Monday, January 5, 2009
This is a few years old, but I've had these photos for a while and I felt guilty for trashing some of the urban public gardens in Rome, so I thought I'd post this. It wasn't just me though. Elizabeth from Garden Rant and Gardening While Intoxicated also mentioned, in a comment from that post, that she found no interesting public gardens in Rome, but gardens in other parts of Italy more than made up for it. I would just say that, when in Rome, don't do what they do.
I won a trip to Italy from a local printer back in 2000. It was random drawing. I've only ever won two things in my life–and they were both trips! The trip included a week-long stay that covered Lake Como, at this hotel, and a four-star hotel in Venice, complete with transportation and a modest budget for meals. For someone that travels a lot to begin with, this was the trip of a lifetime.
In the hallway in the basement on the way to the spa and the indoor pool, an original Magritte painting was hanging on the wall. Let's just say that's never really happened in any other hotel I've stayed in–not the Days Inn, not a La Quinta, not even a Comfort Inn.
The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, opened in 1873, is a five-star hotel in Ballagio on Lake Como, on a promontory that juts out into the lake. The Sovereigns of Spain, Romania, Albania, Egypt; all the Russian and English aristocracy; Winston Churchill, Roosevelt, the Rothschilds, John Kennedy; Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Robert Mitchum, Al Pacino.... these are just some of the famous guests that have enjoyed a stay there. I don't have to tell you that when we showed up, in the rain, with our beaten up, roll-aboard suitcases, we felt more like the Clampetts that the Kennedys.
The Villa Carlotta entrance, one of the many Villas and gardens open to the public around the Lake. This was on the opposite side of Lake Como from the Hotel Serbelloni. This garden was recently featured in a gardening magazine, I can't remember which one.
Italian-style gardens surround the Villa, terraced into the hillside, with Mediterranean and subtropical plants growing in the pleasant micro climate around the lake. It receives sunshine almost all year round, and mild temperatures in every season.
While we were there, a garden "instillation," seen in the photo at the top of the post was going on. I don't remember much about the instillation, its time was nearing its end when we were there, but it was three floating barges fitted with a garden. I believe you could take a boat out there and stroll around, but I don't think there was anything there you couldn't see from the shore.
The climate & soil around Lake Como must create the perfect conditions for rhododendron. The steroidal rhododendron are like none I've ever seen previously.
We spent our days visiting gardens in other Villas around the lake and hiking the hills. (my wife called them hills, I called them mountains, a difference of perspective and cardiovascular fitness). I don't believe any of the other hotel guests went hiking.
The summer before, George Lucas was on Lake Como filming the romance/wedding scenes for one of the Star Wars movies. That's how other-worldly beautiful it is–it's used as a setting for other worlds.
Never got the invite to George Clooney's Villa though. Maybe next time. Bet he's got a nice garden. That's one garden my wife would be willing weed.