How do you turn a dry dustbowl of unusable land into the most beautiful garden in Italy? The story of Parco Giardino Sigurtá is almost as incredible as the botanical marvels and historical wonders scattered all around Tiqets’ Most Remarkable Venue for 2020. Dating all the way back to the Renaissance, this sprawling expanse of enchanting flower gardens and tranquil, tamed nature is home to some of the most spectacular large-scale blooms in the world. The 60-hectare park is also home to a multitude of historic monuments and intriguing features that make it one of the unmissable attractions in the Lake Garda region.
To name just a few: there’s one of the world’s most elaborate labyrinths, a famous boulevard of roses framed by a medieval castle, a historic sundial (that’ll be accurate for the next 26,000 years or so), and a gorgeous neo-Gothic castelletto dedicated to the Nobel laureate scientists who used to meet there. There’s also a water lily scene straight out of an Impressionist painting, floating flower beds, rolling meadows, leafy woodland and much more.
But it’s the annual tulip festival that the park is most famous for. Each spring, the Tulipanomania festival sees over one million tulips burst into bloom across the immaculate gardens, in a botanical spectacle that needs to be seen (and smelled!) to be truly appreciated. Awarded ‘most beautiful garden in Italy’, and ‘second-most beautiful garden Europe’, by leading publications, the park has won many more distinctions for its botanical achievements and ecological and cultural impact.
So we weren’t too surprised when the most beautiful Italian garden was also named Tiqets’ Most Remarkable Venue for 2020, based on thousands of overwhelmingly positive customer reviews extolling the impeccable visitor experience provided at this outdoor gem. We caught up with the park’s owner, Count Giuseppe Sigurtá, who was able to give us the inside story of what makes Parco Giardino Sigurtá so special, as well as the fascinating story of how his family rescued this national treasure from disrepair and turned it into the most beautiful garden in Italy.
Meet your insider: Count Giuseppe Sigurtá
Thank you so much for joining us, Giuseppe. Can you tell us a little bit about your role and what it entails?
I’m the owner of the garden (together with my sister). The park has always been a family business; originally it was owned by my uncle, before passing to my father, and now it has been passed to me and my sister. Basically, I coordinate and organise everything in the park, while my sister manages all the events. However in this period with the virus, unfortunately, we cannot currently have any events. So, mainly I take care of everything in the garden, from the marketing to the maintenance and upkeep. Really everything!
What is your favourite part of your role?
The day I wake up in the morning and I’m not happy to go to the office is the day that I need to retire. I love everything that I’m doing here, from the accounting part to meeting our visitors in the gardens to giving interviews to checking the maintenance and doing new projects. I’m really in love with everything that I do here. My role is not really one job, as I have a global view of the entire park from the business side to the botanical, but there is not a part that I love more than another. But if I had to pick one thing that keeps me loving my job, it is to start new projects and come up with new ideas for the park.
How long have you worked at the garden?
I started actually when I was like seven years old, with my father doing everything. I mean, starting from the ticket office to going with my father to do advertisements, taking leaflets to hotels, and, of course, working in the garden itself. So when I started I was really a kid. And since then I have done pretty much all the jobs in the garden, and this is quite cool because when someone comes to me now with a question about any facet of the park, there’s a good chance I know what they’re talking about.
When I started many years ago, the garden was nothing like what it is today. There were very few employees, so my father and I had to do most of the jobs. You can imagine in Italy many of the gardens of the big, beautiful villas were typically owned by people that were really rich. But what happens over the years is they become less rich! Because they have big lands, but the lands are no longer able to provide as much money. So they have less money, so they become less and less able to properly take care of the garden. It’s a snowball effect, and in Italy many of the great gardens have been destroyed as their owners have been less able to afford paying for the maintenance.
Can you talk to us a little bit about the history of the place, and how it came to be the most beautiful Italian garden of them all?
My uncle was a businessman who owned a huge pharmaceutical company. He was living in a place 10km away from where the park is now, but his company headquarters was in Milan. This was 1942 so it was the peak moment of the war, and there was no fuel or cars to travel in, and the nearest railway station was 10km away too.
And so my uncle travelled to a town near here where they made carriages to have one made to his specifications, and when he arrived to pick it up there was still some modification left to do. So the man he hired to work on the carriage suggested to my uncle that in the meantime, he should come and check out a huge nearby garden and property that had been for sale for five years. Maybe he or one of his business associates from Milan might be interested.
My uncle was so impressed with what he saw that he decided to buy not only a carriage that day, but the entire property as well. But, he soon realised why this garden had been on sale for five years and nobody wanted to buy it. There was no water supply! It was a dry land that was pretty much useless.
At first he was resigned to it being a bad business decision, but then one day, a letter arrived containing a fine of 10 Italian Lira. From this fine he learned the property had the right to draw water from a local river. So he paid this fine and constructed a large reservoir to hold the water. This was the beginning of a transformation from a dry abandoned property into a beautiful garden. Nobody was ever so happy to receive a fine!
My family spent the next 40 years transforming the garden, but it became clear that such a large park needed its own source of income in order to maintain its constant upkeep and prevent it falling into disrepair again. And so my uncle decided to open the garden to the public, and so what you see today is this legacy
Based on Tiqets’ customer feedback, Park Sigurtá was named the most remarkable venue in 2020. Apart from being the most beautiful Italian garden, what do you think makes it such a remarkable place to visit?
I’m a perfectionist, so everything I work on has to be perfect. I know that perfection is difficult to achieve, but I think it’s still important to strive for it, particularly these days. Many years ago, there was no internet, but now, everyone has access to so much news and information at the touch of a button, so when something isn’t perfect, people can find out much more easily and quickly – including me. So we take time to answer all online feedback, positive and negative, and in this way we get an accurate sense of what we are doing well and also where we can improve.
Of course, I love it when people say they had a perfect time in the park, but to be honest, I am actually much more interested when they give more specific feedback and suggestions. What really gets my attention is when someone says “I love this park but…”; sometimes that opens my mind to things I maybe haven’t thought about before. Often it is something I have thought of, but I’m always open to interesting suggestions and perspectives. We take our visitors’ feedback very seriously, and anywhere we see where improvements can be made, we make it so. So maybe our hunt for perfection helps make the park a remarkable place.
What are some of the highlights or most Instagrammed/photographed parts of the park?
The most famous picture from the park is the Viale delle Rose (the roses boulevard) with the castle in the background, but these days the maze is something that people are drawn to as well. I designed it myself, so I’m really proud of the reception it has gotten. Also the water lily ponds are loved by everyone, and are very popular on social media too. There are lots of these famous locations people recognise when they come here, but there are always new and interesting angles and different pictures to take.
Designing a maze sounds like a fun challenge. How did that idea come about?
I sometimes come up with these ideas when I have a good glass of wine or something to open my mind! So one day I was talking with a friend of mine from Mantova, and in Mantova there is the beautiful Palazzo Ducale, where in one room there is this elaborate maze on the ceiling. My friend asked me, why I never thought of adding such a maze to the garden. We actually did already have a small one near the castelletto, but it struck me that we had some space to build a real maze.
Naturally, I had never designed a maze before, so I studied quite a lot to design this one. I also got in touch with Adrian Fisher who is one of the world’s most famous maze makers, as I wanted him to see what I had designed so far, but when I contacted him, he told me that the following day was the only free day he had for the next four months. So I said okay, and flew him here from London the next day, but he had to go home that day too!
When he came here he was really impressed by my design and even said he would love to see it in his book of the world’s best mazes he was writing. He made some suggestions about some modifications that we could make, and so we made the maze together.
It took seven years for it to grow, with 1,500 of the same trees planted together. It is now really a proper maze, and one of the garden’s most popular features, but we are still only at phase one with it. We have a really cool roadmap of projects for how we will improve and add to the maze in the coming years.
In phase two, we will open an underground fossil museum with my father’s collection of fossils, and we also have some plans to install some moving parts at some of the edges to the maze, so that its solution can change as you explore it. This is really a roadmap for the future, as we want to let each step be enjoyed properly for what it is and not always burning through new ideas for the sake of it.
We also have many other ideas for the garden, and not just for the maze. Enough ideas to keep us busy for at least the next 20 years.
Amazing. That sounds like something out of Harry Potter! Can you tell us about any other cool projects happening around the park for this year’s Tulipanomania?
One really nice new feature which will be unveiled on the 4th of April is a large-scale flower arrangement that will replicate a painting that my father did. So we’ll build a huge structure and use tulips and other flowers to match the painting exactly colour for colour. So we’re using nature to copy art and make more art. It’s really cool, but again only the beginning, as this is also a 10-year project, where we will add another picture every year. I think something similar has only been done in China before. We’re the first in Europe, so I’m really proud. People also love our floating flowerbeds, which we introduced only a few years ago. They’re the first of their kind in Europe too.
Every flower we grow in the gardens we really want to make the most of, so we try to find as many ways for people to enjoy them as possible. Tulipanomania is really a tulip festival, so in addition to just seeing the beautiful flower displays and gardens, there are lots of fun activities going on around the park. We have tulip-painting workshops and other creative activities happening, and then also cocktails with tulip vodka, and food and a nice outdoor atmosphere. It’s really a festival where there is lots to do as well as see.
I think everyone could use a little bit of that now. What other activities would you recommend in the region around Park Sigurtá?
We’re very lucky because we are located in a beautiful area. Parco Giardino Sigurtá is located just 7km away from Lake Garda, which is the biggest lake in Italy and is a beautiful, beautiful place to see. We actually found some collaboration there four years ago when I designed the flowerbeds in front of the lake in Bardolino. So every single flowerbed you see there, I designed. And last year they won the prize for the best flower bed in Italy, which was also really good publicity for our park. So if you like the park, that’s something to check out in the area too.
I am actually now working on some flower beds for another town near here. And I’ve received quite a few more requests. But I can’t say yes to all of them, because everything I do, I want to make it special, and not replicate the same things again and again. Also because I don’t have the time, as I am also training for an Iron Man triathlon in June! But to go back to the question, around Lake Garda there is so much to see, also with Venice and Verona within one hour of the park, I mean really you need at least a week to even scratch the surface.
Are there any special activities or areas for kids in the park?
We don’t have a specific area of the garden dedicated for kids activities or something. But we do have an interactive way for kids to explore. It’s a sort of treasure hunt app game that has different trivia which you need to scan codes around the various areas of the park, so this makes it an engaging way for some younger kids to enjoy the garden for sure. But to be honest lots of kids just enjoy coming to the garden for the nature.
Many kids have a lot of screens and video games in their lives these days already, so it’s nice for them to listen to the leaves and the sounds of nature. I think that’s important. Although it’s not specifically designed for kids, a really popular area for small children is the farmyard petting zoo. There are lots of animals there, and kids love to see them up close and interact with them.
Every year our ambassadors for the Tulipanomania festival are kids from the local school. At the beginning of the year, around September, October, they come to the garden to plant it. So a few flower beds are planted by the kids from the school in the town of Valeggio. And each of them gets a season ticket and the name of ambassador to the Tulipanomania, so they can come in and they can see what they planted. They’re always very curious to see how it turned out, because while they planted the bulbs and seeds, they don’t know what colours, or what patterns the finished product will look like. So it’s always really nice to see their reactions and enthusiasm for it.
Is it true that you also host a cosplay event at Parco Giardinon Sigurtá?
Yes! Actually it’s a funny story, the idea was presented to me many years ago by this woman who wanted to organise a cosplay event. I met her and she seemed very enthusiastic, but it was 20 minutes into the meeting, before I had to stop her, and say “please can you explain to me what exactly is cosplay?” Because to be honest before that I had no idea what it was! So she explained to me that it involves people dressing up in costumes of their favourite fantasy characters etc, and so I said okay, we’re gonna try it.
The first year I think we had only 20-30 cosplayers. But every year since then we have explained to more people what it is with social media and so on, and there has been huge growth in this event since then, to the point where we have had numbers of up to 15,000 people in one day, with lots of comic costumes and characters, and barbecues and concerts. It’s a great festival atmosphere. Last year we were able to host a smaller version of the festival safely in accordance with all of the rules. We have 560,000 square meters, so it’s more than possible for people to come here and stay with safe distances etc. So hopefully we can host this again this year.
We also have a Journey Through Time event, which is another fancy dress festival, but for this one we have hundreds of figures dressed up in traditional Italian fashion from the 1800s, and there are vintage carriages and classical dances with live orchestral music and also food. But we have many smaller events throughout the year as well. We have a day with a 10km race inside the garden. Well, it is not really a competitive race, it is really more about experiencing the garden and running or walking this 10km together. We have another event dedicated to the local street artists and performers. We do many, many events.
In your opinion is Parco Giardino Sigurtá more beautiful in the spring, summer, autumn or winter?
So that’s a nice question, but difficult to answer, because every period has something different to see. Of course you can say that in spring it’s most beautiful for the tulips, but I love the colours of the autumn. And I also love all of the flowers that we have in the summertime, which is another big flowering season for us.
Every year after the tulips, we redesign the flowerbeds differently. So it’s like looking at the same painting, but painted using different colours, or maybe seen from another perspective. I have to say the garden looks beautiful in all of the seasons, so I can’t say I prefer one more than the other.
Have there ever been any famous visitors to the park?
Yes, actually quite a few. I’ll tell you a story, I was once invited with a number of other Italian Garden wonders to Clarence House in London, and I met Prince Charles, who had been to the garden about 10 years earlier. He had been to Milan to see the Aida opera and then he stopped by the garden. I didn’t think he would remember, but he did. He even asked how my wife’s last tennis match was. My wife was a professional player who played for 12 years on tour in Wimbledon and many Open tournaments around the world.
So it was really nice that he had taken the time to find out about us and knew exactly who we were 10 years later. But we have had many other famous people in the gardens. I also remember Margaret Thatcher visiting, and many others. A lot of the time if we have high-profile guests, they often want a more low-key visit, not a big event. They want a quiet relaxing time in the gardens with maybe a private tour in a golf cart or something like that.
We once hosted the prime minister of Dubai once for a day, and for him we built a huge tent, as he wanted to do a big horse-racing event in the park. So it’s not always so low-key! We’ve also had many many big brands film in the gardens, from Gucci to Moschino, Mercedes, BMW, and many more. We’ve also been featured recently on a television program of the best wedding locations of the year in Italy. So the park is no stranger to celebrity!
Are there places to eat and drink on-site?
Yes, we actually have lots of excellent options for dining in the gardens. We have a pizzeria and a more formal restaurant, and we also have seven bars which also serve great food. The cuisine is provided by a catering company which we own, and so you will see a similar variety of items at each of our bars, and obviously the pizzeria specialises in pizza etc. Many of the bars are not open at the moment, but some of them are, where it is possible to eat, and hopefully we can reopen more of them again soon.
What’s nice is that every year, the menu of dishes you find in the restaurants and bars changes. So at the start of each year, we do a big blind tasting event with all of the staff. And all of the people working in the garden get a vote on what they liked or didn’t like, and so we design the menu this way. And it’s a fun and also interesting way to design the menu. For example, we’ll have three types of ham, but beside each is only a number – not the brand or specific type of ham – as we really try to find the best-tasting one.
We do this for every item on the menu: breads, oils, everything, so the perfectionism really comes through in our restaurants this way too. However, there is one person who gets 10 votes, and he obviously gets to make the biggest difference to the menu, which he is, of course, very happy about! Can you guess who it is?
Ha! I don’t think I even need to ask! So what are your personal recommendations?
Well, everyone must try the tortellini because Valeggio sul Mincio is really famous for its tortellini. There is a nice old saying that in Valeggio, we have 10,000 people who live here, but our restaurants have enough seating for 12,000 people. Because people from the surrounding towns and area always come here for the food, especially the tortellini. In our restaurant, we have our own recipe for the tortellini, so if you come here, you really have to try it.
We also try to make it as affordable as possible for people, as many other parks charge almost double the entrance cost that we charge. We are also the only such park in Italy that does not charge for parking. We try to cater to everyone, and we know that for some people, saving even a few euros for parking can make a big difference, and so we want to make sure our park is available for everyone to enjoy.
We prefer that people come here and experience a complete package, with excellent food, beautiful views, and things to do. So while we can do this without charging for parking and keeping our price relatively low, we will. For now we are focused on reopening and giving people a place to escape into nature.
We can’t wait to come visit!
Planning a visit to the most beautiful garden in Italy? Here’s what you need to know
How to get to Parco Giardino Sigurtá
Travelling by train
The park is 10 kilometres from Peschiera del Garda station, from which you can continue by bus: line 46 APAM; ATV line 479 (during the summer season).
The park is also 28 kilomteres from Verona Porta Nuova Station, from which you can also connect to the park by ATV bus.
Travelling by bus
From Verona: the ATV 160 Valeggio – Villafranca -Sommacampagna – Verona line is available.
From Brescia: the LN026 Brescia – Desenzano – Sirmione – Peschiera – Verona line is available.
From Malcesine: ATV line 483 Malcesine – Garda – Peschiera – S.Benedetto is available to reach Peschiera del Garda.
The APAM 46 Mantova – Valeggio – Peschiera d / G line is available (bike transport is possible upon reservation).
Travelling by car
A4 Milan-Venice motorway, Peschiera del Garda exit, 8 km towards Valeggio sul Mincio.
A22 Brennero-Modena motorway: coming from Modena, take the Nogarole Rocca exit and follow the signs for Valeggio sul Mincio.
From Brennero, take the Affi exit, then take the highway (SS450) to Peschiera del Garda, then follow the signs for Valeggio sul Mincio.
The Park has four free parking spaces for its visitors. The Red and Green car parks are open during the Park opening days and times and are located adjacent to the Sigurtà Restaurant (300 meters from the Park entrance). The Yellow and White car parks are open on busy days. In the parking lot of the Sigurtà restaurant there is a point for recharging electric cars (Tesla vehicles and vehicles with universal connector).
Opening hours of Sigurta Park
The park is open daily from 9:00 am until 19:00 pm.