Renaissance Villas Near Viterbo: Villa Lante and Palazzo Farnese

The ride to reach the Renaissance Villas near Viterbo is a bit long.  Depending on traffic, it’s about an hour and a half each way.  Yet it’s worth it!  You’ll visit beautiful destinations in a comfortable van with great company.

Palazzo Farnese and Its Gardens

one of the many maps frescoes in the Palazzo Farnese near Viterbo

Viterbo and the surrounding area were the stronghold of the Farnese family, who also owned extensive property in Rome.  The family’s true rise to power, however, was when Alexander Farnese became Pope Paul III in 1534.  Never heard of him?  That’s not exactly true if you’ve seen Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.  Pope Paul III financed the 61-year-old artist.

In the small town of Caprarola, Alexander Farnese’s father built a family fortress.  (You can never be too sure, not even in the Renaissance!)  With Alexander’s election as Pope, the country fortress was renovated into a prince’s palace, with all the necessary commodities: a throne room, a map room (seen in the picture), guest quarters, summer and winter lodgings, and – noblesse oblige – gardens.

If this active leisure stimulates your appetite, we’ll head off in search of lunch.  Several eateries boast local dishes, created with local produce and products, which include – depending on the season – porcini (or other) mushrooms, handmade pasta, hazelnuts, and some incredible wines which are produced in such limited quantities that it’s impossible to find them in Rome.  (Go figure outside of Italy!)

Villa Lante’s Gorgeous Renaissance Gardens

After lunch, our adventure will continue with Villa Lante in the sleepy town of Bagnaia, in Viterbo’s shadow.  Here, the wealthy Cardinal Gambara, Bishop of Viterbo and Head of the Inquisition, built his getaway.  (Running the Inquisition can be such tiring work!)  Yet its finely manicured grounds and the Cardinal’s mania for lavish spending struck a sour note with the Counter-Reformation pundit Carlo Borromeo and Pope Gregory XIII, who – after visiting the grounds – is said to have suspended several of the Cardinal’s allowances.

a fountain in the gardens of villa farnese near viterbo
detail of a fountain at palazzo farnese: water cascading from the mouths of stone dolphins lining a flight of steps

At Villa Lante, we’ll focus on the gardens.  The small cascades of water conveyed by stone dolphins (in the picture) and a marble table with a natural wine cooler convey the Cardinal’s sense of humor and his standard of living.  Other details, like the fountain of the River Gods or the Grotto of the Deluge, are clever symbols that refer to both classical and Biblical accounts.

Practical Information and Fanciful Ideas

After a coffee, a prosecco, or a gelato, we’ll leave the Renaissance Villas near Viterbo and head back to Rome.  The return journey should last about an hour and a half.

Comments: given travel times and the itinerary, this a FULL full-day. Please plan on being away from Rome for 9 or 10 hours.

We can customize the itinerary to include other attractions in the area, like Viterbo’s spa, its historic center, the Medieval churches of sleepy Tuscania (here’s a link to a webpage dedicated to the Church of San Pietro.  The site is in Italian but I like the photos!), and/or its Etruscan Museum.

There is a one-time euro 25 reservation fee for the gardens of Palazzo Farnese.

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