There’s a garden on a hillside overlooking Florence where it feels like you’ve struck the pot of gold—and all the colours of the rainbow. This art park is the life’s work of Alice Esclapon de Villeneuve, who started to expand the family’s plot of land just off viale Michelangelo on the occasion of her daughter’s birth over 20 years ago. Finding the art park is something of a treasure hunt, however, hence the enlistment of bilingual guide Elena Fulceri for tours in Italian or English.
Heading up the staircase hemmed in an ancient bulwark of Florence is the opposite of Alice tumbling down the rabbit’s hole (we ascend, she fell). The Wonderland effect is very much the same nevertheless, once we emerge into the bucolic Garden with a View dotted every which way with silver-green olive trees. First up is the Plum Tower, which welcomes with city views and prettily planted fruit trees in a round. You really want to walk round and round the top of the tower, intoxicated by the spring birdsong and myriad perfumes that waft effortlessly through the air. In the end, you follow your nose elsewhere, past brightly painted birdhouses and a stylish ceramic fish in an aquamarine bathtub towards the golden-domed Old Lodge, whose walls are concealed in their entirety by a verdant climbing fig.
While I’m tempted to seclude myself away in the narrow space and handwrite this piece seated at the tiny table and chairs within, a wrought-iron family tree proudly emblazoned on a gate lures me over with its generations of names. After all, Alice’s boundless creativity is driven by the desire to “gift something to my daughter”; indeed, it is Serle’s voice that visitors hear on the downloadable app activated by standing on the metallic fish that guide you through the art park, although the overall aim is to encourage ambling “in a healing garden where there’s peace and balance. I made you a world and I want to help you to be yourself,” Alice explains.
The next few of the 26 installations blend together in a holistic coexistence: Grandma’s cherished little garden with rosemary bushes and old bedframes painted in red with wooden benches to sit on; Figpalm Square, centred on Allegra Esclapon de Villeneuve’s curvaceous and anthropomorphic Ode to the Sun sculpture, dotted with bright yellow lanterns; and the Fountain of Extraordinary Drops, which, despite the trickling sound of water, remains static with ceramic balls in varying shades of blue and silver (and the occasional ceramic fish).
Lilac is in full blossom by the Tamarix Household. An emerald door stands ajar, beckoning us inside the roofless room with a tamerica tree in the very centre. Here, the “furniture”—an armchair and a bed—is enclasped in seashells with a metal Mr T on one side. The effect is oddly soothing, esoteric but rooted in the reality of nature. More steps entice me up the hillside, embraced by the spring scent of roses, as the Blue Cat Sailer comes into view, a hammock turned sailing ship with a gingko biloba tree (look it up) as a mast. The Reading Lounge sees a bench encircling an olive tree and the modern cultural sight of faux Harry Potter and Narnia titles nestled beside the rose bushes and boxwood hedges.
The lightest of breezes sends white petals scattering like confetti on the wooden steps that lead to the Clubhouse, whose eclectic interior design and warm welcome, complete with coffee and pastries, yields yet more insight into Alice’s multifaceted mind. The day is coming to a close as I sit on a red metal rocking chair in the warm April sun. The Duomo stands solidly in the distance, a reassuring presence in an ever-changing world, where nature deserves to rule the roost, just like the glamorous hens in Alice’s regal chicken coop.
The name of Alice’s exclusive botanical park, Garden With a View, skims the surface of what this extraordinary place provides: a haven, a reset and a renaissance of earthly priorities, plus an infinite number of fun discoveries.
Visit the garden with The Florentine!
Readers of The Florentine can enjoy a 90-minute guided tour of Garden With A View for the special rate of 25 euro, which includes admission and tour in English with the official garden guide Elena Fulceri.
Wednesday, May 18, 10am + Tuesday, May 24, 3pm
Maximum 15 persons per tour
Bookings and more details by email: firstname.lastname@example.org