Exploring the Amalfi Coast’s lush and historical gardens

Paul De Tourreil | 05/12/2018
exploring the Amalfi Coast. Ravello, Amalfi Italy.
Ravello, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello

The view from Villa Cimbrone’s garden has been described as the “most beautiful sight I have ever seen in the world” by no less than celebrated American author and long-time Ravello resident Gore Vidal. The sea overlooking the Bay of Salerno from the aptly-named Terrace of Infinity is a symphony in blue and green, as sea, sky, and pine-covered hills come together in exquisite harmony.

For the past thousand years the property had been owned by a succession of noble families, proving that Amalfi coast holidays have been “trending” for a very long time. It was bought in 1904 by Ernest Beckett, Lord Grimthorpe, who mixed Italian, Moorish, and English influences in creating gardens whose beauty equalled the surrounding landscapes. Temples, tea houses, grottoes, statues and of course an assortment of flowering plants blend into a spellbinding haven, whose charms have enchanted such luminaries as Sir Winston Churchill, D.H. Lawrence, and Greta Garbo.

Villa Rufolo, Ravello

Dating back to the 13th Century, Villa Rufolo owes its current splendour to the work of Scottish botanist Francis Nevile Reid, who restored the property after purchasing it in 1851. Amalfi’s arid climate posed a serious challenge to the long-term health of the garden. In 1863 Reid entered into an agreement with the Ravello Municipal Council to construct a new aqueduct at his expense. It not only irrigated his garden, but also supplied water to a public fountain he had built in Ravello for the use and enjoyment of the townspeople.

Local and tropical plants cascade over the garden’s two levels, featuring impeccably manicured flower beds, a multitude of rare rose species, and a scenic stage that hosts the annual Ravello festival. Famed composer Richard Wagner’s visit to the Rufolo Gardens inspired him to create his own magic garden in his opera Parsifal. 

Naturally, the panoramic ocean view is outstanding, as proven by the presence of a majestic umbrella, thought to be the most photographed tree in all of Italy, in part because it is featured in virtually every Amalfi Coast travel guide.

La Mortella, Ischia

Dating back to the 1950s, this magnificent garden was a gift from Susan Walton for her husband, the esteemed composer William Walton. A breathtaking spectacle nestled on a steep volcanic slope and warmed by natural thermal springs, the garden is home to more than 3000 different species of plants. Prominent features include man-made streams, fountains, pools, a temple to the sun, a Greek theater and a conservatory.

Notable visitors have included Prince Charles, Sir Laurence Olivier and Charlie Chaplin. Befitting its original owner, la Mortella is home to a museum and concert hall, with musical programming from spring to autumn.

Villa San Michele, Capri

Island of Capri, Exploring Amalfi.
Island of Capri

Just off the Amalfi coast, the island of Capri has been a prized resort destination since Roman times. If you let that sink in, you’ll realize that people have been relaxing there and drinking in the ocean views for two thousand years. 

When you visit, you’ll understand why Swedish doctor Axel Munthe dreamed of living there ever since he first visited Capri as a teenage boy. Later in life, he bought an old chapel on Capri that had originally been built on ruins of Roman Emperor Tiberius’ villa. He spent decades building the Villa San Michele, as well as writing a fanciful memoir and perennial bestseller, The Story of San Michele

Clinging to the edge of a cliff 1000 feet above the sea, the villa has welcomed distinguished guests such as Sweden’s Queen Victoria and the reigning monarchs King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Sylvia. Munthe was, after all the personal physician to the Swedish royal family. 

Villa San Michele is one of most famous Capri gardens, containing an unending series of delights, including Roman artefacts, colorful cascades of fragrant flowers, a stone Sphinx, a cafe and of course a lookout with a spectacular view extending from the Gulf of Naples all the way to Mount Vesuvius.    

The Gardens of Augustus, Capri

If you’re still looking for things to do in Capri, pop over to the Gardens of Augustus. You can snap a top-notch pic of Capri's most iconic sight, the dramatic Faraglioni — three towering rock formations just off the island's coast. The sheer drop from the cliffside gardens to the ocean make this an amazing vantage point to admire the scenery: the Faraglioni, the boats in the Marina Piccola, the Amalfi coastline, and even the continuously twisting road that leads to the gardens themselves.

Whether you stick to the mainland or venture out to Capri, you’ll find no shortage ways to answer the delightful question of what to do in Amalfi Coast.