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Visit Italy: A Southern Italian Treasure in Caserta
Summer is the time for travel. Perhaps you are starting to plan a vacation to bell' Italia. Every so often, from now through August, I will offer a quick snapshot of must-see sites in the Motherland. Even if you can't make it to the Continent, you can always dream in Italian.
JULY 4, 2004 – Just outside of gritty Napoli in Caserta lies Italy's version of Versailles. An emulation of the decadent French palace, La Reggia di Caserta is about the size of three soccer fields with 1,790 windows. Carlo III di Borbone, then-king of the two Sicilies, commissioned architect Luigi Vanvitelli to construct the palace in the mid-1700s.
Today, La Reggia di Caserta stands in stark contrast to the passing traffic and billboards in its periphery. After a tour through the palace's interior – from the exquisite arched ceiling at the entrance to the living quarters to the libraries – you'll find yourself outside. If you have ever been to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., you'll feel like it's déjà vu. Known simply as the gardens, the area between the palace exit and the waterfall looks very similar to the area between the Lincoln and Washington monuments. Both include reflecting pools (but the one in Caserta is a man-made pond replete with fish and swans). This is not surprising since the design features many French influences as does most of D.C.
The trek from the palace to the waterfall is worth taking. But this is Italy, so do as the Neapolitans and walk at a leisurely pace. The natives like to pack picnic lunches and eat on one of the large patches of grass in between ornate fountains that are situated along the path toward the waterfall finale. One of the more interesting fountains includes statues depicting the myth of Actaeon and Diana.
When you get closer to the magnificent waterfall, you'll notice an English garden tucked away and protected by a locked gate on the right side. Ask about tour times and you can enter the fragrant and lush garden with its typically British design. The tree log benches and willowing branches add to the romantic ambiance. If you're lucky, you'll see an Italian bride and groom stealing a smooch for the photographer. Wish them “Cent' anni” and make your way to the magnificent waterfall. Be sure to snap your own photos for the vacation album.
The natives also play pick-up games of soccer in the gardens, so watch out for flying balls, especially if you decide to lay out under the tempting sun. Bring plenty of water and sun block on those particularly hot summer days. If you're with someone who can't make the walk, even with those rests, then you can pay for a horse and carriage ride up to the waterfall. Either way, a trip to La Reggia will have you feeling like royalty.
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