Close to Paradise : The Gardens of Naples, Capri and the Amalfi Coast

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2011-08-23
  • Publisher: Frances Lincoln
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Ravishingly photographed, romantic beyond reason, this book devoted to the most celebrated gardens of southern Italy captures the inexhaustible lure of one of the most beautiful places on earth: Campania, the sun-kissed region that is home to Naples, Capri and the Amalfi Coast. Erstwhile pleasure dome to the Roman emperors, and still Italy's most glamorous seaside getaway, this province has been a top destination for garden appassionati for decades. Bewitched by the natural splendours of the region, author and photographer Robert I.C. Fisher has created a 200-page celebration of twenty-four of southern Italy's finest gardens. In Ravello, the rampageous roses of Villa Cimbrone once warmed the famously chilly heart of Greta Garbo, while off the coast of Positano the private Li Galli islands were the last home of Rudolf Nureyev. In Sorrento, Lord Astor's garden is a monument to English exoticism and on Capri Graham Greene discovered his legendary retreat. Understanding that the potent allure of gardens is not only about plants and species, Fisher also tells the stories of some of the fascinating people who dedicated their lives to creating and nurturing these treasures. The gardens' special magic is captured in lush, mouth-watering photographs, whether it be of turn-of-the-century Sorrento, picture-perfect Positano, medieval Amalfi or island-in-the-sky Ravello. Prepare for enchantment as, through these bougainvillea-bright pages, you visit the garden Shangri-La that is Campania.



Villa Rufolo, Ravello

Step on to the upper terrace of the Villa Rufolo and before you is a vista that defines the colour blue once and for all. A veil of celestial hue extends as far as the eye can see. Its pearly transparency clarifies and defines a panorama of the Bay of Salerno to a fare-thee-well, from the reach-out-and-touch cupolas of Santissima Annunziata to the distant shores of ancient Paestum. The vista almost upstages one of the most magnificent gardens in Italy: several garden terraces which, hanging upon a spur of Monte Cerreto as if meditating a plunge into the sea 1,400 feet/425 metres below, amphitheatrically encompass this breathtaking panorama where sky and sea seem to merge. With all paradise seemingly spread out before you - the infinitude of hues has often been called 'the bluest view in the world' - drifts of cloud seem to be your only link to the great cosmos. Even in a region where such moments are commonplace, this vision of beauty takes everyone's breath away.

It is little mystery, then, why Lorenzo Rufolo - whom Boccaccio used as the basis for a tale about one of Italy's richest men in his Decameron - chose this eagle's nest for his thirteenth-century Scheherazadian extravaganza. With its Arab-Norman tower, Moorish cloisters and gardens fit for a pope (His Eminence Pope Hadrian IV, to be precise, who, legend has it, planted some of the old rose gardens), the Villa Rufolo beguiles all who visit it.

The gardens found immortality in the spring of 1880, with the unexpected arrival of Richard Wagner, the music world's wundermeister. 'Klingsor's magical garden is found once again!' he crowed at the sight of voluptuous wisteria vines. He stayed the evening at the villa, banging out the second act of Parsifal on an untuned piano, accompanied only by his giant ego and a fierce thunderstorm. After he had played the piano all night long, the music fittingly accented with the lightning bolts of a tempesta, the townspeople crowded in and proclaimed the great composer pazzo. They do not call him crazy any longer, though. For the past eighty years, the Villa Rufolo has been the setting for one of Italy's most successful music fêtes, the annual Festivale Musicale di Ravello. Today, the villa's Hall of the Knights often echoes to the sound of Bach, while the Wagner Terrace regularly hosts grand orchestral homages to the composer.

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