Gardens of Ninfa
The beautiful Gardens of Ninfa (Giardini di Ninfa) are located in the Lazio region of Italy, about 40 miles south-east of Rome. Known mostly to garden enthusiasts, Ninfa and its unique setting are still a fairly well-kept secret. Getting to Ninfa is a challenge, if you don't have a car, but the garden is worth the effort.
Ninfa was a substantial town going back to the times of the Romans. However, during the Middle Ages the town was squabbled over, sacked, beset by malaria and eventually Ninfa was abandoned to the elements. A neglected part of the estate of the aristocratic Caetani family, Ninfa was left to slumber until the twentieth century when descendents transformed the town's ruins into a botanical garden. The last owner, Lelia Caetani, left the garden to a foundation who now run the site.
Now plants wind over ruined towers and walls, rejoicing in the lush damp conditions. The setting is indescribably atmospheric, with roses scrambling for footholds in ruined archways, and the frescoed church wall still standing open to the weather. Roses, banana trees, maples and resident ducks thrive in the microclimate of Ninfa. The dampness of the location, under the hills facing the coastal plain, leads to an unusual mixture of species.
Ninfa has extremely limited opening times, unless you are booking ahead for a large group. Standard opening is the first weekend and third Sunday of each month (April to October), with some variation. The gardens close for a couple of hours at lunchtime. Full details of opening dates and times are available on the official website (see links panel). Entrance costs €10. You can buy tickets in advance, in Rome at Palazzo Caetani, Via Botteghe Oscure 32, although the Caetani Foundation states that pre-booking is not essential for the public opening dates. The garden can only be seen on a guided tour, so you may find yourself tagging along with an Italian-only group.
After the end of the guided tour, you can also visit - at a small extra cost - the walled garden at the foot of the old fortress. Grapefruits dangle from trees in a small orchard and you can enter the castle ruins over the moat where ducks and swans glide.
If you are visiting Ninfa by public transport, the best method is to take a train to Latina (half an hour from Rome). The station (which is actually at Latina Scalo, 9km from Latina itself) is the closest to Ninfa. Infrequent local bus services will take you
a little nearer your destination, but the simplest method is to take a taxi. The taxi bay outside the thirties-style station is clearly labelled, and white taxis arrive and depart frequently. The taxis use a meter for the fare, which is around 12-14 euros each way. Make arrangements to be picked up afterwards, or take the number of the station taxi rank so that you can call for a taxi back.
If you want to read about Ninfa in advance, or to reminisce after your visit, there is a detailed book all about the garden available from Amazon:
> Ninfa: The Most Romantic Garden in the World
by Charles Quest-Ritson