Sometimes it seems that heaven on earth really exists.
This is what I thought a few weeks ago when I visited the Hanbury Botanical Gardens in Ventimiglia, some really magnificent gardens with an interesting history that are located on the westernmost side of Liguria, right on the border to France.
Also known as Villa Hanbury, the Hanbury Botanical Gardens are a very famous tourist attraction in Liguria, possibly one of the most important ones on the west coast of the region. They are a very popular destination for organized tours and school trips but, for one reason or another, I had never managed to visit them before.
the view from the entrance of the gardens
So last month, on a glorious sunny day, when my husband asked me to pick a location for our day trip, I had no doubts: I really wanted to see the gardens I had heard incredible things about for most of my life. And to the Hanbury Botanical Gardens we went!
The gardens are located on Capo Mortola, a very steep peninsula jutting southwards from an altitude of 103 meters down into the sea. Half of the area is a garden while the other half has more spontaneous vegetation, mainly made of palms and luscious pine trees.
a perfect spot to enjoy the beauty of it all
The entrance is from the road at the highest point of the garden. Upon entrance, you are given a map with a suggested itinerary that takes you down to the sea and then makes you climb back up the hill. While strolling up and down, you can admire plants from all over the world that grow there thanks to the location and the perfect climate and enjoy the breathtaking views that make this place so special.
In 1867, Thomas Hanbury, a very rich merchant who had made a fortune trading spices, tea, and silk, purchased Palazzo Orengo and the surrounding property, which was almost ruined at the time. He was on holiday in Liguria and simply fell in love with that gorgeous stretch of land right on the coast.
the view from Thomas Hanbury’s terrace
The gardens were created over decades with the help of pharmacologist Daniel Hanbury, Thomas’s brother, the botanist and landscape designer Ludwig Winter, and many different scientists. Since Thomas was frequently away on business, it was actually Daniel who took care of enriching the property, adding multiple different species of plants coming from all corners of the world.
After the death of Thomas Hanbury and the end of World War I, the work on the gardens was resumed by Lady Dorothy Hanbury, who was Thomas’s daughter-in-law. Between 1925 and 1939, she and her husband Cecil worked hard to further enrich and improve the gardens. Unfortunately, the gardens were severely damaged during World War II and Lady Hanbury sold them to the Italian state in 1960.
the temple where Lady Hanbury is buried
The gardens are now botanical acclimatization gardens under the responsibility of the University of Genoa but they are also a regional protected area and a nature preserve that includes both the peninsula and the sea in front of it. They are also considered one of the 10 most beautiful gardens in Italy.
With such an incredible history, I expected to find some really nice gardens but the reality exceeded my expectations: I can’t say how many times I said “WOW!” while walking up and down the hill. The constant contrast between the green of the lush vegetation and the shiny blue of the sea offers breathtaking views – and the unique light makes everything more special.
a view of the southern part of the gardens, right by the sea
I love gardens but I am not a big plant expert, so what I enjoyed was mainly the atmosphere (I loved the mystical Oriental vibe of the garden, probably due to Hanbury’s connection to China), the care with which the gardens have been designed and maintained, and just the mere beauty of that corner of Italy. When you get there, you can easily understand how Thomas Hanbury has fallen in love with it, back in the 19th century.
Thomas Hanbury used to say “Never go against nature” and this is the philosophy that still guides the care of the gardens. While in other gardens perfection and appearance are the guidelines, in the Hanbury Gardens plants are grown respecting their natural cycles.
Thomas Hanbury’s villa
This is probably another reason why I liked those gardens so much: you feel that you are in the midst of an incredible natural area where the human intervention is minimum and mainly geared towards maintaining greenery as it is rather than forcing it to follow some sort of unnatural perfection.
Ventimiglia is quite a remote city in Liguria but if you happen to be in the area, I’d absolutely recommend visiting the gardens because they truly are a corner of heaven on earth. They are not far from Apricale, so you can make a wholesome day by visiting the gardens first and then having a glass of Rossese in that lovely Medieval village on the hills.
Have you visited beautiful gardens in Italy? Let me know, I am really curious!
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