Located at the French and Italian border, the Handbury Gardens cover most of Capo Mortola with their 45 acres (18 hectares), half of which are cultivated as gardens and the rest being native vegetation. Thomas Handbury purchased the land in 1867, together with the ruins of an 11th century, « Palazzo Orengo », with a fortune acquired in China from trading in silk, cotton and tea. Ludwig Winter designed the new gardens before Thomas’ daughter in law, Dorothy Handbury brought important changes to the gardens between 1925 and 1939. Sadly, the property suffered heavy damages during the war. It was later sold to the Italian State (1960) and then entrusted to the university of Genoa (1987).
5800 ornamental, medicinal or fruiting species from all over the world were patiently collected and planted by the Handburys, starting from 150 years ago and it is a delightful pleasure of discovering each of them along winding paths across the property.
What a splash of color this Firecracker Plant (Russelia Equisetiformis) generously emotes! You would like the same at home ?
This fountain, Fonta Nirvana, dates back to 1872 and was planned by Ludwig Winter. It is amazing how these Agaves Attenuata grow right out of the wall ! Apparently these species didn’t need to develop thorns for defense because they live naturally on rock faces.
How primitive these specimen look !
Or even funny with their large robes… These are Dasylirion Serratifoliums.
While emanating from most continents, it is obvious that these plants thrive in Handbury as a result of the mild Mediterranean climate, the shelter provided by the nearby mountains and the proximity of the sea. Many specimens are really of impressive size
This charming temple ‘Tempietto’ was brought here in 1947 from another property of the Handbury family located in England. Thomas Handbury’s daughter in law, Dorothy Symons-Jeune is buried beneath it.
And we have arrived at the romantic Mermaid fountain
Passing through an ancient gateway leading to the piazza of the Palazzo, we can admire the flamboyant trumpet vines adorning the pergolas.
The Palazzo was built by a junior member of a Milanese family, the Lanteri, after returning from the First Crusade in the 11th century. Queen Victoria even came for a visit in the 19th century.
On the piazza is this impressive Japanese Bell dated 1764, which comes from a Buddhist temple
From the South Terrace of the Palazzo, we have a sweeping view over the Mediterranean Sea from the bay of Latte to Ventimiglia and Bordighera.
This beautiful pergola, Topia, with stone pillars welcomes a rich selection of plants of the Bignonia family : Campsis Radicans, Campsis Grandiflora and many others
What a delight for the eyes !
Another romantic pathway
Leading to the Cypress avenue, which crosses the whole garden and constitutes the central part of the original access to the Palazzo, when the entrance was on the ancient Roman road.
This Moorish Kiosk was built in 1886 by the architect Pio Soli. Beneath lie the ashes of Thomas Handbury and his wife.
The Cypress Walk then leads us to the bridge over the Roman road : this road, which is commonly called Via Aurelia, is actually the Via Julia Augusta, an important line of communication finished in 12 BC that connected Tortona to Aix en Provence.
What a nice way to ornate the steps : a bouquet of Shrimp Plants (Justicia Brandegeana) and Firecracker Plants (Russelia Equisetiformis) on each side
Beautiful specimens of Angel’s Trumpets (Brugmansia) from south America and used for their therapeutic and psychedelic purposes during religious ceremonies.
A majestic Acaccia Karro ‘Hayne’ with its grapes of gold mimosa-looking flowers
Starring in the middle of the Dragon Fountain is a Japanese bronze that Sir Thomas brought from Kyoto. It is surrounded by papyrus (Cyperus Papyrus) whose stalks were used by the Egyptians to make paper. If you are lucky, you will even see some turtles lazily enjoying the rays of sunshine
In the opening of an old cave is the Slave, a marble statue from the school of the famous Italian sculptor Antonio Canova.
Across the path, the Mediterranean Sea
What a fantastic property ! Definitively worth a visit. But make sure you wear the right shoes ! There are lots of ups and downs !