The small charming town of Bagnaia, just over an hour drive from Rome, is famous for majestic 16th century Villa Lante. The name is somewhat misleading as there is no grand villa to speak of but it is the garden, one of Italy's finest Renaissance gardens, that attracts visitors.
The rich and powerful created these pleasure grounds over a period of time as the property came with the title of Bishop of Viterbo. At the beginning of the 16th century, Cardinal Raffaele Riario, famous for inviting Michelangelo to Rome, built a wall to enclose 22 hectares of land putting a foundation of what later became Villa Lante. Cardinal De Gambara, who had a penchant for outdoor living and al fresco dining, commissioned the main works.
Styled as a formal Italian garden, Villa Lante has many spectacular water features: the best hydraulics experts oversaw the construction of lavish fountains, grottoes and canals. Fontana dei Mori, Fontana dei Lumini, Pegasus Fountain, Fountain of the Deluge have tiered basins, elegant cascades and jets of water, some of them controlled via remote switches to amuse the guests with the so-called “theatre of the water” that were de rigueur during Renaissance. On a hot summer day, it is wonderful to walk through the garden’s terraces enjoying the views, listening to the water spurting, trickling and streaming over the sculptures of river gods and mythical creatures.
The two small twin buildings, the Gambara Casino and Montalto Casino, on each side of the garden have lovely frescoes and period furnishings. The noble Lante della Rovere family owned the Villa for three centuries until 1933. Although it remains a private property today it is open to public.
A visit to the Villa Lante combined with a stroll around the historic town of Bagnaia makes for a great day trip, away from the noise and heat of Rome.
Photos via Flickr by: Paolo Alfieri, Roberto Ferrari, Pavlo Boyko.