The Quintessence of La Dolce Vita by Uta Abendroth | 11th December, 2015 | Prime Properties
All the joys of the Italian zest for life form a crescendo here on the ‘Castello di Mortola’ estate near Mortola Inferiore on the Italian Riviera. Two buildings, a Saracen tower dating from 1500 and a house built in 1700, are set here within 15,000 square metres of botanical garden. Unobstructed sea views are the order of the day, along with utter peace and tranquillity. Quite amazing to think that Monte Carlo is just half an hour’s drive from here.
My whole life has revolved around ‘La Mortola’ for 23 years now,” says Carlo Maria Maggia. “I first set eyes on the property in 1992 and found it incredibly beautiful. But it wasn’t up for sale …” It was to be another eleven years before the moment came when he was able to call this plot with its old Saracen tower dating from 1500 and the main house, some 200 years its junior, his own. “It was somehow fate that ownership fell to me in the end after all,” says the international landscape architect with a grin. “This is not merely a house, it is much much more!” A fleeting glance out from one of the terraces suffices to know precisely what Carlo means. Beauty is the only thing in sight, far and wide. There is the glistening Mediterranean off the Ligurian Coast. To the east lies Capo San Ampelio, with the Côte d’Azur and the hills of Cap Estérel to the west. And just at the foot of Carlo’s plot lies the ‘Giardini Botanici Hanbury’, an 18-hectare botanical garden created by the Englishman Thomas Hanbury with the help of the Heidelberg botanist Ludwig Winter at the end of the 19th century. Winter imported plants from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand and California, and some 2,000 Mediterranean, tropical and sub-tropical plant species now grow here. Since 2006, the garden has been a UNESCO world cultural heritage site.
When Signore Maggia acquired the buildings and the plot on Cape Mortola in 2003, everything was in a dire state of neglect. “A team of ten of us worked for six years in total, renovating everything from the ground up,” he recalls. “The restoration of the buildings alone took two years, and another four years to create the garden.” The finished result is spectacular. Every single plant that grows here is testimony to Carlo’s love of nature, and the interiors with their infinitely creative designs are also reflective of this sensibility. In a bathroom in the Saracen tower, for example, thousands of shells adorn the walls instead of tiles. The red hue in several different rooms seems inspired by the nuances of corals, whilst the blue in the bedroom with the reclaimed fishing boat that serves as a bed is deep and vivid like the sea stretching to the horizon.
“Everything here is so unusual and special. ‘La Mortola’ is far more than just a house. Living here is a joy!” Carlo Maria Maggia
From this idyll in Imperia it seems almost implausible that Monte Carlo could be just a stone’s throw from here, and Nice and Sanremo only around half an hour’s drive away. “The location here on the hillside means that maximum privacy is guaranteed,” says Carlo. “The special atmosphere here is ideal for recharging one’s batteries and devoting one’s thoughts entirely to the beauty of the surroundings. This is a place where life is one pleasure after the next.” The owner certainly knows what he is talking about. The creative botanist is sure that he changed his life for this home. The two buildings are filled with the results of his inventive vision, that are just as ingenious as they are whimsical. Carlo has been able to give his design ideas free reign over some 460 square metres in total. He has unearthed and sourced old buildings materials – sometimes going to enormous lengths – to ensure refurbishment of the house and tower true to the original style. He created individual bedrooms where one imagines floating on water or being in a castle, and furnished salons with something of a loft-like character, whilst other rooms exude all the charm of an exotic grotto. From a conservatory on the first floor of the tower, the changing colours of the trees, shrubs, herbaceous borders and flowerbeds in the 15,000 square metre garden can be observed at any time of the year. A garden that ranks amongst the most important private gardens in Italy.
In the past, ‘Castello di Mortola’ served as an old defence post on the Ligurian border. There were countless towers of this kind along the coast 500 years ago, but only a few of them have survived. On the ground floor is the kitchen and dining room, while the first floor plays host to the conservatory, a bedroom and a study plus a bathroom. The second floor accommodates two bedrooms and a walk-in closet – as well as access to the roof terrace.
The house, built on the plot some two hundred years after the tower, affords additional interior space. A large living room on the ground floor forms the entrance. From the terrace stretching along the entire breadth of the building, the view sweeps over the sea, an impressive panorama. The salon features an open plan kitchen and a dining area, with two bedrooms and a bathroom just off this space. The lower ground level with its vaulted ceiling looks out directly into the garden. Besides a kitchen and a bathroom, one large room envelopes this entire floor. The roof of the house forms a terrace of around 130 square metres in size, which is ideal both as an outdoor fitness space and for throwing unforgettable parties. “The castello is a synthesis of the arts, a kind of chamber of marvels,” exclaims Carlo, who has been painting in oil ever since his grandmother, an artist, began teaching him at the ripe old age of eight. “With each one of the alterations I have made here though, I have always respected the age and the rich heritage of the buildings.” Just one example here is the wooden floor in the house dating from circa 1700, which is another two hundred years older than the building itself.
The garden, quite apart from the 10,000 plants that Carlo has planted here himself – including some 1,000 aloe plants alone with their thick succulent leaves and unusual blossoms – is a picturesque paradise. Whatever the time of day or year, the perfect spot always awaits on one of terraces and seating areas on the various levels of the grounds – some shady, some sunny, some hidden and sheltered, others with open views of the sea. Be it for a relaxing break, an al fresco meal, everything is possible … and the sea is just a short walk away through the lush vegetation. Carlo Maria Maggia is moving on once again, driven by a desire to devote himself to new projects and see once more what fate has in store for him. UA
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