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The Reggia di Caserta (Palazzo Reale di Caserta)
The ‘Italian Versailles’ is the phrase most often heard when referencing this splendid royal palace and its vast gardens. Whisper it quietly, but many would have it that the gardens are finer than those at Versailles, in no little part due to the 3 kilometre long series of pools and fountains that run to the rear of the palace and terminate in an 80 metre waterfall surrounded by statues and fountains.
The park and gardens were built for the Bourbon kings of Naples and, during the 18th century, stood as one of the largest buildings in Europe - it was undoubtedly the largest palace and, indeed, still is, covering an area approaching 50,000 square metres! As of 1997 the palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The frontage is far from ornate and indeed it is the interiors and the gardens to the rear that wear the opulence - the interiors have been seen in various films, Star Wars: Episodes 1 & 2 perhaps being the jewel in the crown. Not all of the interiors are open to the public, but you’ll not want to miss the Royal Apartments, the Stairway of Honour and the enormous Throne Room.
Perhaps consider allowing an hour to 90 minutes inside the palace - the gardens merit several hours, some would say the best part of a day. They truly are vast - you can explore on bicycle or take a minibus to the top of the waterways and walk back down to the palace.
The palace opens at 8.30 in the morning, closing at 7.30 PM, with last admission at 6.45 PM.
The gardens also open at 8.30 in the morning but have a closing time that varies according to time of year as follows - last admission is an hour before the times below (the English Gardens close 30 minutes before that and are always closed if weather is poor).
January and February: 3.30 PM
March: 5.00 PM
April: 7.00 PM
May: 6.00 PM
June to September: 7.00 PM
October: 5.30 PM
November & December: 3.30 PM
Reggia di Caserta, guided tours
There are various tours of the Royal Palace and gardens on offer, a mix of different themes and routes. All tours last 90 minutes - perhaps a bit more - and may be booked for groups of 2 to 11 people. These are private tours, and the price reflects that, though clearly the price per head comes down as group sizes increases.
Tour of historic apartments (A)
A tour that will take you to the most sumptuous and refined of the Royal Apartments, the private and intimate spaces used by royalty of old. You’ll be told about the people who used to live in the Palace, how they lived, and how Charles of Bourbon and the architect designed and implemented the decorations and interiors to further their immortal memory. A highlight is a visit to the Quadreria Reale - Royal Gallery - with its precious collection of works of art, commissioned by royalty or belonging to the area. Should there be any temporary exhibitions taking place then your tour will cover them also.
‘History of art’ tour (B)
A tour that aims to introduce the visitor to some of the palace’s more original - and curious - works of art and artistic aspects. Your group may express an interest in, say, portraits or frescoes or decorated ceilings and the tour will adapt to fit tastes and interests. It may well be that a temporary exhibition is something that your group would like to explore - that too is possible. It follows that your tour guide will be an expert on the artistic wonders of this incredible place.
Tour of the park & English Garden (C)
The park and gardens of the Reggia are dominated by the central waterway, immaculately framed by ancient oaks, a splendid backdrop to both the palace and the splendid final waterfall and fountains. The English Garden sits atop all, a magical space created for Queen Maria Carolina with its rare plants and majestic pines. Your guide will explain the story of the gardens, introduce some of the great trees and fine plantings as well as the landscape architecture and, above all, the waterworks.
Hidden treasures tour (D)
A tour that goes off the beaten track to explore the usually unseen areas of the palace, spaces not covered by other tours. A great example would be the Elliptical Vault that covers the ‘Staircase of Honour’, unusual attic space that was once home to court musicians and hidden accommodation during the 2nd World War. Other places visited include the Court Theatre, a splendid example of 18th century theatrical design, and the helicoidal staircase. And then there’s the garden and waterways, also covered by the tour, with a trek up to the start of the waterway and the Carolina Aquaduct; from this vantage point you’ll have a very special view over the entire palace and gardens, with the Bay of Naples off in the distance.