Discover your favorite Roman Garden and Villa

February 20, 2018

Rome is not most famous for its - gardens, of course, but in the springtime its parks become the most important places where friends meet or relax on weekends. Locals are very found of them, so  every real roman has its favorite “Villa”. It could be the one they used to play in the childhood, where they fell in love, where they like jogging in the morning, where they go for a picnic with their families or friends on Sundays, where they take their dog for a walk or where they escape for a romantic afternoon with their girlfriend. 

If you are in Rome in springtime, you should absolutely experience one of the Roman Villas. 

What are “Roman Villas”?

Roman Villas surrounded by large parks are located in the city of Rome, or very near the center. They originate from the country estates of noble Roman families and were used as country houses, vineyards and playgrounds. Today, most of them are public parks, owned by the City of Rome, opened daily. The most famous, the largest and most loved are Villa Borghese, Villa Doria Pamphilli and  Villa Ada. There also some smaller ones in different quarters of Rome like Villa Torlonia, Villa Celimontana, Villa Quintilli, Villa Sciarra, Villa Chiggi, Villa Paganini. We should also mention few really nice parks, not originating from Villas like Parco degli Acquedotti, Caffarella Park, Tor Fiscal Park, Opian Hill Park, Orange Garden and City Rose Garden.

Every Villa in Rome hosts different memories and preferences. Villa Pamphili is friendship, love, separation, but also sports. Villa Borghese is culture, my school was there, museums, the House of Cinema. I love Villa Medici because it is perfection. Villa Ada is biking with my daughters and concerts in the summer. For me, whole Rome is an enormous Villa with some houses in between.(Quentin, film industry)

Villa Borghese 

Villa Borghese is my favorite one because it is inside of  the city. It is not only about green spaces but there is also a living history: from the busts of South American revolutionaries to the Museums it hosts, Piazza del Popolo and Academies on your back, Siena Square and the House of Cinema inside of it, young skaters, Via Veneto, Casina Valdier, and when we used to cross it inside with Vespa by night. (Stefano, writer)

Villa Borghese, Rome, main building

Villa Borghese is the most central one, located mostly in the Pincian neighborhood, between Piazza del Popolo and Campo Marzio district. It is a kind of Rome’s Central Park. It dates back to the early 17th century,  when Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V and patron of Bernini, started to transform his former vineyard into the most extensive gardens built in Rome since Antiquity. The Villa at the time was a party villa, at the edge of Rome, housing his huge art collection. The gardens as they are now were remade in the early nineteenth century.

Today, it’s a public park with Roman and English gardens, lake, different buildings and villas that house  museums, the house of cinema, theatre, event places, charming chalets, bistros. Locals and tourists take advantage of its tree-lined paths for  jogging, walking, biking, skating  and even pedaling inside vintage style rented contraptions for 4-5 persons. 

Here you can rent a canoe and have a romantic hour in the middle of the lake among the swans, or to  relax in the sunset admiring one of the most beautiful views of Piazza del Popolo from the Pincian hill, or to pop into one of the museums taking part of the villa, the most important among them Galleria Borghese ( please note that it is necessary to book the visit  in advance - let us know and Spotter Travel will book it for you). The Villa Giulia adjoining the Villa Borghese gardens was built in 16th century as a summer residence for Pope Julius III and now it contains the Etruscan Museum.  The Villa Medici houses the French Academy in Rome, and the Fortezzuola a Gothic garden structure that houses a Museum with a collection memorializing the modern sculptor Pietro Canonica. 

Other villas scattered through the Villa Borghese gardens are remains of a world exposition in Rome in 1911. The Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna located in its grounds has a collection of 19th - and 20th -century paintings emphasizing Italian artists.

The garden contains a replica of the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre built in 2003, a Zoo with minimal caging called Bioparco, and the Zoological Museum.

Spotter Travel tip: Villa Borghese hosts the iconic equestrian site called Piazza di Siena - undoubtedly one of the most beautiful arenas for Show Jumping in the word. Don’t miss the 2018 edition (23-28 May) and its magical closing event - the Carabinieri Carousel. 

Villa Doria Pamphili

Villa Pamphili is where I grew up and where I was training for more than 20 years. An amazing park with a great equilibrium between the tidy organized green spaces, wild forest and historical architecture. Now I go with my dog to a smaller park in the neighborhood where I live, a unique place, Villa Paganini,  where the surrounding city seems to be just a post card in the background. A postcard beyond the time and traffic noise. Every form of aggression is suspended and the ritual of the park becomes almost oriental. (Gianluca, art curator)

Villa Pamphili with its 184 hectares of surface it is the largest Roman park covering more than one city neighborhood. It is one of the best preserved city villas and one of the richest with both flora and fauna. It is mainly located in Monteverde neighborhood, just over Trastevere on one side and over the San Peter and Vatican on the other side.

Villa Doria Pamphili is considered one of the most important Roman villas, because it still preserves the seventeenth century and the main features of the 18th and 19th centuries. Though its position is very central to Rome today, the villa was created in the 1600s as a country home and an escape for a noble roman family Doria Pamphili.

Today the entire Villa is public, now owned by the City of Rome and its parks are opened daily, with the exception of the Casino del Bel Respiro, known also as Villa Algardi, which is the State Property and the seat of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers closed to public, opened only in occasions of official state visits.  

The villa is divided into three parts: the palace and the gardens, the pinewood, and the agricultural estate. Inside there is also a stream that reaches a lake with an island in the middle of an elliptical shape. A very important feature of the villa are the gardens, which are innovative with respect to the canons of the time. 

Here you can admire the architecture of Casino del bel Respiro from the outside and its marvelous garden, looking around for signs of the battle that was fought on the grounds in 1849 during the war for the unification of Italy. But, if you are tired of visiting monuments and palaces, you can just escape from the city rush and traffic, for a long walk or jogging, to admire the fountains or swans swimming across the pond, sun bathing or relaxing in the shadow of  Roman pines. You may assist to a poetry evening, or even an outdoor lesson of yoga or Thai Chi or listen to a concert organized by “Concerto in Villa”.. 

Villa Pamphili is in my neighborhood, it has a beautiful nature and architecture. What I like the most is to follow the flowering of different species, starting  from the winter. Now, for example, in February, you can see magnolia trees in blossom. Also the field flowers change every week, looking around you can notice it by different colours appearing each time. The ancient Mediterranean pines in the pinewood are fantastic, I adore them, they are my friends. (Alba, yoga teacher)

Spotter Travel tip:  If you are in the mood for picnic, a light lunch or an aperitivo in the sunset try ViviBistro. If you are not a fan of biodynamic wines (the only kind of wine you can get at ViviBistro) for the aperitivo,  just go with regular Aperol-Spritz. The food and a picnic blanket are included in the price.

Villa Ada

I like its structure similar to a garden of Eden, where one can find spaces of different kinds, as well as its rough and wild aspects, sometimes disturbing and in some points looking even dangerous. Open and gentle spaces alternate with intricate mazes that resemble a wild forest. A mysterious place, although in the center of Rome makes you feel out of everything. (Massimo, composer and musician)

Villa Ada is the second largest public park in the city after Villa Doria Pamphili. It is located in the northeastern part of the city in the roman neighborhood Parioli. In the 17th century it hosted an Irish College, a kind of agricultural house and estate with small neoclassical style buildings like Flora Temple, Villa Polissena, Royal Stables, Swiss Chalet and Gothic Tower.

In the late 19thcentury was purchased  by the Italian royal House of Savoy, enlarged and upgraded by Vittorio Emanuele II in order to house the royal residence  for some years. In 1878 the area came under the control of Count Tellfner of Switzerland, who named it in honor of his wife Ada. The royal family regained control of the land in 1904 officially changing its name to Villa Savoia retaining control of the area until 1946. Inside of the Villa in the early 1940s a bunker was built to protect the royal Savoy family from bombs, now is open for tours. 

Since 2009 the area contains both public and private areas. The public area is controlled by the Council of Rome while the private area around the Royal Villa is controlled by the Egyptian Embassy, although the Town Council has made a formal claim to take control of the whole area. (The royal Villa was donated by king Umberto to Egypt, in exchange for the hospitality received during the exile: it is currently home to the Embassy and Consulate of the Arab Republic of Egypt).

The public portion of the park is much larger. It contains an artificial lake and many trees, including stone pines, holm oaks, laurels and a very rare metasequoia, imported from Tibet in 1940. Entrance to the park is free. Here you can take a long walk or rent canoes, bicycles, or riding horses. There is a large swimming pool also, but maybe the most beautiful side of  this park is its rich and wild nature.

Since 1994, during the summer the park hosts the world-music festival and the "Roma incontra il mondo" (Rome meets the World) festival, against racism, war and the death penalty. If you are planning to stay in  Rome during the summer and in the evening you like to hear some great music under the trees, far from the city noise, the wright place for you is Villa Ada.

Spotter Travel tip: The international bestseller “Let the Games Begin” by Niccolo Ammaniti takes place in Villa Ada. Now that you know how the villa looks like, you can always come back to it through this exuberant and audacious novel. 

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