Terry Rakolta has no trouble reeling off words to describe what she desired for her South Florida waterfront property, a wedge-shaped half-acre mostly swallowed up by a Mediterranean-style villa. "I wanted charming, romantic, mysterious, Old World," she says. Rakolta and her husband, John, who use the property as a winter getaway, often joined by their four children and four—soon to be five—grandchildren, also wanted more privacy.
Contemporary Swiss artists Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger design site-specific installations that envelop the viewer—epically and exquisitely. Falling Garden is a world in which botanical curios are suspended from the ceiling of a 17th-century church in Venice. It's a botanic tableau in three dimensions, against a backdrop of richly decorated Italian marble. The piece immerses visitors in a magical reality of dreamy conceits—if a blossom had a mind, this is surely what it would look like.
Saint Francis of Assisi is surrounded with stories of his legendary sway over nature: the spellbound birds, the tamed wolf, the obeisant fish. That's not all—the people of Rimini, Italy, will tell you that the patron saint of animals and ecology also spoke to the trees—at least, to a cypress tree (Cupressus sempervirens) that grows in the hilltop city of Verucchio. It is 800 years old—one of the oldest cypress trees in Europe—and, it is said, improbably grown by Saint Francis himself. Today, the ancient cypress still stands in the cloister that emerged around the tree.
The Tenuta Banna castle, with the tallest tower in Piedmont, Italy, belongs to one of the region's most beautiful estates, and its setting is the stuff of fairy tales. It presides over a lake that reflects the pale-yellow intonaco — a special kind of plaster that turns any surface into a canvas — and many small gardens where infinite roses bloom from summer through fall. It is the very evocation of a Titian painting. Twelve miles south of Torino, Tenuta Banna (tenuta means “estate” in Italian) revels in its past as much as it looks toward the future.