Even if I am not an expert gardener, I have a sincere passion for plants and gardens.
In particular, I really like visiting gardens and I am very lucky to live in Italy because there are a lot of very beautiful Italian gardens to visit and enjoy.
Visiting a garden is a great way to learn more about plants and flowers but it is also a perfect way to spend an afternoon away from the noise and the craziness of our daily lives. Plants have an incredibly relaxing effect on me and a few hours surrounded by them does wonders to my mood.
This is why I always include a visit to the local botanic garden every time I visit a new city and why I always try to find time to discover the beautiful gardens that are in my area. The one I want to tell you about today is the garden of Villa della Pergola, a luxury hotel in Alassio, Liguria, which not only is an amazing space full of plants and flowers but also a place with a very interesting history.
I have been wanting to visit it for a long time but somehow never managed to do so. Recently, though, I have heard that their agapanthus – they have the biggest collection in Europe – are in full bloom and I thought that this was just the perfect time to discover the garden. And I am glad I went because I loved every minute of the visit!
As I said, Villa della Pergola is now a very exclusive hotel in Alassio but has a very long and interesting history – and an amazing garden that can be visited at weekends with a guided tour only (booking is requested). As it frequently happens, the tour guide has been the highlight of the visit because he was super knowledgeable and explained to us everything about the garden and its plants.
The garden dates back to the 19th century, to the late 1870s precisely, when General Montagu McMurdo and his wife Lady Susan Sarah Napier decided to restore an old Italian villa to make it their winter retreat. The garden at the time was a typical Ligurian farmland with olive and citrus trees – and carob groves to feed the animals – and the couple transformed it into a little garden of Eden.
In 1900, the estate was acquired by Sir Walter Hamilton Dalrymple, who increased the number of plants and commissioned the erection of the many fountains that are still scattered around the park, introducing the first aquatic plants as well. He was the cousin of Virginia Woolf, so the house has been a haven for the famous English writer as well.
Then, in 1922 Daniel Hambury, one of Thomas Hambury’s sons, bought the villa and further increased the collection of plants. He followed the example of his father, who had created a magnificent park in Ventimiglia, now known as the Hambury Botanical Gardens, and made the garden flourish, making it into a tourist attraction as well.
Unfortunately, the war put an end to this magic heaven: the park was closed and neglect caused it to deteriorate. The garden became overgrown and wild, until 2006, when it was acquired by a group of investors, who restored the villa and hired the most famous Italian landscape designer, Paolo Pejrone to bring the 22,000 m2 garden to a new life.
A huge work of restoration recreated the old splendor of the gardens: the project preserved the old character of the place but also introduced many new plants. For example, the old agapanthuses have been replaced by a brand new collection including over 400 different varieties, making it the biggest agapanthus collection in Europe. They are in full bloom in July and fill the gardens with their white and blue shades – which perfectly complement the blue of the sea that can always be seen in the distance.
The visit to the gardens is really interesting because you can learn a lot about all the different plants that have been planted there (and the reasons for such choices) but most importantly, it is a perfect way to relax and to enjoy nature (and great views!) and to discover a unique location that really stands out in a place like Alassio.
As a matter of fact, the city is mainly known for being a popular seaside location but this garden gives you an idea of how Alassio must have been back in the 1900s, when wealthy English families chose this place to retreat, a place that was just a tiny fishermen village by the sea surrounded by luscious citrus and olive groves on the hills all around.
For a period of time in the past, Alassio has been a selected destination for wealthy English tourists and many traces of that time can still be found today: there’s the Richard West Memorial Gallery, a collection of the works of art of the English painter West, an English Library, with 15,000 books, an Anglican Church, and the Hambury Tennis Club.
Therefore, visiting the gardens of Villa della Pergola is a perfect way to enjoy an amazing Mediterranean garden but also a chance to take a step back in time and to have a more complete image of a city that is more than just beach, sand and cocktails by the sea.