(updated February 6, 2016; February 14, 2015 and May 3, 2014)
Italy counts a large number of magnificent private and public gardens. We have made our personal selection of the top 12 most beautiful and unique gardens based on the following criteria:
1. rarity and location (a unique botanical collection or exclusive location),
2. layout and design (geometry, architecture and consistency),
3. level of maintenance (restoration and how well the garden is kept).
Note: This list concentrates specifically on the gardens of Italy, without taking into account the prestige of the villa or monument that may be part of the estate. See here for a separate list of the most beautiful and famous villas of Italy.
1. La Cervara, Abbazia di San Gerolamo al Monte di Portofino in Santa Margherita (Liguria)
Lungomare Rossetti – via Cervara, 10
16038 Santa Margherita Ligure
La Cervara is the only monumental Renaissance Italian-style garden preserved in the Italian Riviera. The gardens won the prize grandi giardini italiani 2012 for the highest level of maintenance and care for a visitable, private garden. The garden had been abandoned for years and it was only thanks to the great dedication and care of the current owners involving important restoration works that the magnificent gardens could be brought back to their former glory.
La Cervara Gardens are unique in that it directly faces the sea, almost entirely surrounded by the sea and coast – on one side the Gulf of Tigullio, and on the other the promontory of Portofino – which is rare as most plants do not tolerate salty conditions and heavy winds.
2. Villa Carlotta, Tremezzo, Lake Como (Lombardy)
Via Regina, 2
Enjoying a unique location facing the Bellagio peninsula, the Italian garden of Villa Carlotta was built in the late Lombard baroque style. It extends over a 70,000 m2 (17 acres) area in Tremezzo.
The formal layout of the garden was partly redesigned in 1801 adopting the new canons of the English-style garden. Over the years Villa Carlotta has built up a refined botanical garden including 800 species and varieties, including 1,000 trees, 400 camelias, 250 rhododendrons and 200 roses.
See: Lake Como gardens.
3. Villa D’Este, Tivoli
Piazza Trento, 1/Viale delle Centro Fontane
The gardens of the Villa d’Este had a profound influence on the development of garden design throughout Europe. They are among the earliest and finest of the giardini delle meraviglie and symbolize the blooming of Renaissance culture.
The Fontana dell’Ovato is one of the world’s first “water theaters”, a theater created for water performances.
4. Villa Taranto Gardens, Pallanza, Lake Maggiore
Via Vittorio Veneto, 111
The Giardini Botanici Villa Taranto are botanical gardens located on the western shore of Lake Maggiore in Pallanza. The gardens were established 1931-1940 and opened to the public in 1952. They contain nearly 20,000 plant varieties, representing more than 3,000 species – including 300 types of dahlias – set among 7 km of paths.
5. Trauttmansdorff Castle Gardens, Merano (Trentino/Alto Adige)
Via S. Valentino 51a
Voted Italy’s Most Beautiful Garden in 2005, the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle offer a unique blend of botanical garden and recreational facility. The gardens offer a variety of details from European landscape architecture: geometric plantings and a maze evoke the Italian Renaissance garden, while the plant beds and English roses are typical of the English garden-style.
In total the grounds contain about 80 gardens of local and exotic plants, organized by region of origin, including typical landscapes of South Tyrol and a Japanese alluvial forest, rice terraces, tea plantations and water gardens. A bronze bust in memory of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sissi), who was a frequent visitor to Merano and the gardens, was added after her assassination in 1898.
6. Parco Teresio Olivelli, Tremezzo, Lake Como (Lombardy)
Via Regina 1
A little gem, Parco Teresio Olivelli is probably one of Lake Como‘s best kept botanical and architectural secrets, with its magnificent trees, monumental stairs and central fountain. Designed by Pietro in Lingeri in the 1920s for the Meier family.
See: Lake Como gardens
7. Isola Bella gardens, Borromean islands, Lake Maggiore
Inaugurated in 1671 the Isola Bella gardens are part of Palazzo Borromeo dedicated to the wife of Carlo III, Isabella D’Adda, from whom the island takes its name.
8. Giardini di Giusti, Verona
Via Giardini Giusti 2,
The Giardini di Giusti are regarded as some of the finest examples of an Italian garden. Created in the late 1400s, the actual lay-out was commissioned in 1570 by Agostino Giusti, an Italian patron and diplomat in the service of the Republic of Venice. The lovely kept gardens with a parterre, hedge maze, statues scattered around and a Belvedere (terrace gardens) offer stunning views over the city of Verona.
The garden is unique in that, unlike in other gardens, the villa is not situated in the higher part of the gardens, but in the lower area, while the terraced gardens were intended to structure the grounds uphill. The garden is also subject a local legend, according to which lovers who succeed in finding each other in the little labyrinth are destined to eternal love. The Giusti family, who has owned the palace and gardens since the 16th century, became known as the “Giusti del Giardino”, reflecting the fame of the gardens. Famous visitors include Goethe, Cosimo De’ Medici, Mozart and Emperor Giuseppe II.
9. Gardens of Ninfa (Oasi di Ninfa), Latina, Lazio
Via Provinciale Ninfina, 68
Loc. Doganella di Ninfa
Cisterna di Latina
Built on the ruins of an ancient Etruscan town, Ninfa, the gardens are said to be one of the most romantic gardens in the world. The gardens have very restricted visiting hours so make sure to plan and schedule your visit in advance.
10. Roseto Botanico di Cavriglia “Carla Fineschi”, Cavriglia (Tuscany)
Fondazione Roseto Botanico “Carla Fineschi”
52022 Cavriglia – AR
Tel: 366 2063941
Fax: 055 966638
open daily from the first Sunday of May to the last Sunday of June from 08:00 to 20:00
Located at an equal distance from Florence, Siena and Arezzo, the Roseto Botanica di Cavriglia is one of the largest private rose gardens in the world. It is a living museum of the genus Rosa based on the life work of Professor Gianfranco Fineschi, teacher at the faculty of medicine at the Università Cattolica of Rome. The Roseto now contains approximately 7000 unique cultivars, some of which were already thought to be extinct.The roses have been organized according to Section, Species, Sub-species, and hybrids (of very complex lineage) rigorously obeying very precise taxonomical schemes of the traditional botanical garden. Each plant is marked with a tag containing basic identifying information (its botanical name, year of introduction in Europe, and hybridizer, if applicable).
The Roseto is open from April 21 to June 15, but visits are best scheduled during the months of May and June. The peak of bloom is usually from approximately May 20 to June 10.
11. Municipal Rose Gardens (Roseto Comunale), Rome
Via di Valle Murcia, 6 (Aventino)
An unusual garden by the Circus Maximus, which hosts over 1,100 rose species coming from all over the world, including China and Mongolia. Among the most unusual roses are the rose Chinensis Virdiflora, with green flower petals, the rose Chinensis Mutabilis, which changes color over time and the Rosa Foetida, a bad-smelling rose.
Further information: Rome’s rose garden
12. Peony Garden, Vitorchiano (Lazio)
S.S. Ortana 46, Loc. Il Pallone
The Peony Garden in Vitorchiano offers a unique collection of 200,000 Chinese tree peonies representing 600 different varieties, which for the most part are very rare specimens that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
More info: Peonies Moutan Botanic Center
Photo credits (top to bottom): La cervara (1 & 2) © cervara.it; Villa Carlotta by David Spender and Nico Franano (2, 3, 4 & 5); Villa d’Este Tivoli by Angel del los Rios,Dorli Photography, dalbera; and Dorli Photography; Villa Taranto by chrisbwah, Xerones, Dolly442 and Florian Plag; Trauttmansdorff castle gardens by picale; Parco Teresio Olivelli (1 & 2) byput_the_needle_on_the_record; Isola Bella gardens by byb64, Dolly442and supermuch; white peacock photo © almac/Istockphoto; Giardini di Giusti © Ivanphoto/Fotolia.com; Gardens of Ninfa by sunshinecity, spuma and falco500; Roseto Botanico Cavriglia © rosetofineschi.it; Roseta comunale (1 & 2) by MM; Peonies © Slow Italy.