Benvenuto a tutti! Thinking of visiting Rome this year? It’s my home town – and if you are heading
that way I say get out of town! Make the short 30-minute trip to Tivoli to visit the inspiration for
my Marlow restaurant, the Villa d’Este, residence of Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este in the late 16th century.
Grandson of a pope (and a failed contender himself), and son of Lucrezia Borgia, Ippolito II was born into the heart of the Machiavellian (literally) politics of Renaissance Italy and, like one modern Italian politician with a talent for self-promotion who comes to mind, he did pretty well for himself – which is why he wanted a fab pad.
What makes Villa d’Este really remarkable, though – enough to have been designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations – is the design of its gardens and, in particular, its fountains. This, of course, is why it’s well worth making the 30-minute bus journey out of town to get there. The gardens are terraced and so well designed that the effect is breath-taking, especially when you consider that the water pressure is achieved by gravity alone – the builders had to rediscover ancient Roman water engineering techniques to achieve it, and the fountains still function the same way today.
It’s a World Heritage Site because it’s one of the very best examples of a Renaissance garden, and it influenced garden design for centuries to come (you should see mine). Just next door is another remarkable example of Roman engineering (and another UN World Heritage Site), Villa Adriana, which was the Emperor Hadrian’s retreat and is one of the most fascinating Roman sites in Italy. So even in those regal days there was clearly neighbourly rivalry. I wonder if they ever called next door to borrow a cup of pasta?
So I guess you could sum it up by saying ‘When in Rome…get out of town!’ You won’t regret it.