With arguably one of the greatest views in the world and a splendour rarely seen, both inside and outside, Villa Astor in Sorrento has quite rightfully been labelled ‘paradise’. The property was bought by William Waldorf Astor, at the time one of the wealthiest men in the world, back in 1905 and it became a passion project for him as he redesigned the home and filled it with one of the greatest 20th century collections of classical and Renaissance antiquities. In the 1970s the villa was the home of the shipping magnate Mariano Pane and his wife Rita, who hosted visitors including Gregory Peck, Princess Margaret and Rudolf Nureyev, making it one of the most sought-after destinations on the Amalfi Coast.
VIEW OF VILLA ASTOR AND ITS GARDEN HIGH ON THE ROCKY PROMONTORY DOMINATING THE BAY OF NAPLES.
Recently the villa’s new owners commissioned renowned French designer Jacques Garcia to restore the house to its original glory and the results are captured in a new book, Villa Astor: Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast. The introduction to the book was written by Lord Astor of Hever, the great-grandson of William Waldorf Astor, and ahead of a talk at Sotheby’s in July, we caught up with him to find out what it was about the property that fascinated his great-grandfather and why the restoration became such a huge part of his life.
LORD ASTOR PRESENTING HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE NEW BOOK AT SOTHEBY'S NEW BOND STREET
Sotheby’s: What do you think it was that first attracted your great-grandfather to the property?
Lord Astor: When he was the American ambassador in Rome, he’d travel down to Sorrento to escape the summer heat. While he was there he fell in love with the place and later bought the villa. It's got the most wonderful location looking at Vesuvius - if I'd been in his shoes I'd have done the same thing.
A BALCONY VIEW LOOKING OUT TOWARDS MOUNT VESUVIUS
S: Why do you think the restoration became such a special project for him?
LA: He loved Italy, he enjoyed collecting things and he had, I suppose, plenty of money. He liked perfection and, of course, it had a huge garden. He filled it with treasures and wanted to make it the very best. I think the photographs in the book reflect the majesty of the place.
ASTOR’S WORLD-CLASS SCULPTURE COLLECTION IS DEPLOYED THROUGHOUT THE RECEPTION ROOMS, ALL FURNISHED WITH ANTIQUE PIECES BY THE BEST ITALIAN AND FRENCH CRAFTSMEN.
S: What do you think inspired him when he was renovating the property?
LA: I think he wanted the best and obviously, a bit like Citizen Kane, lots of people came and tried to sell him things, and that probably inspired him. You go there and you can see how he laid the garden out in a wonderful way and filled it with treasures. He had lots of interesting people to stay, beautiful women. I think he wanted it to be perfect and you can tell from the photographs that that’s how it was.
S: You mention in your introduction to the book that you think the villa reflected his personality. How do you think it reflected that?
LA: I think it reflected his character in that he wanted the very best. It is the best site in Sorrento, it's got the best location, lovely view and he wanted to do justice to its position, make a wonderful garden and fill both the garden and the house with treasures. Some of the treasures he collected are now at Cliveden and Hever Castle, where some of the pots and the sarcophagi he collected in Italy are now on show in the botanic gardens.
TODAY VILLA ASTOR COMBINES DEEPLY TRADITIONAL ITALIAN STYLE WITH THE FINE ART OF LIVING.
S: What was it like for you to see the villa restored to its former glory? How did you feel when you saw that?
LA: It was very interesting because, having been to Cliveden and having grown up in Hever Castle, there are a lot of similarities you can see, in particular in the design of the garden and the antiquities he placed there, which was really
fascinating for me. It was also really interesting meeting people in Sorrento, including the mayor, as my great-grandfather is still held in very high esteem. He gave a lot of money to help the poor so he's very much respected there.
S: What are your favourite features from the property?
LA: Oh, gosh. Well, I think personally that life doesn’t get much better than sitting on the terrace of the villa with a glass of Italian wine or limoncello with the blue sea in front of you, looking at Vesuvius. It's one of the best feelings in the world, you’d just never tire of that view. It’s also nice walking into the house and seeing everything he's done and how the present owners have improved it and made it all very nice.
RENAISSANCE WELLHEADS, SARCOPHAGI AND ARCHITECTURAL FRAGMENTS FEATURE IN THE GARDEN.
S: Was it important for you to get involved with the book?
LA: Yes, I'm very proud of what my great-grandfather did, not just in Italy but in Hever Castle, Cliveden and the Waldorf Astoria in the United States. At Hever Castle we get thousands of tourists every year who really appreciate what he did, so I'm very proud of him. I'm very happy to know that it's been reflected in a good book.
THE BOTANICAL GARDEN DISPLAYS A REMARKABLE COLLECTION OF MORE THAN ONE THOUSAND PLANT SPECIES AND ANTIQUE SCULPTURES.
Villa Astor: Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast is available to buy from retailers including Amazon and Waterstones
For more information on Villa Astor visit www.theheritage-collection.com/