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Required Reading: Villa Astor, a Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast

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Required Reading: Villa Astor, a Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast

October 2, 2017

Perched high above Sorrento and overlooking the Bay of Naples, Villa Astor is, quite literally, a peach of a house. With an elegant, neoclassical, soft apricot façade that glows in the Italian light and an enclosed garden protected by fortress-like walls, it’s a house that’s both publicly prominent yet entirely private too. Recently this grand villa received a total internal makeover by French architect Jacques Garcia and thanks to a lavish book to celebrate it, we can all get a glimpse inside this house and its magical garden in Villa Astor: Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast.

Photography by Eric Sander courtesy of Flammarion.

Villa Astor: Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast is $40.37 from Amazon.
Above: Villa Astor: Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast is $40.37 from Amazon.
In the late 19th century, William Waldorf Astor was a politician, writer, and collector but perhaps most famously, he was referred to as the richest man in the world. In Villa Astor, the Right Honorable Lord Astor of Hever explains how his great-grandfather had a life-long love affair with Europe, settling in England and then Italy; in 1905, still grieving after the death of his beautiful wife, Mamie, he bought La Sirena.

It wasn’t his only awe-inspiring property. Astor had a string of incredible homes including Cliveden in Berkshire, England, Two Temple Place (an extraordinary neo-Gothic mansion on London’s Embankment) and Hever Castle, Kent, which had originally been the family home of Anne Boleyn.
Above: It wasn’t his only awe-inspiring property. Astor had a string of incredible homes including Cliveden in Berkshire, England, Two Temple Place (an extraordinary neo-Gothic mansion on London’s Embankment) and Hever Castle, Kent, which had originally been the family home of Anne Boleyn.

But it was La Sirena where Astor would spend his final years. The site has been built on since Roman times, but these homes were destroyed along with Pompeii in 79 CE. By the Middle Ages, there was a monastery; a Dominican order rebuilt the cloister, introducing olives, medicinal herbs, and lemon trees from the Middle East. The Villa itself was built in the late 19th century. Astor bought the adjoining orange grove, then demolished the church and convent that had stood on the grounds, causing a huge furore in the town, before building a Roman villa, the Villa Flora, in their place.

 The gardens evolved as an intoxicating combination of English landscaping and Italian tradition.
Above: The gardens evolved as an intoxicating combination of English landscaping and Italian tradition.

There was already a garden of sorts with citrus and olive groves but Astor added towering palms, trees, and ferns as well as citrus, camellia, wisteria, and an extensive rose garden to create a highly scented micro-climate within the boundaries of the house.

 Astor was already an avid collector of artefacts (he’d installed an entire balustrade from the Villa Borghese at Cliveden), and as soon as he has secured La Sirena he enlisted a team of buyers to secure the incredible sculptures and busts, columns, ironwork, sarcophagi, jars, and amphora that fill the garden.
Above: Astor was already an avid collector of artefacts (he’d installed an entire balustrade from the Villa Borghese at Cliveden), and as soon as he has secured La Sirena he enlisted a team of buyers to secure the incredible sculptures and busts, columns, ironwork, sarcophagi, jars, and amphora that fill the garden.
 The rustic, easy-to-assemble pergola was made of the simplest timber poles and then underplanted with ferns.
Above: The rustic, easy-to-assemble pergola was made of the simplest timber poles and then underplanted with ferns.

Yet despite the precious artefacts this garden has an intimate feeling rather than one of cool grandeur.

 Arguably, Astor’s greatest idea was to built up the sea-facing walls of the villa, which were designed with a series of elegant Gothic arched windows.
Above: Arguably, Astor’s greatest idea was to built up the sea-facing walls of the villa, which were designed with a series of elegant Gothic arched windows.

He may have blocked out the panoramic vista but in so doing he created even more potent framed views out to the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius in the distance. Some of the boundary walls were clad in white marble and others in opus reticulatum that was diagonally laid, mimicking Roman stonework.

 A century on Astor’s garden is an intoxicating collection of more than loading=
Above: A century on Astor’s garden is an intoxicating collection of more than 1,000 plant species including exotic flowers, medicinal plants, palms that has reached full maturity. It’s atmospheric space that is wildly romantic and a fitting legacy for a man who lived an Italian dream.

N.B.: For more design inspiration from Italy’s gardens, see:

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