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17 of the most beautiful parks and gardens in Italy

Spring has sprung, and all over Italy that means parks and gardens are coming alive with colour. Here are 17 that are well worth a visit, including some old favourites and a few lesser-explored gems.

17 of the most beautiful parks and gardens in Italy
Giardini di Villa Monastero, Lake Como. Photo: Stew Dean/Flickr

Arte Sella, Trentino

We'll start the list with a garden that's a little out of the ordinary. Arte Sella is a museum/art gallery in a park surrounded by mountains. All the artworks are made of natural materials and have been designed to interact with their surroundings. Walking the entire route takes four to five hours.

Photo: Alessandro/Flickr

Giardini della Landriana, Lazio

Escape from Rome to visit these spectacular gardens – by car is easiest, but you can also travel by regional train and shuttle bus. The garden is split into 30 areas or 'rooms' each with a distinctive theme, offering a Mediterranean twist on the classic English style of garden. Head there in April to see the spectacular flower show.

 

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Boboli Gardens, Florence

The Boboli Gardens were the inspiration for many European palace gardens – not least Versailles – and you'll see plenty of stunning architecture as you stroll around. Work on the gardens first began in the 15th century and at one time it was the home of the powerful Medici family. Highlights include the amphitheatre, Neptune's Fountain, and the Grotta Grande (Large Cave) with spectacular sculptures and frescoes.

Photo: Eva van Wassenhove/Flickr

Palermo Botanic Gardens

This 200-year-old garden is one of the main sights in Sicily's capital, and home to many weird and wonderful plants. An oasis of peace in the bustling city – make sure to check out the various kinds of cacti.


Photo: Chris/Flickr

Villa Toepliz, Lombardy

In Varese, not far from Lake Como, you'll find this gorgeous park – one of the best examples of an Italian villa-park the country has to offer. Relax and enjoy the flowerbeds, fountains and trees, including some exotic species such as Himalayan cedars. Entry is free!

 

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Castello Miramare, Trieste

The 19th-century castle alone is reason enough to visit, but its 22 hectare grounds include awe-inspiring cliffside views, tropical plants, and flower displays. 

Photo: fugzu/Flickr

Villa Visconti Borromeo Litta, Lombardy

If you're using Milan as a base, consider a trip to Lianate to take in this hidden gem, little known among tourists. Don't miss the grotto dedicated to water nymphs, or the recently restored greenhouse, and consider taking a guided tour to learn about the history of the 16th-century villa.

 

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Parco Giardino Sigurtà, Veneto

Try out the maze, take in the landscaped gardens, and introduce your children to the farm animals at this serene spot, which is Italy's largest garden. Explore all 60 hectares on foot, by bike or on the tourist train – make sure you allow plenty of time.

Photo: Gabriele Vincenzi/Flickr

Giardino Buonaccorsi, Le Marche

These gardens were painstakingly mapped out in the 1700's, following principles of symmetry and geometry – and they remain faithful to the original design. They're free to visit, and you'll be treated to intriguing statues, views for miles, and original automata, making for an unforgettable day out.

 

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Gardino dei Giusti, Verona

Name-checked by German literary giant Goethe, these gardens in the romantic northern city are a must-visit. It was designed to celebrate contrasts and evoke both horror and harmony. You'll find a grotto, myriad water features, and a tower – climb it for views over the entire city.

Photo: Radomir Cernoch/Flickr

Rose Gardens, Rome

Opposite the Circo Massimo lies the Roman Rose Garden, first created in the 1930s and home to over 1000 varieties of roses. It's an ideal setting for a romantic stroll, but hides a darker past: the area once formed part of Rome's Jewish Ghetto, and housed the Jewish cemetery. Look closely and you'll see that the footpaths form the shape of a menorah in a nod to the district's past.

Photo: Yannick Carer/Flickr

Giardini La Mortella, Ischia

If you're visiting bustling Naples or tourist-haven Capri, consider taking the time to explore their lesser-known neighbour Ischia, and this garden in particular. It's got plenty of character, with great views and a wide variety of plants. Music performances often take place here too, offering a treat for all the senses.

Giardini di Villa Monastero, Lake Como

You'll want to wander round these beautiful botanic gardens for hours, and they're incredibly photogenic. Plants from almost all over the world are able to grow here, and you can enjoy views over the lake.

Photo: Stew Dean/Flickr

Giardino di Ninfa, Lazio

You'll need to book a tour to see these gardens, and the guides will explain the history behind this magical spot. Prepare to be enchanted: Ninfa was at one time a busy medieval town, but was abandoned after a series of woes including struggles for ownership and a malaria outbreak. It wasn't until the 1900's that they were rediscovered and transformed into a botanical garden. Today, plants are entwined with the ruins, and you can cross the castle's moat to see inside. The only downside is that it can be tricky to get there – opening hours are limited and it's tough to reach from Rome on public transport.

 

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Castello Ruspoli, Lazio

Yet another option for a day trip from Rome can be found in Viterbo at the magnificent Castello Ruspoli. The property still belongs to the ancient noble family, but you can explore the amazing Renaissance garden and relax by the plants and fountains.

Photo: Julia Maudlin/Flickr

Giardino Botanico Lama degli Ulivi, Puglia

Located in the town of Monopoli, the gnarled olive trees are the centre-piece of this garden. In total there are over 2000 species of plants from across the globe, and you should make sure you check out the incredible rock churches too.

 

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Hanbury Botanic Gardens

Last but not least, it's another botanic garden, this one owned by Genoa's university. In addition to the incredible range of plants, you can see a Roman road, mosaics, grottos, and an unusual bronze dragon.

Photo: Tim Hage/Flickr

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This article was first published in March 2017.

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IN IMAGES: Spain’s ‘scrap cathedral’ lives on after creator’s death

For over 60 years, former monk Justo Gallego almost single-handedly built a cathedral out of scrap materials on the outskirts of Madrid. Here is a picture-based ode to his remarkable labour of love.

IN IMAGES: Spain's 'scrap cathedral' lives on after creator's death
File photo taken on August 3, 1999 shows Justo Gallego Martinez, then 73, posing in front of his cathedral. Photo: ERIC CABANIS / AFP

The 96-year-old died over the weekend, but left the unfinished complex in Mejorada del Campo to a charity run by a priest that has vowed to complete his labour of love.

Gallego began the project in 1961 when he was in his mid-30s on land inherited from his family after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to leave an order of Trappist monks.

Today, the “Cathedral of Justo” features a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square metres (50,600 square feet), although the central dome still does not have a cover.

He used bricks, wood and other material scavenged from old building sites, as well as through donations that began to arrive once the project became better known.

A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The building’s pillars are made from stacked oil drums while windows have been cobbled and glued together from shards of coloured glass.

“Recycling is fashionable now, but he used it 60 years ago when nobody talked about it,” said Juan Carlos Arroyo, an engineer and architect with engineering firm Calter.

Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid.
Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid. Photo: (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The charity that is taking over the project, “Messengers of Peace”, hired the firm to assess the structural soundness of the building, which lacks a permit.

No blueprint

“The structure has withstood significant weather events throughout its construction,” Arroyo told AFP, predicting it will only need some “small surgical interventions”.

Renowned British architect Norman Foster visited the site in 2009 — when he came to Spain to collect a prize — telling Gallego that he should be the one getting the award, Arroyo added.

Religious murals on a walls of Justo's cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Religious murals on a walls of Justo’s cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The sturdiness of the project is surprising given that Gallego had no formal training as a builder, and he worked without a blueprint.

In interviews, he repeatedly said that the details for the cathedral were “in his head” and “it all comes from above”.

Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The complex stands in a street called Avenida Antoni Gaudi, named after the architect behind Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia basilica which has been under construction since 1883.

But unlike the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral of Justo Gallego as it is known is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a place of worship.

Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral's completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral’s completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

‘Worth visiting’

Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads Messengers of Peace, wants to turn Gallego’s building into an inclusive space for all faiths and one that is used to help the poor.

“There are already too many cathedrals and too many churches, that sometimes lack people,” he said.

“It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social centre where people can come to pray or if they are facing difficulties,” he added.

A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

Father Angel is famous in Spain for running a restaurant offering meals to the homeless and for running a church in central Madrid where pets are welcome and the faithful can confess via iPad.

Inside the Cathedral of Justo, volunteers continued working on the structure while a steady stream of visitors walked around the grounds admiring the building in the nondescript suburb.

“If the means are put in, especially materials and money, to finish it, then it will be a very beautiful place of worship,” said Ramon Calvo, 74, who was visiting the grounds with friends.

FIND OUT MORE: How to get to Justo’s Cathedral and more amazing images

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