Gardens- secret sanctuaries in the heart of Florence

Gardens- secret sanctuaries in the heart of Florence

Pitti Palace and Boboli, Bardini, Iris, Rose garden

Here at Slow tour Tuscany we say smell evokes memories more vividly than any other sense. Here in Florence memories are imprinted on the cityscape, brought to multisensory life as spring arrives and the city’s magnificent gardens and hidden green zones begin to bloom, revealing stories in unexpected corners. 

  

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Written by Lucy David

Spring is undeniably here: the slow creep of bright green has taken over the landscape, birds sing overtime to attract a mate, and there’s a new softness to the air as it ruffles the senses. As Florence warms up and visitors begin to multiply, there’s no better place to escape the crowds and experience spring in all its sensory glory than by exploring the city’s various gardens. 

From the romantically tucked away Giardino delle Rose (Rose Garden) to the monumental Boboli Gardens, Florence yields a surprising number of horticultural havens for the visitor seeking a tangible sense of Botticelli’s Primavera (or simply a welcoming lawn to stretch out on). Join Slow Tour Tuscany on a garden tour and discover the stories behind Florence’s great garden legacy, or take a picnic blanket and seek out your own little piece of paradise. Here are just a few suggestions:


Secluded sanctuaries

Carved into the hillside beneath Piazzale Michelangelo, the Giardino delle Rose conveys the sense of a secret garden. Its entrances can be hard to find – slits in walls or hidden-away gates – but once inside the spell is cast. Though tiny in size it offers myriad private spots to discover amongst the terraces and winding paths, a lush lawn dotted with sculptures by Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon (and countless lazing bodies), and a spectacular view that ranges from the Duomo to the ancient city walls and countryside beyond.

Then of course there are the roses – more than 350 species in fact, as well as a Japanese garden and Zen temple

Next door the Giardino delle Iris (Iris Garden) is as ephemeral as its namesake, open for a mere few weeks a year (April 25 – May 20). Spread over two-and-a-half hectares, it offers a glorious spread of more than 1500 species of iris blooming amongst the olive groves. The symbol of Florence (not the lily, as widely believed), the city’s banners originally represented the iris as a white flower on a red background; the colours were inverted in the mid-thirteenth century as a political move during Florence’s civil war, unequivocally squashing the Ghibelline spirit of resistance after they had been conquered by the Guelphs, and Florence’s trademark has remained that way ever since.


The view you never knew

One of Florence’s best-kept secrets, the Bardini Garden arguably boasts the city’s best view. Merging history, art and culture on four heavenly hectares rising above the Arno, it transports the visitor into an enchanting world where formal Italian symmetry meets sprawling Tuscan orchards and English woodland reveals Chinese elements, with the added antiquarian flourish of its early twentieth-century owner Stefano Bardini. 

A grand Baroque staircase leads up the steeply terraced hillside as a panorama of the city unfolds, almost close enough to touch. The wisteria-shrouded pergola, resplendent with flowers from mid-April through May, is as famous for its beauty as it is for the legend that recounts how the plant was brought over from China by Marco Polo himself.

Art lovers can peruse the gallery housed in the seventeenth-century Villa Bardini, while the hike up the hill is well rewarded with a coffee at the historic Kaffeehaus while marvelling at the unparalleled view.  


History, majesty and legacy 

No summary of Florence’s green spots, no matter how brief, is complete without a mention of the Boboli Gardens, situated on a slope behind Palazzo Pitti. As much an outdoor art gallery as an expansive park, it was a vision brought to life in the sixteenth century by Eleonora di Toledo, Duchess of Florence and wife to Cosimo I de’ Medici, whose desire for nature and beauty was so great that she took it into her own hands to create it. Built upon by several subsequent ruling families, her legacy can still be felt today in the elegant design, elaborate fountains, classical sculptures and hidden grottos found throughout the grounds. 


When Arnolfo di Cambio supervised the building of Florence’s sixth city wall in 1284, he decided to wrap it around pieces of open farmland to enable the city to feed itself, should it fall under siege. Nearly 800 years later, Florence’s green spaces continue to nurture its population – body and soul alike. Photo credit: http://www.38spatial.com  





 

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