Saturday, December 10, 2016

Stroll the Grounds of Villa Vizcaya in Miami


Miami might be most famously known for its neon lights, wild nightlife, and sandy beaches. But those features only scratch the surface of what the city of Miami has to offer. An amazing variety of art instalments, historical buildings, and unique architecture can be found both in the mainland portion of the city and on the various islands, or 'keys', around the area.

One place that combines the trifecta of art, architecture, and history is Villa Vizcaya, a mansion located in the Coconut Grove neighbourhood of Miami. This impressive building is only overshadowed by its labyrinthian gardens and stunning view of Biscayne Bay. On our final full day in Miami, my husband and I decided to explore the mansion and its grounds just to see what all the fuss was about.

Villa Vizcaya in Miami, Florida as seen from the East Terrace.

We grabbed an Uber from our hotel to Villa Vizcaya. Vizcaya is located at 3251 South Miami Avenue, which is about one mile south of downtown Miami. This was actually the second time I used Uber to get to Villa Vizcaya - I went a few days before on a Tuesday, which was a BAD idea because Vizcaya is closed on Tuesdays. So that was a lesson learned; ensure the attraction you wish to visit is actually open before going. The mansion and gardens are open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., so that gives you lots of time to explore.

My hubby and I outside the beautiful pool at Villa Vizcaya.

I had found a brochure on Vizcaya at a gift shop in Little Havana that offered $1 off per visitor, so I took that with me. It is $18 for an adult to gain entrance, $6 for children 6-12 years old, and 5 and under is free. My husband and I used the $1 off coupon, but then re-spent that $1 to buy a guide book that contained tons of information about the art, furniture, and architectural elements of the house.

Just walking to the house from the admission booth meets your expectations. The main house is located down an impressive, wide driveway flanked by fountains carved of fossilized shell limestone. Lush subtropical forests border the fountains and surround the house itself. And of course, the house and its main doors dominate the view at the end of the road.

The main driveway into Villa Vizcaya.

Inside the main doors, an attendant offers you some basic directions and a map to assist your self-guided tour. It is possible to book a 45-minute guided tour for $5 per person, but we weren't interested in that. We are "go-at-your-own-pace" types of people.

We first explored the main level of the house, viewing the library and office, a reception room, a living room with a massive organ, the east loggia with a spectacular Biscayne Bay view, the music room, the dining room, and more. Then we strolled in the central 'open' courtyard, now enclosed in glass, to soak in the bright sunlight.

The East Loggia on the main floor of Villa Vizcaya. Image via.

Photographs are prohibited in Villa Vizcaya; at least they are inside the home. This nearly killed me inside, because if you know me, you know I love taking photographs while traveling. So I will do my utmost best to describe the villa in order for you to understand what it is all about. I also borrowed some photos from the main Villa Vizcaya website to help illustrate the mansion' beauty. (I sure hope they don't mind!)

Built between 1914 and 1916 by wealthy businessman James Deering, the mansion reflects the style at the time, a style designed to display wealthy and status. The architecture and interior design were both inspired by the palaces of Europe, which rich industrialists during this era were obsessed with. Villa Vizcaya was meant to appear as if the Deering family had occupied it for centuries, with elements inside, such as furniture and draperies, reflecting a variety of periods and styles. In fact, Deering spent lavish amounts of money importing antiques, statues, and even whole fountains from Europe to decorate his home.

The luxurious music room in Villa Vizcaya. Image via.

Rooms in the home were thickly wallpapered with floral patterns, ceilings had detailed masonry, tiles, and paintings adorning them, and the furniture was all heavy, elegantly carved, and obviously expensive.

One of the canopied beds in the beautiful mansion. Image via.

The rooms in the lower level were nice, but my favourites were actually found upstairs, where the views were prettier, the rooms more brightly illuminated with sunlight, and every door opened into a majestic view of the open courtyard. My absolute favourite room was the Breakfast Room, decorated with a naval theme, a giant dining table, and an amazing view of the barge and bay beyond. I could have sat in there all day.

There is also a third floor with a couple of small bedrooms. The bedrooms weren't anything to write home about, but the spiral staircase was. It spun all the way from the very top floor down to the main level, and if you peered over the edge, you could see all the way up or down. I DID sneak in a photo here, just because it was too cool to resist.

The crazy spiral staircase at Villa Vizcaya.

Outside was just as incredible, if not more. Just beyond the doors of the gift shop is the indoor / outdoor swimming pool, which looks as if it has come straight from the white-washed walls of a Greek island resort. I longed to swim in it, even though it is closed to the public except for viewing.

The blue grottoed pool at Villa Vizcaya.
Such a beautiful pool!

The orchid garden, named the David A. Klein Orchidarium, is supposedly a world-famous outdoor orchid garden, although I only spotted a few orchids and wasn't completely impressed. I understand that orchids are difficult to grow so I appreciated the garden for what it was, but to me, the other gardens were just so much more palatial.

The main gardens, located on the opposite side of the house from the Orchidarium, seemed to have come straight from the Red Queen's lands out of the pages of "Alice in Wonderland". Neatly trimmed flowering hedges, winding pathways, and rose bushes were bordered by towering palm trees and twisting mangroves. There were elaborate fountains, built in the 18th century and shipped straight from Italy, amid lily-pad carpeted pools and pebbled lanes.

The perfectly manicured grounds of Villa Vizcaya.

All of the walls, steps, and pools were handcrafted from a gorgeous limestone that was dotted with fossilized shells and other remnants from the ocean floor.

Lily pads dot the ponds at Villa Vizcaya, while seashelled limestone walls add flair.

Some of the more interesting outdoor features were located just outside the doors of the East Loggia, on the edge of the waters of Biscayne Bay. The 'Barge' is a stone pier located just beyond the main outdoor terrace of Villa Vizcaya. The pier doesn't look like any old pier, however. It is designed to look like an Italian boat, half sunken in the waters of the bay. The structure served as a breakwater for smaller boats moored to the East Terrace landing, and also as a spectacular place to host dinners and parties out on the water. It was not accessible to visitors when we were there, but I sure wanted to go explore it!

The Barge just off the East Terrace at Villa Vizcaya.

Another great feature of the East Terrace was the Tea House, a small lattice-roofed gazebo that sits at the edge of the terrace overlooking the bay. The entire design of the little building screams opulence, and now I want one in my backyard.

The Tea House overlooks Biscayne Bay. Image via.

Something I learned while exploring the house that really struck me was that James Deering, the man who owned and commissioned the building and decorating of Villa Vizcaya, died in the year 1925. The house itself wasn't finished construction until 1916. This means that although Deering spent an incredible amount of money, time, and care into the overall look of the house, he didn't get to enjoy it for very many years. Somehow, I found that a little sad. I am grateful, however, that his family decided to donate the house and gardens to Miami-Dade County so that it can be preserved and enjoyed by the public.

As my husband and I left Villa Vizcaya, down the long driveway, past the ticket booth, and through a dirt-packed pathway through the subtropical forest surrounding the grounds, we felt like we were leaving a different era behind us. If I won the lottery, and Villa Vizcaya was for sale, I would snap that place up in an instant. It is so beautiful and romantic; you must go see it for yourself!

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