Villa della Pergola
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
The history of Villa della Pergola is thickly intertwined with the very birth of winter holidays in Alassio for English tourists. In 1875, two Scots, George Henderson Gibb and General William Montagu Scott McMurdo, were the first foreigners, together with their families, to spend an entire winter in Alassio. The following year, they bought two large estates – Park Fuor del Vento and Molino di Sopra – on the Alassio hill, in the village of Costa.
In 1908, writer William Scott described those very places in his historical-artistic guide “The Riviera” – he actually introduced them as “one of the wonders of the Riviera”. In 1925, Alfred Hitchcock chose this place for some scenes of his first film “The pleasure garden”. In 1957, Oscar-winning Guy Green filmed “The Snorkel” – starring Betta St. John, Peter Van Eyck and Mandy Miller – in Villa Pergola.
Then again, in the 1960s and 1970s, the smaller building annexed to the villa was writer and painter Carlo Levi’s studio. Finally, in 1903 the city of Alassio inspired musician Edward Elgar for his symphonic composition “In the South Alassio”.
Scottish General McMurdo built Villino della Pergola (the smaller building) on a stretch of land which used to be a property of the Counts of Lengueglia. He called it “Napier House” honouring his father-in-law, General Sir Charles Napier whose statue stands on Trafalgar Square, London.
The villa was built according to British-Indian taste and styles of that time. That is to say, it was designed as British ex-pats in India would have absolutely loved. It featured three floors and a big porch similar to those of British diplomats’ abodes in Malaysia and India.
In 1880, the McMurdo family started building the main structure – Villa della Pergola. Larger than the first one and set on a slightly less elevated position, it was built with eclectic taste: that is, once again designing a large porch, but at the same time inserting elements of greater value such as the dome, covered in polychrome majolica from Albisola, a lot of marble, and the fountain near the staircase. The McMurdos also designed the surrounding park. It was originally intended as an extension of the villa interior towards the land and the sea; thus, it was built on several terraces, planting sloping lines of olive and orange trees, along with palm trees from the Canary Islands, fan palms and date palms. Cypresses were added since the British ex-pats in Florence happened to love those very same trees along the beautiful roads of Tuscany and its landscape.
When General McMurdo died in Nice, in 1894, his property was sold by his family to Sir Walter Hamilton-Dalrymple, a wealthy Baronet from North Berwick, Scotland. So, in 1908, Willian Scott’s “The Riviera” guidebook mentioned the villa as “A true competitor to Thomas Hanbury’s Giardini della Mortola, Villa della Pergola, now owned by Sir Walter Hamilton-Dalrymple, appears as the perfect mix of exquisite gardening, true love for nature, and professional design. One of the wonders of the Riviera”.
The Dalrymples owned the property until 1922, then their ninth Baronet, Sir Hew Clifford Hamilton-Dalrymple, sold it to Daniel Hanbury, the second son of Sir Thomas Hanbury (the owner of Giardini della Mortola). The latter, a successful businessman, had already realised the potential of Alassio as a winter climatic resort, foreseeing the same popularity which had struck Menton, Bordighera and San Remo. Therefore, upon dying in 1907, he left his son Daniel the full management of his real estate activities Alassio.
Needless to say, the Hanbury family worked very hard to complete the garden of this villa, moving here many plant species from Giardini della Mortola, such as South-American cactaceous specimens, cycads, Australian eucalyptus, and many other exotic beauties. The garden was thus dramatically improved.
At the outbreak of WWII, the Hanburys moved back to the UK, along with many other ex-pats living in Liguria.
Daniel, now a widower, married Ruth Hardinge of another English family from Alassio.
The Hanburys were able to get back here only in 1946, they promptly resume their work on the garden, but Daniel passed away only two years later: the man behind Alassio’s new fortune was gone forever. His wife moved to Villa della Pergola, gathering a much smaller group of former ex-pats.
She often threw glamorous parties in the spring, during the blossoming of wisterias. Amongst her guests, novelist Cecil Roberts wrote a book on Alassio – “Portal to Paradise”, while the Bishop of Gibraltar stayed with Ruth on more than one occasion.
In 1925, Alfred Hitchcock chose the park and the nearby beach for some scenes of “The pleasure garden”. In 1957, Oscar-winning Guy Green filmed “The Snorkel” – starring Betta St. John, Peter Van Eyck and Mandy Miller – in Villa della Pergola. Then again, in the 1960s and 1970s, the smaller building annexed to the villa was writer and painter Carlo Levi’s studio. He beautifully portrayed Alassio in many of his paintings.
THE PARK TODAY
Restored by Paolo Pejrone, the park covers an area of some 5.5 acres and it’s famous for its true wealth of evergreen Mediterranean and tropical vegetation. There are maritime pines, carobs, olive trees, cypresses, Lebanon cedars, oaks, citrus fruits, eucaliptus, jacarandas, monkey puzzles, giant strelitzias, dicksonias, and palms.
Next to them, there are some beautiful cactaceous plants from every part of the world, clockvines, meadowsweets, oakleaf hydrangeas, oleanders, geraniums, bougainvilleas, thornapples, bignonias, nightshades, and jasmines – a true feast for the senses of any visitors.
There are also hundreds of species of lilies of the Nile, some romantic lady banks’ roses, as well as bougainvilleas and wisterias. Pink water lilies, already grown by the British owners, and blue tropical water lilies (recently planted), flourish in several fountains and rocky lakes.
In the ancient rainwater tanks, still used today for irrigation, there are many suggestive nymphaea nelumbos.
Canary Island date palms (Phoenix canariensis) were used to decorate many terraces of the estate. The main one, opposite the villa, features a centuries-old gum tree, while another one next to the smaller building is covered by the lawn.
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
Via Privata Montagu 9 - Alassio(SV)
Il biglietto d'ingresso, comprensivo di accompagnamento, costa 12 euro, ma10 euro per i soci FAI, 6 euro per le scolaresche ed Ã¨ gratuito per i bambini fino ai 6 anni accompagnati da un adulto.
Visite guidate su prenotazione, dal 29 marzo a fine ottobre, il sabato e la domenica. Durante la settimana Ã¨ possibile prenotare visite solo per gruppi.