A Grand Winter Escape, Italian Style
Sometimes called the “Hearst Castle of the East,” the Italian Renaissance-style Villa Vizcaya was completed in 1916 as the extravagant wintertime retreat of Chicago industrialist James Deering, known for his deep pockets and keen European sensibility.
A thousand continental artisans labored for five years to create the estate and its world-famous bay-front gardens in then-undeveloped Miami (whose population at the time was less than 10,000), incorporating a rich collection of antique doors, gates, paneling, ceilings, fireplaces, and decorative arts brought home from Europe by the owner and his architects.
Deerings’ fascination with 15th-through 18th-century art and architecture is obvious in every detail of the lavish mansion, forty-two of whose seventy rooms are open to the public. It’s a remarkable paean to late Renaissance architecture, authentic enough to convince visitors that it’s been standing here overlooking Biscayne Bay for 400 years.
Of Vizcaya’s current 28 acres (all that remains of the original 180), 10 are dedicated to formal gardens planned by Deering’s Florentine-educated landscape artist. Adaptations were made to accommodate South Florida’s brilliant light and subtropical climate, but the stone fountains, grottoes, statuary, and plant life still evoke a Mediterranean grandeur of centuries past and make a favorite spot for wedding photos. The waterfront tea house, with its little footbridge, is a traditional proposal spot.