Rome Day Trips: Why You Need To Visit Villa d’Este

There are many fabulous day trips you can take from Rome. I had been wanting to check out Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) and Villa d’Este for ages, and this past summer I finally made my way there.

Villa d’Este is a story of extreme wealth, corruption, and the Catholic Church, three fabulously suited bedfellows. The more you research the various Popes and Cardinals the more you wonder where all this chastity and celibacy and saying Hail Mary’s for bad deeds comes from. They certainly weren’t living it!

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The Villa

Villa d’Este is a 16th century villa built by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, one of the wealthiest cardinals of them all. During this time when the church ruled everything and there was no free press to report the goings on, Popes and Cardinals were marrying and having mistresses and orgies and generally getting up to no good. D’Este had a wife and 4 sons, which I find endlessly entertaining.

view of the gardens of Villa d'Este in Tivoli
The view from one of the balconies at Villa d’Este in Tivoli

He took an enormous amount of land from the locals to build his spectacular villa, and robbed no end of marble and travertine from Hadrian’s place down the hill. At one point he had 12 lawsuits against him, but he didn’t care, he was building his palace anyway.

Frescoed ceilings inside Villa d'Este in Tivoli, outside Rome

The villa would be quite sensational on its own, with its frescoes and mosaics and glorious views. On a clear day from the terrace you can see all the way to St Peter’s Dome.

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The Gardens At Villa d’Este

The most famous part of Villa d’Este are the gardens and their fountains. D’Este diverted the Aniene river to provide water to one of the most spectacular series of fountains and water exhibits you will ever see.

It all happens on several levels, working their way steeply down the hill to the bottom of the garden.

steep pathways work their way down into the gardens at Villa d'Este in Tivoli
Steep pathways work their way down into the gardens at Villa d’Este

All the fountains and water exhibits are powered by water. It is completely brilliant, especially when you factor in the sheer size of the gardens – they are enormous. You will notice too as you move through the garden that all the fountains that line the way have water flowing at the same speed. You don’t see any gushing while others drip, it is all synchronized and balanced.

musical clock in the gardens at Villa d'Este in Tivoli
This is a water powered musical clock that plays Renaissance music at various times during the day.

One highlight is a huge fountain that plays Renaissance music several times per day.

Make sure you find out what time the musical fountain is scheduled to play and time your visit to be in front of it when it does. It is quite incredible!

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As you are walking down to the musical fountain the walls are lined with gargoyle-like sculptures with water flowing out of their mouths.

walkways lined with gargoyle fountains in the gardens at Villa d'Este in Tivoli
Walkways lined with gargoyle fountains in the gardens at Villa d’este
Villa d'Este Tivoli gargoyle fountain close up
Close up of a gargoyle lining the walkway in the gardens at Villa d’Este in Tivoli

Part way down you see two fountains the man of the cloth had made for the pleasure of his sons.

Fountains spraying water from breasts in the gardens of Villa d'Este in Tivoli
The fountain of the boobies in the gardens of Villa d’Este, Tivoli. There are two identical fountains facing one another.

A pair of female creatures with giant boobs from which water arcs out. I wonder if he gave himself a round of Hail Mary’s to make up for it?

Fountain in the gardens at Villa d'Este in Tivoli

You can spend a really lovely afternoon wandering the gardens at Villa d’Este.

Fountain in the gardens at Villa d'Este in Tivoli

They really are a work of art, and are visually astounding from every angle, wherever you are on the property.

Stairway to the gardens at Villa d'Este in Tivoli
Stairway to the gardens at Villa d’Este in Tivoli

The gardens are quite steep. You can take an elevator back up from close to the halfway mark, but you still need to be able to walk well to get to that point. As such I don’t recommend it for anyone with bad knees or hips, or for anyone who has trouble walking.

Villa d’Este is in Tivoli, only 15 miles from Rome.

Day tours combine Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa) in the morning and then Villa d’Este in the afternoon.


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When I was at Villa d’Este Rome was having a very hot spell, so it was nice to take a day outside the city and enjoy the shade as well as the break from the heat.

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