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SPRING

17 of the most beautiful parks and gardens in Italy

Spring has sprung, and all over Italy that means parks and gardens are coming alive with colour. Here are 17 that are well worth a visit, including some old favourites and a few lesser-explored gems.

17 of the most beautiful parks and gardens in Italy
Giardini di Villa Monastero, Lake Como. Photo: Stew Dean/Flickr

Arte Sella, Trentino

We'll start the list with a garden that's a little out of the ordinary. Arte Sella is a museum/art gallery in a park surrounded by mountains. All the artworks are made of natural materials and have been designed to interact with their surroundings. Walking the entire route takes four to five hours.

Photo: Alessandro/Flickr

Giardini della Landriana, Lazio

Escape from Rome to visit these spectacular gardens – by car is easiest, but you can also travel by regional train and shuttle bus. The garden is split into 30 areas or 'rooms' each with a distinctive theme, offering a Mediterranean twist on the classic English style of garden. Head there in April to see the spectacular flower show.

 

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Boboli Gardens, Florence

The Boboli Gardens were the inspiration for many European palace gardens – not least Versailles – and you'll see plenty of stunning architecture as you stroll around. Work on the gardens first began in the 15th century and at one time it was the home of the powerful Medici family. Highlights include the amphitheatre, Neptune's Fountain, and the Grotta Grande (Large Cave) with spectacular sculptures and frescoes.

Photo: Eva van Wassenhove/Flickr

Palermo Botanic Gardens

This 200-year-old garden is one of the main sights in Sicily's capital, and home to many weird and wonderful plants. An oasis of peace in the bustling city – make sure to check out the various kinds of cacti.


Photo: Chris/Flickr

Villa Toepliz, Lombardy

In Varese, not far from Lake Como, you'll find this gorgeous park – one of the best examples of an Italian villa-park the country has to offer. Relax and enjoy the flowerbeds, fountains and trees, including some exotic species such as Himalayan cedars. Entry is free!

 

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Castello Miramare, Trieste

The 19th-century castle alone is reason enough to visit, but its 22 hectare grounds include awe-inspiring cliffside views, tropical plants, and flower displays. 

Photo: fugzu/Flickr

Villa Visconti Borromeo Litta, Lombardy

If you're using Milan as a base, consider a trip to Lianate to take in this hidden gem, little known among tourists. Don't miss the grotto dedicated to water nymphs, or the recently restored greenhouse, and consider taking a guided tour to learn about the history of the 16th-century villa.

 

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Parco Giardino Sigurtà, Veneto

Try out the maze, take in the landscaped gardens, and introduce your children to the farm animals at this serene spot, which is Italy's largest garden. Explore all 60 hectares on foot, by bike or on the tourist train – make sure you allow plenty of time.

Photo: Gabriele Vincenzi/Flickr

Giardino Buonaccorsi, Le Marche

These gardens were painstakingly mapped out in the 1700's, following principles of symmetry and geometry – and they remain faithful to the original design. They're free to visit, and you'll be treated to intriguing statues, views for miles, and original automata, making for an unforgettable day out.

 

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Gardino dei Giusti, Verona

Name-checked by German literary giant Goethe, these gardens in the romantic northern city are a must-visit. It was designed to celebrate contrasts and evoke both horror and harmony. You'll find a grotto, myriad water features, and a tower – climb it for views over the entire city.

Photo: Radomir Cernoch/Flickr

Rose Gardens, Rome

Opposite the Circo Massimo lies the Roman Rose Garden, first created in the 1930s and home to over 1000 varieties of roses. It's an ideal setting for a romantic stroll, but hides a darker past: the area once formed part of Rome's Jewish Ghetto, and housed the Jewish cemetery. Look closely and you'll see that the footpaths form the shape of a menorah in a nod to the district's past.

Photo: Yannick Carer/Flickr

Giardini La Mortella, Ischia

If you're visiting bustling Naples or tourist-haven Capri, consider taking the time to explore their lesser-known neighbour Ischia, and this garden in particular. It's got plenty of character, with great views and a wide variety of plants. Music performances often take place here too, offering a treat for all the senses.

Giardini di Villa Monastero, Lake Como

You'll want to wander round these beautiful botanic gardens for hours, and they're incredibly photogenic. Plants from almost all over the world are able to grow here, and you can enjoy views over the lake.

Photo: Stew Dean/Flickr

Giardino di Ninfa, Lazio

You'll need to book a tour to see these gardens, and the guides will explain the history behind this magical spot. Prepare to be enchanted: Ninfa was at one time a busy medieval town, but was abandoned after a series of woes including struggles for ownership and a malaria outbreak. It wasn't until the 1900's that they were rediscovered and transformed into a botanical garden. Today, plants are entwined with the ruins, and you can cross the castle's moat to see inside. The only downside is that it can be tricky to get there – opening hours are limited and it's tough to reach from Rome on public transport.

 

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Castello Ruspoli, Lazio

Yet another option for a day trip from Rome can be found in Viterbo at the magnificent Castello Ruspoli. The property still belongs to the ancient noble family, but you can explore the amazing Renaissance garden and relax by the plants and fountains.

Photo: Julia Maudlin/Flickr

Giardino Botanico Lama degli Ulivi, Puglia

Located in the town of Monopoli, the gnarled olive trees are the centre-piece of this garden. In total there are over 2000 species of plants from across the globe, and you should make sure you check out the incredible rock churches too.

 

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Hanbury Botanic Gardens

Last but not least, it's another botanic garden, this one owned by Genoa's university. In addition to the incredible range of plants, you can see a Roman road, mosaics, grottos, and an unusual bronze dragon.

Photo: Tim Hage/Flickr

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This article was first published in March 2017.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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