Villa Astor, bought and restored by William Waldorf Astor between 1905 and 1908, sits high above the Bay of Naples on a rocky outcrop dotted with deep grottos. Surrounding the property is an elaborate botanical garden filled with classical and Renaissance antiquities.
About William Waldorf Astor
Born on March 31, 1848, diplomat, financier, author, publisher and real estate magnate, William Waldorf Astor, was heir to one of the richest estates in America. Politically ambitious, he moved to England in 1890 after a stint in New York state legislation and three years as U.S. minister to Italy. He bought Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire followed by Hever Castle in Kent which he conscientiously restored.
Built in the late nineteenth century, Villa Astor (or Villa Sirena as it was known then) was purchased by William Waldorf Astor in 1905. He spent time restoring the villa at great expense, adding wainscoting, parquet floors, and hand-painted ceilings in every room. He then set about creating a botanical and cloister garden to display his extensive sculpture collection. Winters were spent at Villa Astor until the outbreak of World War I prevented him from travelling across Europe to reach his beloved Italian retreat. In October 1919, William Waldorf was looking forward to returning to Villa Astor; tragically he died on the evening of his departure.
“Sorrento is a place I have known and delighted in for thirty-five years and, so far is beauty is concerned, it is as near Paradise as anything I expect to see.”William Waldorf Astor
After Astor’s death, the Italian government declared that, due to their cultural value, the sculpture collections and gardens should remain protected and attached to the villa. During World War II, the property was requestioned by the British and American occupying forces as a command centre and to house the anti-Fascist leader Benedetto Croce.
In the 1970s, the villa was purchased by the shipping magnate Mariano Pane and his glamorous wife Rita. Under their ownership, it became one of the most sought-after destinations on the Amalfi coast, hosting many visitors of international fame including Princess Margaret.
Recently, the villa’s owners commissioned renowned French designer,Jacques Garcia, to restore the house to its original splendour. With his extensive knowledge gathered from historical restorations in Italy and France, Garcia combines classic elegance with deeply traditional Italian style. Astor’s world-class sculpture collection can be seen throughout the reception rooms which are furnished with antique pieces by the best Italian and French craftsmen.
The Botanical Garden
Astor’s original garden combined English naturalistic landscaping with Italian tradition. Conceived and created on a landscape of citrus and olive groves surrounding the rocky outcrop on which the villa stood, the garden benefited from the afternoon sun in winter and cool, northern breezes in the summer.
“Violets and verbana and honeysuckle and sunflowers are in protusion, so that the air is fragrant with the odours of that century”.William Waldorf Astor
On the western side of the villa is an expansive, sunny lawn overlooking the sea and Mount Vesuvius. Enchanting mossy paths provide shade and there are several cactus gardens across the property. Busts of ancient deities are placed on an intricately carved antique balustrade in Siena marble, whilst the imposing statue of Neptune sits on a fluted pedestal. Today the garden has reached its full maturity. On display are more than one thousand plant species from exotic flowers and medicinal plants to a palm collection.