Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Villa d'Este: a garden and a context
WHERE PEACE REIGNS SUPREME
A few such places still exist, places where time has left things unmolested, where the artful hand of man has touched an already existing natural beauty and respect for the end result is so high that it survives even in this era of wanton, widespread destruction. One such place is Lake Como in Northern Italy and this is the way it looked to me last Sunday morning: just as it must have looked hundreds of years ago.
And on this lake stands one of the world's great hotels, if not the last remaining truly grand hotel in all the world, Villa d'Este. In Italy we call the kind of garden shown above a parco: a sprawling plot of ground around an old villa in which we find architectural embellishments, like this grotto, ancient trees and imaginative solutions to tidy formality. Whoever manages this parco does a splendid job of it as not a blade of grass is out of place and no expense is spared in planting out colorful annuals in neat beds to give the visitor a sense of pure luxury.
"Set on the banks of one of the most romantic lakes in the world and just north of Milan, Villa d'Este was built in 1568 as the summer residence of Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio. The property comprises 25 acres of gardens, whose statues and landscape have been photographed for centuries. The favourite playground of an Empress, an English queen and aristocrats, it was transformed into a luxury hotel in 1873. Continuously renovated and updated, without sacrificing any of its old-world charm, Villa d'Este today offers 152 rooms, all different in decor but linked by the superior standards of hospitality that you expect from one of Europe's truly legendary resorts."
It was a beautiful morning last Sunday and I had the garden to myself, practically, as all the other guest finished off their leisurely breakfasts. I'm especially in love with this wall-enclosed fountain, as if it were in the middle of a grandiose room with only the open heavens for a ceiling.
And the view out of it, of the lakeshore, a stroll away, is nothing less than stunning. The glass conservatory to the right is the hotel's incredible dining room—you're eating in a garden of preserved history.
The hotel has an annex called the Queen's Pavilion. It's the epitome of old Lake Como style, the Gothic touches here and there, the pergola of grapes, the river-stone-paved descent to the water's edge where boats are sometimes stored.
If you want to rent an entire house on the estate, there are a few of them. This one is a gem, and it's perched directly on the lake.
We always stay in the villa itself, facing southeast into the warm morning sun. The atmosphere of limitless service insists that you do absolutely nothing while here, but for the restless there's an extraordinary spa, tennis, boat rides and walks to the charming village of Cernobbio.