During my two week workawaying in Italy, near Rome, I happened to explore the old city of Tivoli, and in Tivoli, perhaps the most surreal gardens I’ve seen in my life.
Villa d’Este, as I had imagined (after watching its glimpse in the Hollywood movie Lizzie McGuire) to be grand, majestic and awe-inspiring. But it turned out to be something more than that, something far magical and unrealistic.
The detailed Villa d’Este dates from the mid 16th century when Cardinal Ippolito d’Este decided to make changes to the convent he was given, upon his appointment as the governor of Tivoli, Italy.
A member of an influential family and a lover of the finest things in life, d’Este commissioned his architect to build a new, grand residence filled with everything that money could buy and from what he could take from the nearby abandoned Hadrian’s Villa. What resulted was one of the most magnificent examples of Renaissance architecture and gardens ever built.
The interior of the Villa d’Este speaks high status of its owner. Priceless antique statues, and the many surreal frescoes (all of which telling different stories) decorate its halls, with beautiful gardens surrounding the villa. Today, the gardens is the only thing that remained intact of its former magnificence. No, the villa itself is also standing, and you can stroll through its bright, but empty halls.
The gardens, however, are an entirely different matter – with much life and freshness still existing around them.
Walking around the garden with its 500 plus fountains, feels like being in a mythical place of the ancient past. With its statues, grottos, columns and reliefs, each alley or path reveals a new mossy fountain in a carefully landscaped vista. The entire premise of Villa d’Este gardens fits so harmoniously into the overall landscape that it seems not to have been created by humans, but by nature itself.
There is so much to see and admire that not only would you frolic through the gardens, that takes you to some fairy-tale like trance, with your mouth wide open for hours, as you slowly meander through its premises, but you’d also take in sweeping views of Lazio, and wonder what life could be like, living in one such place.
Some Factual Mumbo-Jumbo
- Tickets to Villa d’Este are €8 full price and €4 for a reduced ticket. You can purchase them ahead of time, but usually the line isn’t too bad.
- The first Sunday of every month, the villa is free for all visitors but will be more crowded. Some people told me it’s free only for Italians, but I ended up accessing it for free. So I think as long as it’s Sunday, and your appearance do not speak high of your atypical non-Italian looks you should be fine to explore the Villa without having to pay any money.
- Tivoli is located at about an hour and a half drive from Rome, and can be reached via public transport. If visiting only Villa d’Este, then a half-day trip from Rome should suffice, however if you wish to see the other two villas located in Tivoli (there are a total of three historic villas in Tivoli), then you need a full day.
- I visited Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana, and would recommend Villa d’Este should you have time limitation and need to choose just one among the two!
Any questions? Or know of another great escape to get away from the crowds in Rome?