Miami's Italian Renaissance Palace

By Giselle Mueller of Mandarin Oriental, Miami
January 12, 2012 | Miami, United States
Miami's Italian Renaissance Palace

One thing you don't think when you're out and about in Miami: Huh, this city reminds me of Europe. Latin America, the Caribbean, yes — with our palm trees and sub-tropical vibe. However, along the shores of Coconut Grove, there is a place that transports you immediately to Florence, or even Venice. That's Villa Vizcaya.

A national historic landmark, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (as it's now known), was the winter estate of agricultural industrialist James Deering from 1916 until his death in 1925. Inspired by Renaissance Italy, the Mediterranean Revival mansion towers over the bay with the stateliness of a Venetian palazzo on the Grand Canal. It's little wonder that Vizcaya has hosted several heads of state, including Queen Elizabeth II, and President Ronald Reagan when he received Pope John Paul II.

You too can cross the threshold, and linger for hours; Vizcaya is now a public museum, and there's plenty to explore across its 50 acres. Inside the villa, 34 rooms are decorated with antique furniture and art from the 15th through 19th centuries, many pieces imported from Europe and Asia. The house was built with a central open-air courtyard — in Deering's day, fresh sea breezes swept through the home, accompanied by bird song. Today, the courtyard has been enclosed in glass in order to keep the interior climate controlled and stave off further damage from salt and humidity. But even though the bird song has been muted, here's a tip: you can still hear the music of Vizcaya's 1917 pipe organ, played Monday through Friday for just a half hour, 4-4:30 pm.

But my favorite part of Vizcaya are the gardens. Dotted with fountains and statuary, there are hedge mazes and a central pool surrounding an elevated island. A natural "hammock" — a jungle of native plants — was preserved by Deering and his developers, and reaches to the water. The views across the bay are spectacular. And if you're not yet ready to leave this slice of paradise, take a seat at the lovely little cafe near the historic swimming pool, and pretend that Vizcaya is all yours. For today, it is.