Springtime in Italy — what a feast for the senses with blossoms in every shade of the spectrum and fragrances abounding. Mr. TWS and I stopped to smell the roses (actually, no roses in April, but hundreds of other varieties of flora) as we toured two amazing public gardens during our stay at Lake Maggiore in northern Italy’s Piedmont region.
Come along for a stroll in the gardens of Lake Maggiore
Isola Bella Palace and Gardens
Open from March 18 to October 23 (2016)
Isola Bella visitor information
On a picture-perfect day with a bright blue sky above, we sailed on Lake Maggiore’s calm waters arriving by boat from the lakeside town of Stresa to Isola Bella, one of the lake’s three Borromeo Islands.
The Borromeo family still uses two floors of the palace as a summer residence, but has opened 25 of its 100 rooms to the public. Our guide Vittoria Colombo provided a wonderful informative tour of the elaborate and surprisingly extravagant interior of the palace. She was able to point out things we would have missed on our own but also added anecdotes that filled in background and history.
Then Vittoria took us outside for another treat — the palace’s elegant gardens, which are the real subject of this post. Azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, citrus trees, olive trees, and many more grace the magnificent gardens amid grand architecture and statuary.
Carlo III of the House of Borromeo began building the palace in 1632 for his wife Isabella (for whom the island is named), but it was completed by his sons, and the palace’s spectacular baroque gardens were completed by his grandson Carlo IV in 1671. The gardens have 10 overlapping terraces designed to resemble decks and the bow of a ship. The terraces are adorned with statues and staircases that complement the grandeur of the palace and were intended to convey power and wealth — and they certainly do.
White peacocks live in the gardens of Isola Bella giving visitors a thrill to see them strolling freely on the grounds. I wish that we had been able to see one of them open their feathers, but they must have been a bit shy when we were there.
The statues adorning the Teatro Massimo amphitheater were created by Milanese sculptor Carlo Simonetta between 1667 and 1677. The top statue portrays a unicorn, a prominent feature of the Borromeo family coat of arms.
As if being on a small island bursting with beautiful foliage and flowers surrounded by the deep blue waters of Lake Maggiore wasn’t romantic enough, Isola Bella has a special Garden of Love (pictured above and below). The red tulips planted at this time of year in the hedge designs seemed perfect for a garden of love, a nice ending to our tour of this beautiful and romantic place.
Botanical Gardens of Villa Taranto
Open from March 16 to November 1 (2016)
Villa Taranto visitor information
We enjoyed more lush gardens in at the Botanical Gardens of Villa Taranto in Pallanza, about 15 km north of Stresa along the shoreline of Lake Maggiore. The extensive walkways through 16 hectares of gardens provided a lovely walk where we saw many of Villa Taranto’s more than 20,000 plants, 80,000 blooming bulbous flowers, and over 15,000 border plants.
The hillside gardens were established in 1931 by Scottish Captain Neil McEacharn, satisfying his passion for botany and importing plants and seeds from all over the world. He once said, “A beautiful garden does not need to be big, but it should be the realization of one’s dream, even though it is only a couple of square metres large and it is situated on a balcony.” The spacious grounds and fabulous gardens clearly showed the hand of a man with a dream and a passion. He named the villa that he bought and garden that he built after one of his ancestors who was appointed the Duke of Taranto by Napoleon.
April was an ideal time to be here and Dutch tulips were the highlight with blooms in every color imaginable.
Although tulips were the seasonal stars of the show, there were pretty surprises seemingly at every step of the way and in every direction along the paths throughout the gardens as other floral varieties came into view — lilies of the valley, magnolias, forsythia, rhododendrons, poppies, mimosa, wisteria, camellias, cherry blossoms, and many more.
Whether you are a garden enthusiast, botany expert, or just a person who appreciates the beauty of nature, be sure to stop at these gardens when you are visiting Lake Maggiore.
Thanks to EsteVillas and the Borromeo family for our lovely garden tours.