A Garden to Behold
Posted on August 20, 2015
Our driver managed the white-knuckle two-lane road with a drowsy ease as it wound through the hills of Campania towards the Italian coastline, honking when approaching another hairpin curve to notify the oncoming cars that he would be occupying the oncoming lane. The road abruptly stopped at an overlook where we would disembark. Our luggage promptly loaded on garden carts, we followed as our porters continued their argument in Italian through a short tunnel to the village. Framed by an ancient medieval tower, the town square of Ravello sparkled in the Mediterranean sun as children played and tourist sat on shaded benches carefully tending to their gelato.
We followed our luggage down an alleyway past shops brimming with colorful ceramics and limoncello, the local aperitif. Our narrow path lined with ancient stone walls draped in ivy and bougainvillea led us past gates peering into garden terraces arbored with lemon trees dangling with fruit the size of grapefruit.
Finally, the trek ended at an enormous ancient wooden gate, through which we could glimpse a hidden world beyond. Once inside, we found ourselves in an intimate courtyard with an exotic wellhead surrounded by gothic arcades. An arabesque pavilion lined with colorful tile, framing terracotta columns that supported a tunnel of wisteria leading off through boxwoods in one direction, and in the other, a stone path leading through the tall cypress centurions that had guarded the villa for centuries.
Discovered abandoned in the 19th Century by Englishman, Ernest William Beckett, or Lord Grimthorpe, Villa Cimbrone and its grounds were embraced for the exotic Norman, Sicilian, and Arabic influences of the Amalfi coast. Lord Grimthorpe cloaked these architectural artifacts in an Italian garden like no other as seen only through the eyes of a romantic Englishman.
We dropped our bags off in the library of the Villa, the kids dashed off to the swimming pool with the hotel dog (already their best friend) nipping at their heels, while my wife and I headed further into the garden for a cocktail.
Ancient Italian rock pines cast their lofty umbrellas over the path to the belvedere in the distance and the smell of boxwood and roses filled the air from the parterre gardens on either side. Believing the temple of Ceres, the goddess of harvest, our final destination, we continue our dream-like stroll.
To our amazement, the structure was a mere gateway to a drama like no other along the Italian coast- a seaside terrace (named aptly, the Terrace of Infinity) lined with the marble busts of 18th century nobles perched a thousand feet above the vast blue bay of Salerno. We marveled as sailing ships looked like toys in a cerulean bathtub so far below, the misty blue Isle of Capri beckoning on the horizon.
In the days that followed, we lazed in the garden, the kids drinking lemonade while we sipped cocktails next to the temple of Bacchus, where we sketched or read. We explored the path overlooking Gore Vidal’s seaside villa and walked the villager’s path down to the little fishing village of Amalfi, where we would rent a small canopied boat- our exploration vessel to the many small caves along the coast where the children would swim in the tranquil sea. Afterwards, we would stroll the village streets and watch the cobblers at work. At night, after a home-cooked Italian meal, we would join the villagers in the amphitheater for an evening of music under the stars, dreary and dreamy.