Category Archives: Gardens

Villa d’Este – a garden that stuns and soothes

Villa d'Este (4)

Villa d’Este
Piazza Trento, 5
00019 Tivoli (Rome)
Tel: 39-041-271-9036
http://www.villadestetivoli.info
villadestetivoli@bestunion.com

A UNESCO World Heritage Site,  belonging to the Italian State that oversees its restorations and maintenance, Villa d’Este and its gardens were built by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este in the early 16th century.  Designed by architect Pirro Ligorio and realized by Alberto Galvani, the villa and gardens are located in Tivoli, outside of Rome.

For me, a walk through the garden is always perfumed with nostalgia, a longing to go back. In my case, it would mean going back more than fifty years, when I was first introduced to the gardens by my father. Actually, it was not without the loving companionship and assistance of my mother that we made these trips with my eleven siblings in tow. But it was my father who had a way of making me feel as if he had brought me alone to see the beauty that he so deeply appreciated. He made it a place of joyful learning.

He would patiently explain its wonders and I would be ensnared in that magical net. Where else in the world can one see such an extraordinary system of fountains, fifty-one to be exact, with a profusion of spouts, waterfalls, grottoes, basins and channels, all in a liquid dance that worked entirely without pumps, dependent on gravity alone? The water is supplied by the Aniene, a 62 mile-long river that flows westward before it joins the Tiber in Rome.

Villa d'Este (8)

Villa d'Este (1)A long panoramic terrace leads us from the villa and its loggia to the upper levels of the estate and then what is known as the Cardinal’s Walk, a shaded path, takes us from one end of the garden to the other. I could not possibly list the marvels of the illustrious fountains that make this Italian Renaissance garden so famous. And so, I will revisit some of my favorites. I can see my little brothers propelled ahead of us to be the first to discover the next new treasure or to distance themselves enough to get into some watery mischief. We older children are lagging behind them, intrigued by the Hundred Fountains. Constructed between 1566 and 1577, the fountains have close to 300 spouts fed by three levels of canals running side by side, each sending its water to the canal below. Many of the original sculptures that adorned the walls along these channels have deteriorated or disappeared altogether, leaving their replacements and the walls covered in vegetation and a velvety moss.

Oval Fountain

My younger siblings have beat us to the Fontana dell’Ovato, one of the first and most famous of the garden. I recall vividly the thrill of walking beneath the cascade of the Grotto of Venus, both wishing for and dreading a gust of wind that would have us all soaked through. I imagine the Cardinal’s guests, who used this space on hot summer days felt the same way. The original statues of the grotto are now in the Capitoline Museum, and visitors are currently not allowed to walk beneath the cascade.

Villa d'Este (5)Villa d'Este (3)

Surpassing the enchantment of the Fontana dell’Ovato is the spectacular Fountain of Neptune with water jets reaching over 40 feet into the air, flanked by other jets and multiple cascades. It commands a view of the three massive rectangular fish ponds which originally served to provide fresh fish and ducks for the Cardinal’s table. Designed to connect the Fountain of the Organ and the Fountain of the Seas, they offer perhaps the most temptation to small visitors to get splashing.  Is that my little brother leaning over the edge, water up to his armpits, in an attempt to catch a fish?

Villa d'Este (7)One of the sculptures removed from the Organ Fountain is the Statue of Diana of Ephesus, now placed at the end of the garden. Even though it appears ancient, it was made in 1568 by a Flemish sculptor, who was inspired by the ancient statuary found in other Roman villas. Known also as the Fountain of Mother Nature, it has jets of water spurting from each of her many breasts, so my father explained, to represent fertility. Now, fertility is something we understand as members of a large family, but it made us giggle nonetheless. We may have even counted to make sure there were twelve breasts!

Over the decades since my first introduction to the Villa d’Este, I have enjoyed the gardens over and over again. The artist in me is always revitalized by the many fountains that delight the eye and sooth the spirit. It is not without gratitude that I think of the Cardinal, the architect and landscape artist, the sculptors, engineers, gardeners and grounds-keepers who have made this experience possible. And thank you, Dad, for the memories.

Villa d'Este (2)

Full ticket: € 8,00
Reduced ticket: € 4,00

Guided Tours:
Guided tours of the garden and villa are available.
Prices:
Guided tour in the Italian Language (max. 25 persons): € 90. Each additional person please add € 3,50 to a maximum of 50 persons.
Guided tour in other languages (English, French, German, Spanish) (maximum 25 persons) € 110. Each additional person please add € 3,50 to a maximum of 50 persons.

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

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La Foce – A Tuscan estate with a unique history

La Foce Sept 2014 (21)

La Foce
Strada della Vittoria, 61
Chianciano Terme
39-0578-69101
http://www.lafoce.com
http://www.dopolavorolafoce.it

I knew within the first few pages of Iris Origo’s book War in Val d’Orcia that I would have to visit this 15th century Tuscan estate and see for myself the place where Iris and her husband fought to save the lives of so many during the Second World War. Knowing their story of a hidden war within a war gives an added significance and appreciation of La Foce, its villa restored by Iris and Antonio Origo in the 1920s and the gardens that are considered some of the finest in the country.

 

Located in Val d’Orcia near Montepulciano in the southern portion of Tuscany, La Foce was surrounded by a vast landscape of poor, bleak, unihabited, unworked soil. British born, Iris was 22 years old when she married Italian nobleman Antonio Origo. When they purchased the property, their dream was to change this territory into fertile farmland, and at the same time improve the living conditions of the contadini. Strong-willed and caring, she never flinched when faced with this barren wasteland, but went to work, creating in the end, a veritable paradise. At its peak, the estate included 57 farms spread out over 7,000 acres.

In 1939, the Origos built the Dopolavoro, which translates as After Work, creating a meeting place for their workers to enjoy a glass of wine together, play bocce, and share news. Country dances and plays were held here. They also built a kindergarten, school and clinic on the estate – all this to care for their working families, during very difficult socio-economic times.

It would be easy to forget the hardships, the sacrifices, and the terror the Origo family endured during 1943 and 1944, when the war was being fought right on their doorstep and each day tested their divided loyalties. Germans occupied Tuscany and the Allied forces were advancing from the south. The Origos harbored war orphans, refugee children and a steady stream of downed Allied pilots, Jewish refugees and escaped prisoners of war who hid out on their property, aided by the local populace, who provided food and clothing when possible. All at tremendous personal risk.

 

But today, we feel the blessing of a beautiful garden, graced with stillness and peace. The golden sunlight flickers on the brilliant purple of the wisteria-covered pergola that runs along the upper terrace. It glints and dances with glee on the yellow and orange of the citrus trees potted in tubs amid the hedges. Making the most of the estate’s striking position, British architect Cecil Pinsent designed the grounds and the farmhouses, an endeavor that began in 1927 and took twelve years to complete. Cypresses and rows of clipped boxwood divide the gardens into neat sections, leading the eye to wander to the distant views of the untamed countryside that holds La Foce in its embrace.

 

The postwar years were marked by continuing challenges, as the sharecropping system that had existed in Italy since the Middle Ages came to an end. Many of the tenant farmers left the land to find work in the cities, abandoning the farmhouses that eventually fell to ruin. In spite of this, the estate as seen today is a living testament to the dreams, the tenacity, and the love of two individuals who made a difference. The Dopolavoro has been brought back to life as a restaurant, where one can taste typical Tuscan country fare, flavored with the herbs and olive oils of La Foce, in an atmosphere seasoned with a real sense of history.

La Foce

La Foce’s garden is open for guided tours every Wednesday afternoon and every weekend from mid-March to November.

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

I Giardini dei Tarocchi – a mosaic garden

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I Giardini dei Tarocchi
The Tarot Gardens
Località Garavicchio,
58011 Pescia Fiorentina, Capalbio
Province of Grosseto

This past summer I introduced my granddaughters to the art of making mosaics. Ours were simple designs made with the broken pieces of ceramics that nearby building suppliers happily let us clear out of their lots. Ours were not fine, highly finished creations, but they were FUN! And we soon learned that the process of making mosaics is downright addictive.

So it was only right, that we make a family trip to Il Giardino dei Tarocchi in the neighboring region of Tuscany, where the French artist Niki de Saint Phalle devoted her limitless energies to creating a fantastical mosaic garden inspired by both Gaudi’s Parc Güell in Barcelona and the nearby Parco dei Mostri, or Monster Garden, in Bomarzo. Obsessed with the idea of designing a monumental sculpture park, she purchased a piece of land in 1979. About 100 kilometers north-west of Rome, set amid olive groves and farmland, the estate began to fill with massive figures representing her vision of the mysteries of the Tarot. It was to become her raison d’etre, a reflection of unleashed, manic artistic expression that spanned decades of her life.

The 22 figures were constructed of reinforced concrete, plastered, and finally covered with mirror shards and ceramic fragments. Large enough to be walked through and climbed over, they are a delight to every child who visits. In fact, during the many months of the garden’s construction., the artist took up residence in the Empress, a sphinx-like sculpture with shocking blue hair topped by a crown. Inside, the interior is covered in a dizzying arrangement of splintered mirrored tiles.  It is so colossal a monument that her bedroom was located in the figure’s breast.

There is no doubt that making mosaics could possibly lead to madness (or the other way around). It certainly can distract one from his or her other duties, as in the case of the local postman, who early on was involved in the mosaic work, frequently forgetting to deliver the mail. The townsfolk were suspicious and quite alarmed by the growing presence of the whitish ghost-like figures in the garden, until their surfaces were covered in brilliant glass and ceramic pieces.

Niki de Saint Phalle, who suffered from mental illness, died in 2002. She left behind a dazzling monument to the art of mosaics and an enduring testament to the passion and tenacity of one artist and her dream. “How DID she do it?” we asked ourselves, over and over again. The answer is simply one tile at a time

Opening Days and Hours

Opening dates: from April 1 to October 15
Open Daily from 14:30 to 19:30

Ticket Prices

Adult € 12.00
Student (with ID) € 7.00
Over 65 € 7.00
Under 7 Free
Disabled Free

copyright ginda simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Behind the city walls of Florence – a magical garden

I am pleased and proud to welcome my daughter, Rachel Pfaff, as my guest writer today.

Torrigiani GardensTG - estate
Via de’ Serragli, 144
Florence
+39 055 22 4527
Visits by reservation only
http://www.giardinotorrigiani.it/
info@giardinotorrigiani.it

On all of my travels I indulge my senses by exploring the local gardens, waterfalls, and city and national parks. The true beauty of each country comes through not just in the traditions of foods and architecture, but in nature’s bounty surrounding you. I have traveled through Florence several times over the past 20 years and spending time in its gardens is one of my favorite past times. Behind the old city wall of Florence is a hidden jewel, a secret garden so to speak, just waiting for you to peek inside. Visiting I Giardini Torrigiana has been something I have been wanting to do since I first learned of their existence, and I would recommend a visit to everyone. The garden is Europe’s largest privately owned garden within city limits.

 

The gardens, including an English style garden, a fairy tale-like tower and bridge, and green houses, new and old, have witnessed centuries of change. The villa and land have been in the Torriagina family since the 16th century. While as an American I am able to can trace my family back to Italy, Germany, and England; Veiri, the owner, has the joy of walking along paths of ancient trees planted and stone “temples” designed by his very own ancestors. He lives in the villa built in the 17th century, and shares the land with many generations of his family.

TG - gardens

It is not just the charming nature that brings this space to life, it is Vieri himself. His name, a popular Florentine name (Oliver to English-speakers), can be traced back to the word for “olive” and, is very fitting; coming from the root of a tree that has played a significant part of the region’s history. Vieri, who guides visitors on private tours himself, feels deeply connected to the land and the trees he tends. Having learned hands-on as a child and studied agriculture and botany as a young adult, Vieri’s life has been dedicated to plants and he now runs the nursery on the property as his business. He was recently joined in the business by his son, and their passion and love for what they do is evident as I watch them communicate among the greenhouses.

As you stroll through the acres of greenery, Vieri tells tales that breathe life into the very paths you walk. He tells of the land’s history as it came into his family, as well as the story of his family’s businesses over the years selling wine, imported furs, and banking. Your imagination will take you away as he tells of soldiers occupying the villa during the war and of his ancestors that built the neo-gothic tower bearing the family crest.TG - Vieri

Walking through this garden is like breathing in part of Florence’s history. Vieri gives a voice to each tree, flower, and fruit. Like an artist, he paints you a picture to take home with you. The sights, the smells, the stories will stay with me as a memory of Florence forever.

Vieri offers private tours to small groups for a cost when he is available, and for an additional fee visitors can enjoy tea in the villa afterwards . Be sure to make reservations  in advance of your trip to enjoy this special experience for yourself.

TG - Vieri & Son

 

copyright ginda simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com