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Monday, April 20, 2009

Villa San Remigio -- The Other Place I Didn't Go

Villa San Remigio

Here's the story of Villa San Remigio, which adjoins the property of the Chiesa di San Remigio in Verbania. While the church is one thousand years old, the villa can only boast a few more than one hundred. But instead, it does have a great love story...

It was the mid 1800s, and the Browne family from Ireland was traveling through Pallanza when their carriage broke down.

Or maybe it was destiny that stopped them in that spot.

Because while waiting for repairs the family discovered the old church on the hill with it's view over the lake, and the Browne daughters convinced their father to purchase the adjoining land.



Jump ahead now to the end of the 1800s. Mr. Browne's granddaughter Sofia has grown up on this property. And she has been in love with her cousin, Silvio Della Valle di Casanova, since they were childhood playmates. They married in 1896. He, a poet and musician, and she, a painter, had a grand vision and a dream for the land, and immediately began putting that dream into action.

From the years of 1910 to 1916 they employed thirty gardeners full time to mold and shape the land to their exacting whims. They terraced the steep hillside, creating levels with different themes. The result is a succession of fantastic spaces, so close to each other, and yet so different. The spaces are intended to evoke certain feelings, certain emotions.


Flights of staircases, paths, and narrow passages lead you through the different environments. The Garden of Hours is a remembrance of their happy childhood. The Garden of Joy, a colorful homage to happiness. There is the Garden of Sadness, shadowy and melancholy, and the Garden of Memories, designed with a sense of nostalgia for the past. And the Garden of Sighs, an area intended to soothe and heal the soul.

This park is the culmination of their combined artistic talents, their masterpiece. Together they chose every statue, every fountain. The motive was to create a space where artistic shapes and natural beauty are one and the same.

And like all artists, they wanted their work to be seen, to be loved by others. As soon as the garden was completed in 1916 they opened the doors to the public. They charged a small admission. And they donated all of the admission fees to charity.

What an incredible amount of creativity and good their passion fueled.

The garden was closed to the public upon Silvio's death in 1929. Silvio and Sofia's daughter donated the property to the province in 1977. The villa, spectacular in its own rite, is used as offices for the Province of Verbania and is available for weddings and private events. The gate was locked when I was there; the garden is open for guided two hour tours in the spring and summer, and I was two weeks too early. The Chiesa di San Remigio still sits next door, much unchanged for almost 1000 years. I almost went inside it also, but that's another story...

photos from Gardens of Italy.

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