If you read any book about the great gardens of Italy, Villa Gamberaia is at the top of the list.
If you take a course in garden history, Villa Gamberaia is noted for its perfection and balance.
If you talk to designers, who have visited gardens in Italy, they will tell you “don’t miss Gamberaia.”
If you ask, Anne and Silvo, our friends who live in Tuscany, which gardens to visit; they will gave you a friends’ doctoral thesis on Villa Gamberaia.
It was late in the day, when I rang the bell on a small, inauspicious metal door. The door opened automatically. I hesitantly walked inside. The door quickly swung shut behind me. It sounded like a prison cell closing. When I looked up, the door opened onto one person’s concept of paradise. It wasn’t my idea of heaven on earth.
Before writing this blog, I thought about what I could say that has not been said before about Gamberaia. By Italian standards, it’s a small garden (3 1/2 acres). Gamberaia contains the essentials of all Italian gardens: nymphaeum, bosco, limonaia, cypress avenue and two unique features: the bowling alley (above) and water parterre created by Princess Giovanna Ghika at the end of the nineteenth century. The princess was rumored to have been a great beauty. According to legend, by the time she moved into the villa, her looks had faded. She was never seen outside the villa without a veil. Now that I have wrinkles and lines on my face; I empathize with Princes Ghika.
The water garden, she created was for her personal pleasure as well as a place to swim naked unseen by prying eyes. Is there anyone who would not want several pools to swim in?
There are benefits to going to gardens in the off season, especially in Italy. The heat is gone and so are the crowds. I was the only visitor to the garden. I bought my ticket and the woman at the office, offered to lend me the guide book to the villa.
“How will I return it you?”
“I will be gone by the time you leave. Just leave it on the steps outside the office. There is a white button next to the door where you came in, press the button and the door will open.”
I was on my own as dusk fell. It could have been MY garden.
This is the time of year, no matter what garden you go to in Italy, the box are being trimmed. Gamberaia is no different. The pools were filled with debris from the shearing. Except for the gardener, I had Gamberaia to myself. It’s a small property and therefore, it has an intimate scale. It’s not an estate; it’s a house and garden. I imagined myself as the owner, sitting on second story terrace looking out over all of Florence. And for a short time, I was a Princess for a day.
A NOTE: Villa Gamberaia was built by a wealthy stonemason. If you need to pee, you descend to the level below the house. Peak in the “basement” of the villa. There you will see what a stonemason demands of a “basement…” stone arches and vaulted ceilings.