One of my favorite and most romantic things to do in Rome is to stroll through the Villa Borghese parks and gardens to one of the most elegant and sensual villa art museums on earth: The Galleria Borghese.
The Renaissance and Baroque gardens of umbrella pines, cypresses, palm trees, flowers, hedges, and exquisite lemon, orange, and magnolia trees surround the gorgeous villa, bringing one back into the past glories of Roman country estates, free and open to the public for generations.
The parks were private gardens for the aristocrats of Roman society until they were opened for the 19th century Grand Tourists. In 1820 English Romantic poet John Keats himself strolled through these same hallowed grounds before he succumbed to tuberculosis in his rooms at the Piazza di Spagna. Goethe mused through the art collection of the Borghese’s a generation before that, recording his impressions of the palazzo and of the art in his grand book, Italian Journey.
Portrait of Young Woman with Unicorn is a painting by Raphael.
The beautiful Galleria Borghese is home to part of the Borghese art collection curated by the Cardinal Scipione Borghese (nephew of Pope Paul V (reign 1605-1621).
The Villa was commissioned to be designed and built by the architect Flaminio Ponzi, partly based on sketches by Scipione, as a “villa suburbana” on the country edge of Rome. Scipione was one of the first patrons of Bernini and collected many pieces by Caravaggio, including The Sick Bacchus, Boy With a Basket of Fruit, and the poignant Saint Jerome Writing.
The Borghese collection also includes the breathtaking Bernini sculptures of David, Rape of Proserpine, and Apollo and Daphne, – and the Tiziano masterpiece, Sacred and Profane Love.
Other maestros are Raffaello “Lady With A Unicorn” (purported to be the Lady Giulia Farnese, commissioned by Pope Alexander aka Rodrigo Borgia), alongside countless pieces by Rubens, Barocci, Antonio Canova, Coreggio, Dosso Dossi, Domenichino, Veronese, Lorenzo Lotto, and Parmigianino.
Sacred and Profane Love by Titian. c. 1514
I love the gorgeous architectural details in stone and in fountains and statues lining the entrance of the Galleria Borghese.
Remnants of the past play out as well in “ancienne” statue fragments and the fountains outside the museum’s grand entrance.
The walk to the Galleria Borghese always has that lazy Sunday feeling, surrounded by Roman families and visitors enjoying the greenery and fresh air. Young and old lovers can be spied kissing under a tree or lying on a picnic blanket enjoying the sunshine and the sounds of songbirds above them.
There are homages to temples, gods and goddesses, Greek Tragedies and Comedies, and to Rome’s storied past in the “Romantic era ruins” among the pleasure walks and dreamy Umbrella pines. As you approach the museum you feel you are in for something really special… and are not disappointed in the great architectural reveal.
More architectural details by Flaminio Ponzi and Scipione Borghese create a feast for the eyes, before entering the villa with a ticket… for the Roman antiquities and Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces, … in room after sumptuously decorated room.
Tickets are recommended bought IN ADVANCE, online or at the ticket office down the stairs. To enter the museum, proceed up the stone stairs to the stunning Classical Antiquity portico where they will take your ticket.
You don’t want to miss this experience!
After an afternoon stroll and a few hours in the museum, head to the Pincio at the Golden Hour (an hour before dusk) and watch the sun set over the cupolas and ruins and houses behind the glittering Piazza del Popolo.
The golden and orange light eventually turns a deep violet, and there is an enchanting glow about Rome at its most magnificent! It is a heady, Romantic vision, and every one seems to be under a collective spell of beauty and the feeling of immortality in Éros in the Eternal City.
This is one of the best, most beautiful, and unforgettable days you could spend in Rome. It could be the most romantic Valentine’s Day of your lives. Rome seen and felt like this is truly writ on the heart for an eternity.
You can eat at the romantic nearby Casina Valadier for sweeping sunset views and aperitivos or an early dinner – they have a Valentine’s Day prix fixe menu for lovebirds.
Looking for something quicker? Walk a short distance to the late Renaissance church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti, (French: La Trinité-des-Monts).
Pop into the sanctity and quiet beauty of the French Roman Catholic church and you may luck out with a choir of nuns singing en français classical songs of devotion while you peer at lush murals, sculptures, paintings, and the altar.
Light a candle together and head down the famed Spanish Steps just outside and whisper a snippet of a Keats ode into your beloved’s ear outside of the Keats Shelley (Byron) House Museum (worth a visit if you’re there earlier when it is open!).
Stop for a late tea at Babington’s and try their Rome in Love Tea inspired by the Paolina Borghese sculpture and Female Beauty at the Borghese, or enjoy some cocktails or champagne and light fare – offered in the luxurious comfort of their 125 year old tea room. It’s a cute British afternoon tea room with Italian flare.
Looking for something sexier? Cross the avenue and stop in at the nearby Romantics’ saucy hangout, the Antico Caffè Greco, decorated in 18th century red satin and marble decor, for drinks and desserts.
The Santissima Trinità dei Monti at the top of the Spanish Steps from the Via Condotti.
Gregory Peck’s apartment in Roman Holiday where he brings Audrey Hepburn in the film.
If you’re still in the mood for a short early evening walk hand in hand past the glamorous shops and passersby, head to the most romantic street in Rome, the charmingly low-lit, ivy covered boutiques and artisan art shops, boutique hotels, and restaurants, Via Margutta (made famous by Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday!) I love the vegetarian restaurant created by film director Federico Fellini, Il Margutta! They have many vegetable creations, handmade pasta and smoked cheeses, and a vegan and gluten free menu, with exceptional organic wines, mocktails, and delicious desserts, including house made gelato.
Casino Valadier’s LOVE ELIXIR
€25 per person.
La Grande Cucina S.p.A.
Piazza Bucarest, Villa Borghese
P. I.V.A. 05901701002
Tel (+39) 06 69922090
Fax (+39) 06 6791280
GALLERIA BORGHESE (english site)
Via del Collegio
00186 Roma, Italia
tel. 39 06 67231
map by Guilbert Gates
Antico Caffè Greco
Via dei Condotti, 86, 00187 Roma RM, Italy
Babington’s Tea Room
Piazza di Spagna, 23, 00187 Roma RM, Italy
And Happy Valentine’s Day from A Love Letter To Rome… to everyone lucky enough to be in the sexiest and most romantic (and Romantic) city in the world, Roma, Italia! May Cupid’s arrows always find you when you least expect (but need) amore!
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Capri is a world famous resort, the playground for jet setters. It’s an ancient Roman island in Southern Italy still peppered with the villas of Emperors. I’ve heard it called the Beverly Hills of Italy because of its luxury boutiques and grand dame hotels.
To me, Capri is about the quiet moments, the local back streets, the flora and fauna and places like the beautiful, very off the beaten path 19th century non-catholic cemetery. The cemetery is in a residential, slightly run down section between Capri town and the Marina Grande but it overlooks the sea and is incredibly charming. Artists, writers, Anglo Saxons, Nordics and French in love with Capri are all buried here. There are Jewish graves and non-religious tombs and plenty of Madonna statues. And in modern Capri, plenty of Catholic Italians choose this idyllic spot with a sweeping view of the Tyrrhenian Sea for their final resting places.
I walked to the cemetery on the rather harrowing, not very pedestrian “old road down to Marina Grande” and found the graveyard after a ten minute “stroll” sidestepping uncomfortably close vespas, cars and buses like a veteran Italian. When in Rome, eh? You may want to take a taxi from the bus station in Capri Town.
Ask for the Cimitero acattolico di Capri. On Capri – not the pretty, much smaller catholic cemetery on Ana Capri – though that is also lovely. This is the spot with character and history and angels.
all photographs were shot on portra 400 and 800 – 35mm film and are copyright rebecca price butler – alovelettertorome.com – firstname.lastname@example.org
I took a lot of shots in this magical spot and will be posting more soon!
The Villa Farnesina is an early 16th century Renaissance suburban villa in the Via della Lungara, in the district of Trastevere in Rome, central Italy. It has incredible frescoes by Raphäel, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giulio Romano, and Il Sodoma. The villa was built for Agostino Chigi, a rich Sienese banker and the treasurer of Pope Julius II. It was later purchased by Cardinale Farnese (future pope and brother to the Borgia mistress, Giulia Farnese).
I had always missed visiting the lovely Villa Farnesina on earlier trips to Rome so I was delighted to finally see it in person in October 2012. The villa has a pretty little garden in the courtyard and larger gardens (fenced off) on one side. There is an understated elegance to the grounds and exterior architecture for a Renaissance palazzo. There are pink roses and pomegranate trees in clay pots.
And little lemon trees and stone lined pathways. Trastevere is a great neighborhood to visit when in Rome and this villa is even more off the beaten path if you are looking for an alternative to the usual Roman Holiday Tour.
After the initial two or three visits to Rome I’ve tried to visit more of the quiet corners of the city and get to know my favorite spots better. It’s a “slow food” approach to travel and it’s worked pretty well for us. The large grande dame museums of Rome are wonderful to visit, especially if you have limited time in the city. But if you have an extra day or the off the beaten path vacation is more your speed, I suggest visiting one, two or three small villa or palazzo art museums. Farnesina, Doria Pamphlij, Spada, Borghese (the Queen) and a few others.
The Loggia of Psyche by Raphaël and his workshop
It’s difficult to convey how astounding it is just standing on the marble floors, looking up at all the beautiful frescoes. Walking the same halls so many infamous and interesting figures had crossed centuries before.
The museum was quiet and there were a few small groups moving in and out of the rooms. I had time to view the work in complete silence and solitude which rarely happens in a larger, more popular museum.
Venus, Ceres and Juno
I had run out of color film so I shot these magnificent frescoes in black and white. I think they at least capture the richness of the dark colors and the creaminess of the “skin”. The color in person was vibrant for such old masterpieces.
Cupid and The Three Graces, 1517-1518
A part of the great appeal Renaissance art has for me is it’s allusions to classical literature and mythology. In order to understand the works beyond my emotional response to them or my aesthetic pleasure in them, the allegorical works force me to learn the meaning behind them and catch a glimpse of the artist’s intention behind the work. What does the piece mean philosophically? Politically? What does it say about love? Man? And God? About life? And death? What historical event are they re-imagining? Beyond the beauty I am hungry for the history.
Venus on the Chariot Pulled by Doves, 1517-1518
The Council of the Gods, 1517-1518
When I was there I was amused to find graffiti carved into one of the walls in German! Well, normally I’d be less amused but it’s from a later Barbarian Invasion of Rome in the 16th century! At the time I couldn’t find anyone to translate it for me.
During recent restorations, an ancient “graffiti”, in German gothic, came to light between the columns. It marks the passage of the Lansquenets and states: “1528 – why shouldn’t I laugh: the Lansquenets have put the Pope to flight.”
From the windows on the first floor there is a beautiful view of the gardens. A pleasant stroll under the laurel bower leads to a marble plaque which bears the inscription:
Quisquis huc accedis: quod tibi horridum videtur mihi amoenum est; si placet, maneas, si taedet abeas, utrumque gratum.
[Trad.: Whoever enters here: what seems horrid to you is pleasant to me. If you like it, stay, if it bores you, go away; both are equally pleasing to me. ] – Academia Nazionale die Lincei
The Villa Farnesina in Rome, Italy is open from
Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,
Closed on Sundays and holidays
Guided tours on Monday, Friday and Saturday at 12.30
//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …