Day trip from Naples puts visitors in the ‘Versailles of Italy’
Stars and Stripes March 17, 2022
There’s no doubt that the Royal Palace of Caserta is impressive. In a country with so much world-renowned architecture, the moniker “Versailles of Italy” has to be earned.
Extending over an area of 47,000 meters and including five floors, the palace boasts its own chapel, library and theater. Yet it’s something outside that will keep you coming back.
The Royal Park features vast lawns, wooded areas, reflecting pools, fountains and gardens, making it a perfect place to take the kids to explore or find a quiet spot away from the chaos that is Naples.
To get there, take a 45-minute train ride from Naples Centrale station to Caserta. It won’t be hard to find the palace; it’s across the street from the train station. A five-minute walk across an expansive garden puts you at the main entrance.
From there, you have a choice to make. Head straight through the palace’s portico and out the back entrance if you want to see the park first. Midway through the portico, on the right, is an impressive staircase leading to the palace’s apartments.
Depending on the time of year, the park can close as early as 3:30 p.m., and caretakers are very firm about closing time. The apartments close at 7:30 p.m., with the last admission at 6:30 p.m.
Once you step through the palace’s back entrance, stop to take in the telescopic view leading from the parterre through a series of reflecting pools, also known as the waterway, to the Great Waterfall.
It’s as if you can take in the entire 11-acre park at once.
Designed by architect Luigi Vanvitelli, whose son Carlo finished it after his father died, the park blends the Italian tradition of a Renaissance garden with influences of the Palace of Versailles in France, according to the palace’s website.
Like the gardens at Versailles, the park features a large “boulevard” that stretches from the palace straight up to the main waterfall. Along the way, there are a multitude of paths that can be explored.
Go ahead and allow yourself a diversion, but don’t forget to come back to the boulevard or you’ll miss the waterway and its series of waterfalls and ornate sculptures of Roman goddesses. Among my favorites were the Fountain of Ceres and the Fountain of the Dolphins.
Continue up the boulevard to see the Great Waterfall and the Fountain of Diana and Actaeon. From here, you can get a selfie with the park and the palace in the background.
Head back down the boulevard to visit the palace, also designed by Vanvitelli, and started in 1752 for Charles of Bourbon (Charles III of Spain). Take the Grand Staircase and travel through the rotunda to the Palatine Chapel, again inspired by Versailles and featuring Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque influences.
Outside the chapel, a doorway to the right leads to apartments, halls, the ballroom and the throne room, each ornately decorated and featuring captivating frescoes.
Spend a minute gazing at the fresco in the vault of the Hall of Alexander depicting the marriage of Alexander the Macedonian and Roxane by Sicilian painter Mariano Rossi, according to the palace.
You’ll also want to spend time in the Palatine Library, which spans three rooms and is furnished in oak and mahogany. The self-guided tour also includes the Bourbon Nativity scene and an art gallery.
Caserta’s palace is one of the largest in Europe. And a visit to the palace and its extraordinary park comes with the bonus of crossing a UNESCO World Heritage Site off your must-see list.
Royal Palace and Park of Caserta
How to get there: Take the train (about 7 euros round trip) from Naples Centrale station (Piazza Garibaldi) to Caserta. The palace is on the Piazza Carlo di Borbone. Fares and schedules available online at trenitalia.com/it.html.
Cost: A comprehensive ticket costs 14 euros and includes admission to the apartments, the Royal Park, the English Garden and, when open, the Royal Court Theater. Tickets for just the Royal Park and the English Garden are priced at 9 euros. Tickets can be purchased online for 15 euros.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. opening time for the whole palace complex, which is open every day of the week except Tuesday. Also closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Palace apartments close at 7:30 p.m., but park and garden hours vary. The Royal Court Theater is open Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Check the palace website for details.