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Off to Europe : GUIDEBOOK : Villas and Their Gardens

March 21, 1993|JUDITH SIMS

Getting there: The Boboli: The park is reachable by bus or by foot in Florence; walk to, or get off at the Ponte Vecchio or the Pitti Palace at the south end of the Ponte Vecchio. Admission about $4.50; open daily 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. November through February, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. March through April and September through October, 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m. May through August.

Sacro Bosco by car: A small road, uncolored, unnamed and unnumbered on Michelin's central Italy map, parallels the A1 tollway south from Orvieto. Stay on the small road to Bomarzo, or exit the A1 tollway at Attigliano and follow signs to Bomarzo. Parco dei Mostrei will be on the right before you hit town. Admission about $8; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Villa Lante by car: Take the small, anonymous road from Bomarzo 10 miles west to Bagnaia, or follow it from Viterbo five miles east to Bagnaia. Villa Lante is in the heart of town, but there are no signs that point to it. Stand in the middle of the main intersection, which is also a large parking lot, and look for the Pizzeria Lante sign; follow it up a tiny dead-end street. Admission about $3.50; the adjacent park is free; noon-6:30 p.m. daily.

Villa d'Este: By tour bus: In Rome, several bus companies offer tours to Tivoli, which can cost as much as $85 (including lunch and a stop at Hadrian's Villa). Check with a tourist information office or with your hotel concierge; some hotels offer a discount on a particular bus tour. By car: Take the S5 (Via Tiburtina) or the A24 east from Rome about 20 miles to Tivoli. The S5 is a clogged and pitted commuter road, but the driving is easy once you are beyond the range of kamikaze Roman drivers. Once in Tivoli, look for the tourist information office on the left; turn into the parking lot just beyond it. Buy a ticket (at least two hours' worth) from a machine and display the ticket on the dashboard. Admission to villa about $4.50 per person; closed Mondays, open 9 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday but the fountains don't begin to play until 10 a.m., usually close down at 1 p.m. and start up again at 2 p.m.

For more information: Entrance fees for gardens do not include brochures or maps. Avoid buying the outdated, poorly written guidebooks hawked to tourists and study the gardens before you visit. Find a copy of "Italian Villas and Their Gardens" by novelist Edith Wharton; first published in 1903 and recently reissued in paperback (Da Capo, $15.95), this is a wonderful introduction to many gardens from Venice to Sicily (Sacro Bosco is not included).

"Gardens of the Italian Villas" by Marella Agnelli (Rizzoli International, $50) is full of glorious color photographs of many gardens, including Villa Lante and Sacro Bosco.

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