1100s and a small medieval village was built here. It became very wealthy for its time, because of the tax it could generate, in order to use the road that bypassed the swamp land blocking the route South (the Appian Way). The Caetani family purchased the area in the late Middle Ages and it has remained in their hands to the present day. The village was destroyed during one of the many skirmishes that brewed at the time and the family could never afford to rebuild it. Instead, some 100 years ago they decided to create a garden in this perfect microclimate.
    It is billed as an English garden and the most romantic garden in the world and I wouldn’t argue with that! . There is no house here to marvel at, just a garden, but what a garden, planted around the ruins of the village of Ninfa. A series of tall slim Italian cypresses mark what was the Main Street and give solid green height and structure to the garden. A small river and a series of streams run through its sheltered site and wherever you look are seemingly unplanned vistas that just delight the eye to such an extent, there is very little talking, because most of us were quite overcome. We arrived at what is arguably the best time of year, as the wisteria, peonies, late spring flowers and of course the roses are in full bloom. I have never seen such roses. They cascade over the ruins with such vigour, a mass of flower and beauty. The perfume that hangs in the air is fabulous, not just from the roses, but also flowering stephanotis, and the orange blossom on the trees. There are many rare plants here to be exclaimed over that have been brought from around the world and are able to survive in the perfect conditions to be found here. Frosts are unheard of, due to the proximity to the sea and the protection from the surrounding mountain range. The soil is very fertile and there is plenty of water and the humidity high. The ideal gardening conditions and plants grow unbelievably quickly - I am so jealous!
    We emerged after two and a half hours exalted and yet somewhat subdued, almost as if one had been granted a papal audience. To have the chance to view such perfection is rare and to be savoured.
    Speaking of the Pope we moved on to have a picnic lunch and gelato by the shores of Lake Albani. A beautiful spot, but heaving with half of the inhabitants of Rome, or so it seemed and then moved on to have a look at the summer Papal residence at Castel Gandolpho. Sadly, his holiness was apparently tied up with Raoul Castro, trying to effect Cuba's return to the free world. Such a shame he couldn't have put it off until tomorrow to greet us on our special day - but I suppose we cannot be too disappointed as for one thing we're not Catholic and secondly we had had our miracle for the day!
    As a postscript the only issue has been the cancellation of our stay at the second hotel the Palazzo Grazioli, which has been a disappointment. We have been accommodated nearby, but not with such style. However, we have taken our meals in fine fashion at the Grazioli, which if anything has made the comparison worse, but tonight certainly proved a treat. On arrival, we had prosecco and canapés in the garden with the rest of the garden gang to celebrate our Anniversary and watched the sunset over Rome from the balcony. We remarked to Claudio, the head waiter, that we were pleased to escape yet another rowdy party at our hotel and he rolled his eyes in true Italian fashion and said they were in the middle of a Toga party in the hotel and the evening could prove interesting and how right he was. It emerged that the participants were 55 Swedish software engineers, of both genders I may add, who came dressed for the part and following dinner congregated in the bar next to room where we were eating and in the salon for a thumping disco. We had to keep making excuses to nip out and view the sights and what sights they were! I can assure you that the toga is not for everyone. On the young and nubile with gladiator sandals and dressed hair a toga is more than acceptable, on the more senior members of the party, perhaps not so. The sight of two guys propped up at the bar with the requisite toga, fake gold laurel leaves on their heads, one with a tee shirt underneath (just in case!) and the other with coconut matting on display was more than I could stand. On glancing downward in an attempt to hide my hysteria, what should I encounter but formal black shoes and toning socks. Hysteria threatened to bubble over and I retreated back to our table in double quick time. It does beg the question, what on earth are 55 Swedish software experts are doing here in Tivoili dressing up as Romans? Don't answer that, I'm sure we can all supply an answer!!
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  • Day3

    Villa L'Adriana & Villa D'Este

    May 9, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 21 °C

    We have stepped back in time today to a garden of antiquity, with a visit to Villa L'Adriana, which was the vision of the Emperor Hadrian, who was also it's chief architect and designer, on top of running the Roman Empire! The Villa is situated just outside Tivoili, in the hills outside Rome and became his country palace. Construction took close on 20 years and started in 117BC and on its completion resembled a small city, with over 1000 people serving the Emperor when he was in residence. No expense was spared and the latest cutting edge technology of the day was employed, plus selecting the finest coloured marbles, mosaics and frescos for decoration. The terme or spas had underfloor heating and the villa was surrounded by beautiful formal gardens. This is the place where, water was first used as a element of design in the western world and this site became for later generations, a must visit point of inspiration and an essential of the Grand Tour. The villa fell into abandon at the fall of the Roman Empire when it was sacked and looted by the Barbarians. Some 200 years later Pierro Ligorio came here and took away the idea of water to be reworked and improved upon at Vllla d'Este, the garden of which he designed close by. Nowadays, the Villa grounds have returned to nature and are surrounded by a grove of olives interspersed by wild flowers, which were in full bloom. It is a magnificent sight and gives the ruins a quite unique feel, which somehow feels right. There has been a substantial amount of archeology and restoration over the years, but money or the lack of it is a constant problem. Our guide Barbara brought it all to life for us so well and under her careful guidance the villa and Hadrian's world blossomed before our eyes. Here is a garden with a difference. Fascinating and requiring vision as it is viewed today, but not to be missed if you are in the vicinity.

    After lunch we travelled into Tivoili itself, to find the famous garden of Cardinal d'Este, who commissioned Pietro Ligorio to design the garden to his newly completed villa in Tivoli. The d'Este's were another powerful family with aspirations to the papacy, which the Cardinal narrowly missed three times. This garden was undoubtedly planned as an entertainment and awe inspiring backdrop to its owners powers of persuasion. It descends through three levels from the villa itself, with the technical artistry increasing in intensity with the descent. The sheer amount of water used here has to be seen to be believed and it was all achieved through gravity, water pressure and hydraulics. There is not a pump in sight. This would be a fantastic achievement now, let alone in the mid C15th when the garden was constructed. As with many of these fabulous gardens, there has been a period of abandonment, and it has been the task of our present age to restore and reclaim for posterity. What is interesting is that modern minds and techniques have been defeated by some features, in particular the owl fountain, which originally featured bronze branches and little birds that would sing, until the appearance of a fearsome owl when the birds would be silenced in fear and all this is achieved through the application of water in the correct manner! There is a 'herbaceous border' of 100 small fountains and sculptures that would initially have displayed terracotta tablets on which Ovid's famous poem Metamorphosis were carved. The dragon fountain that was built overnight to honour a visit of the then Pope to Villa d'Este, no doubt in the hope of improving the Cardinal's chances of being his successor! This fountain propels a jet of water over 100 ft high only to fall back into a dragon infested pool. The dragon was the the family symbol of the visiting Pope, but sadly the gesture failed to produce the required result! One cannot forget the grotto waterfall that Monty Don stood behind in his programme Gardens of the World, or the organ fountain that plays a madrigal at appointed times again purely through the power of water. The finale of the show is a huge waterfall and fountain complex, which is quite remarkable. Originally, the planting in the Garden would have been formal and Italian. In the current version there are more plants and flowers, which add to our enjoyment today but would not have been the intention all those years ago when shade, greenery, texture, symmetry, classical statuary and sheer artistry ruled the day.
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  • Day2

    Villa Farnese

    May 8, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 19 °C

    This for me was the visit that I knew least about and I think we can safely say Peter had never heard of! As with the day before, we travelled for an hour or so before arriving in the tiny hamlet dominated by the Villa Farnese. Build by the Farnese family in the C16th, initially as a fortress, it was redesigned as a summer Palazzo by one of it's number who hit the heights of power and wealth as Pope Paul 3rd. His grandson Alexander carried on with the redeveloping and the papacy and I think it is fair to say that's the Farnese family were influential all over Europe for some 100 years having married into other similar dynasties. On approach you see an immense square golden building, symmetrical and relatively simple in design. Typically, it is set on the summit of a hill with commanding views over the spectacular countryside, hence controlling all 'traffic' for miles around. I'm not quite sure what we were expecting, but we were stunned on having passed through an exquisitely frescoed entrance/ guard hall to find that this rectangular building was in fact constructed around a circular courtyard. There are 5 storeys, the ground and first floor being the main family and guest living quarters. These two floors are accessed from a colonnaded circular corridor open to the central courtyard and they are totally covered in the most amazing frescos, still in fantastic condition considering their age and the fact that they are open to the elements, albeit sheltered. We passed through a series of fantastic rooms that yet again were painted in the most incredible style, gilded and with every illusory effect known to the world of art. I have seen some beautiful buildings but nothing quite like this for the sheer artistry of the decoration. One can only imagine what the end result looked like when it was finally completed after 15 years, with it's furniture and rugs and tapestries in place. One would have been left in no doubt as to the wealth and power of the Farnese family, which was of course the whole purpose of the exercise.
    School is coming to its year end here in Italy and so we had to run the gauntlet of various groups of schoolchildren on school trips. They were largely wildly disinterested and full of fun and chatter. I don't think I ever saw one of them look up at the sensationally painted ceilings that adorn every room. The old adage came to mind 'Education is wasted on the young!'
    Finally we emerged into the sunshine and the garden, which was of course to us of particular interest. The garden was designed by the same architect involved at Villa Lante and you can see the similarities. Walls covered in wisteria and banksia lutea roses in full bloom. A vision of lilac and lemon, with a fragrance to knock you out. We progressed through the manicured woodland, full of camellias and azaleas again in full bloom, wild irises of deep purple and white Arum italicum pictum in swathes through the trees. It is silent apart from birdsong and you truly feel you are in an earthly paradise. The idea was to aid contemplation and meditation, helpful of course to a family heavily engaged in the papacy and international diplomacy! The path winds up through the woodland and suddenly out of the trees looms a fountain and rilled slope leading up the a fabulous formal garden and the pleasure palace ((Palazzo Piacere - sounds so much better in Italian!) as it was known. This is some distance away from the main palazzo and perhaps one does not need too much imagination to guess what type of pleasure was involved here. The idea of celibacy and the Catholic Church had not yet come to the fore! Interestingly, Prince Charles stayed here on a visit to Rome and one could imagine he was most appreciative of the setting! Italian formal gardens are all about shade, texture of the greenery, clipped box hedges, statuary and water and by and large colour is absent. Beautiful fountains are surrounded by what appears to be monochrome Persian carpets constructed from pebbles set in concrete or the equivalent of the day, to emulate mosaic. The structure of the garden needs considerable restoration to be seen at its best, but it does not require much imagination to visualise how this estate must have looked in it's heyday. Here, yet again, the owner displays the family wealth and culture so that visitors would have been under no illusion as to the status of their hosts.
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  • Day1

    Villa Lante & the Sacred Wood of Bomarzo

    May 7, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 20 °C

    We travelled for an hour and a half through exquisite countryside before arriving at Villa Lante around 10 o’clock. Our guide this morning is called Luca and he was able to explain the origins of the garden and its structure. It was built in the 1500s by two of the bishops of Viterbo, Cardinals Gambini and Montalcino, in the days when being a high ranking man of God was often purchased by a noble family for a son and the display of wealth and power was an essential part of the job. Keeping power within the family was all and creating a fabulous garden was very much the latest fashion and an essential for entertaining. Everything is symmetry, order and classically green, with little colour, not necessarily wanted in a climate of such heat. Water and cool contemplative areas were the object here and spectacularly achieved both for the cardinals enjoyment and their guests over the years. The inclusion of water into a garden of the High Renaissance period, said it all, the mechanics being extremely expensive to build and maintain.
    Here is a family of power and wealth and it is on display for all to see. Keeping up with the Jones’ has always been a factor in society it seems, even for men of the church!
    There are two reception orangeries lavishly decorated in fabulous trompe l'oeil scenes. The illusion they create has to be seen to be believed. The house is not open normally, because the government is struggling to maintain these immense properties and cannot afford to pay the custodians that would be necessary. Pictures on display show an interior as spectacular as their loggias. The garden rises in man made terraces from the house, with beautiful natural greenery and a great deal of clipped box and yew partares, plus the myriad of fountains, pools and rills built to compliment it. The garden is incredible now, let alone in the C15th when it was constructed. The whole estate is surrounded by hectares of woodland. This was a summer retreat for the cardinals and a hunting lodge par excellence!
    We moved on to the Sacred Wood of Bomarzo, constructed in the C16th by Prince Pier Francesco Orsini as a memorial to his wife after her death. He either shared a fantastic sense of humour with his Guila or they had a very strange relationship indeed! I suggested to Peter that he might like to consider such a scheme for me in South Wootton. His response was - 'when would you like me to start?' Seriously, the wild natural 'sacred grove' was all the rage at the time and is populated by dozens of huge sculptures of truly gigantic scale, carved from the local stone. They are both fanciful and terrible and it is a fabulous woodland walk with a difference. The garden fell into disrepair for 300 years before being rediscovered and lovingly restored by a local art lover in 1953.
    It has certainly been a day of two halves. You could not have envisaged two more contrasting gardens and the day was concluded with a gorgeous long late lunch at the sort of local restaurant you dream of. Mama does all the cooking, the pasta is freshly made daily and the vegetables grown by Papa. We sat outside under an awning, the sun shone and life was good.
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