The ride is a bit long: depending on traffic, it’s about an hour and a half each way. Yet you’ll be in a comfortable van with pleasant company. And you’re heading towards a great destination: Viterbo. It and the surrounding area were the stronghold of the Farnese clan, who also owned extensive property in Rome and witnessed an event greater rise to power when Alexander Farnese became Pope Paul III in 1534.
In the small town of Caprarola, Alexander Farnese’s father built a 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, guest quarters, summer and winter lodgings, and – noblesse oblige – gardens. After enjoying the Palace, we’ll focus on the Gardens.
All this active leisure will surely stimulate your appetite! Therefore, 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!
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.
Just like at Caprarola, it’s not the residence that interests us as much as the grounds. We’ll explore small cascades, a marble table with a natural wine cooler, the fountain of the River Gods, the Grotto of the Deluge—a common motif in Renaissance gardens, which refers to both classical and Biblical episodes, and other spectacular water follies.