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“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." Such an astute observation — made by the prolific 1st-century B.C. Roman writer, orator, and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero — is perhaps most true in Italy, where magnificent gardens (not to mention historic libraries) seem to be around every corner. For the Italy-bound traveller, these nine hotels — some located in the middle of major cities like Rome and Florence, others set along the Mediterranean coast or the shores of Lake Como — each offer spectacular gardens filled with azaleas and jasmine, hibiscus and wisteria, cypress and evergreens. Don’t forget to bring a good book, and you’ll have everything you need.
1. Villa d’Este
Everything about Villa d’Este — from its exquisite guest rooms and four private villas to its stunning location on the shores of Lake Como — is designed to impress. The main villa, which was built in 1568 as the summer residence of a wealthy cardinal and patron of the arts, features a world-renowned swimming pool that floats on the lake. Even more impressive is the property’s 25-acre garden — a true masterpiece of Italian Renaissance landscaping. Hotel guests enter the gardens — planted with azaleas, camellias, jasmine, oleander, cypress and dozens of other fragrant botanicals — through a stunning 16th-century gateway known as the Mosaic. The view is especially lovely from the stone pergola that shelters a statue of Hercules and offers a panorama of greenery framed by the deep azure lake.
2. Belmond Villa San Michele
Set on a hillside high above Florence, the terraced grounds of Belmond Villa San Michele delight guests with the heavenly scented serenity of rose bushes, lemon and orange trees, Chinese hibiscus and 300-year-old wisteria vines that form a fragrant purple carpet when in bloom. The original gardens date to the 15th century — they were once tended to by the property’s resident Franciscan monks — while the formal Italian garden and terraces were designed in the early Eighties by the celebrated landscape architect Pietro Porcinai. The property features just 49 rooms and suites, many offering garden vistas from patios or terraces, as well as a sublime pool with divine views of the red rooftops of Florence.
3. San Clemente Palace Kempinski
Not only is San Clemente Palace Kempinski a historic private island hotel located in the centre of the Venice Lagoon, but this 190-room Leading Hotels of the World property also has the kind of green space — a peaceful, centuries-old park that covers more than half of the 17-acre island — that lets you escape the tourist-jammed Venetian canals. The grounds originally housed a monastery (the original 12th-century church is still open to guests of the property) and are now home to tennis courts and a three-hole pitch-and-putt golf course. Other top spots to savour the island’s botanical bounty are the La Dolce Bar (which overlooks the lushly landscaped pool) and the Garden Bar, featuring splendid lagoon views.
4. Hotel Caesar Augustus
A garden needn’t be formal to be fabulous. For proof, head to the 55-room Hotel Caesar Augustus, perched on a cliffside some 1,000 feet above the Bay of Naples on the Isle of Capri. Here, wild and rustic simplicity — meandering dirt paths, hand-hewn wooden railings and benches, and bird feeders swinging gently in the breeze — meet a hypnotic view of the Amalfi Coast and Mt. Vesuvius. Soothing aromas of rose, lavender and jasmine fill the air, while palm and olive trees create an unmistakably Mediterranean aura, especially around the infinity-edge pool. Foodies can also venture into the 2-acre organic garden during a cooking class or a Kitchen Garden dinner on the first Thursday of every month at the splendid La Terrazza di Lucullo.
5. Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo
Mother Nature welcome guests to the sprawling Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo. As you approach the 71-room property in the hilltop town of Taormina, a bougainvillea-covered trellis offers shade from the hot Sicilian sun. Palm and citrus trees lend a sultry air, and flower beds bloom with a vibrancy matched only by the ciao’s and grazie’s of the cheerful staff. If you arrive at lunch time, head straight for the patio of the restaurant to take in the property’s 6 acres of cascading gardens and cypress trees, framed by the cloud-topped Mt. Etna on the horizon. If Hotel Timeo’s bounty isn’t enough, the Giardini della Villa Comunale, Taormina’s magnificent public gardens, are just a short walk away.
6. Hotel de Russie
To find Rome’s secret garden, simply visit Hotel de Russie — one of the Eternal City’s most stylish hotels. Located right off the Piazza del Popolo and directly below the Villa Borghese, the 122-room Rocco Forte Hotels property is a breath of fresh air from Rome’s frenetic, Vespa-zipping pace. The most tranquil spot within the hotel grounds is the photogenic terraced garden, created in the early 19th-century by the neoclassical architect Giuseppe Valadier (who also designed the hotel). Spread over nearly an acre, the garden features palm, orange and yew trees, accented by several varieties of antique roses. Take it all in while sipping a Negroni in the Stravinskij Bar’s private piazza, or while dining al fresco in the Le Jardin de Russie restaurant.
7. Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria
In the centre of the Amalfi Coast’s charming town of Sorrento, the 5-acre garden at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria surrounds you with the sunny aroma of lemon and orange. Throughout, you’ll find olive trees, parasol-like Italian stone pines and a swimming pool. The 84-room Leading Hotels of the World property also offers views of the Bay of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius from the terraces of its 19th-century buildings.
8. Borgo Santo Pietro
The owners of Tuscany’s 200-acre Borgo Santo Pietro planted more than 300,000 flowers, trees, herbs and vegetables to fulfill their vision of creating a working farm, complete with a biodynamic culinary garden. The sancturary-like estate — which features a total of 20 rooms, seven of which are housed within a 13th-century villa — focuses on farm-fresh cuisine, showcasing local sheep’s milk and cheeses, ricotta, prosciutto, free-range eggs and raw honey in the restaurant. Guests can enjoy tours of the farm or explore a 13-acre manicured garden lined with cypress trees and antique roses. Those seeking total botanical bliss can book one of the 11 Garden Suites, each of which has its own private Mediterranean garden courtyard landscaped with lemon and orange trees.
9. Four Seasons Hotel Firenze
The largest private park in Florence, the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze’s enchanting 11-acre Giardino della Gherardesca is the ultimate Italian Renaissance garden, filled with pools, fountains, statues and evergreens — including taxus baccata, the longest living plant in Europe. More than 500 years old, the garden is the perfect spot to relax with a good book, sip a pre-dinner cocktail — or even enjoy a private al fresco dinner with views of Florence’s illuminated red cathedral. In the hotel’s 116 rooms and suites, located across the 15th-century Palazzo Della Gherardesca and the 16th-century La Villa (a former convent), the feast for the eyes continues with expertly restored frescoes and other works of art.