Tuesday, November 10, 2009

8 Great Grottoes Around the World

What is a grotto anyway? The word evokes all sorts of exotic and colorful images. The Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles may contain the most famous one in the world. A lot of very famous people have been caught with their pants down in Hugh Hefner’s grotto, literally.

Technically, a grotto is a cave, either natural or man-made, in close proximity to water and in use by humans for therapeutic, relaxation or in Hefner’s case, sensual reasons. Whatever the case, grottoes have long had romantic associations, ever since antiquity. The Greeks and Romans were huge fans of the grotto and in Renaissance times, the cave made a huge and rather ornate comeback. The results today are some fantastic tourist attractions around the world, grotto-style. Here are 8 in particular that deserve a visit.

Grotto Azzurra, Capri, Italy

The most famous REAL grotto in the world, the Azzurra, or Blue Grotto, is the crown jewel on Capri’s shiny crown. The Sorrentine Peninsula island in the Gulf of Naples, popular as an international jet set destination, is a luxurious escape for those who want a brief taste of the good life. The Grotto Azzurra only adds to Capri’s overall romantic allure.

Sheremetev Estate, Kuskovo, Moscow

Once distinct from the rest of Moscow, the neat little borough of Kuskovo was annexed into the greater metro area of the massive Russian capital some time ago. Now part of the city’s East District, the most notable attraction in the area is the massive former estate of the Sheremetev family, complete with Neoclassical Summer Grotto.

Shell Grotto, Margate, England

Discovered by a farmer in 1835 who was digging a simple duck pond on his land, the magnificent Shell Grotto in Margate was a remarkable find. Rumored to have been built by the mysterious Knights Templar as far back as a millenium ago, the cave consists of a long subterranean passage that ends in a large rectangular chamber with an adjacent rotunda. The entire grotto is coated with beautiful mosaics made from over 4.6 million seashells.

Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy

As the backyard of the fabulous Palazzo Pitti in Florence, the Boboli Gardens must have played host to some awesome tea parties. Headquarters of the Medici rulers of Tuscany, the 16th century masterpiece contains the most classical features of the time. Some of the best views of Florence for one, not to mention fountains, sculptures and of course, the great Grotta di Buontalenti.

Pope’s Grotto, Twickenham, England

In the confusing mess that is metro London, Twickenham is the main town in the borough of Richmond upon Thames. Suffice to say, the town is rather pretty, at least enough so for the great poet Alexander Pope to have made his home here. His opulent white stucco villa and gardens still remain as a tourist attraction, along with his beloved grotto.

Palazzo del Te, Mantua, Italy

The capital of Lombardy is a diminutive city of just under 60,000 people. Mantua may not draw the gaze of most tourists but those who do venture here are in for a treat. The town is encircled by three spectacular man-made lakes built in the 12th century and is flush with UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Renaissance Palazzo del Te still contains some traces of a lovely grotto, known as the Casino della Grotta.

Clandon Park, Surrey, England

Beautiful Clandon Park is a classic Palladian mansion on the outskirts of Guidford in Surrey. A property held in National Trust, the estate’s gardens were perhaps the most remarkable feature of the house. Legendary 18th century master Lancelot Brown was the architect of the landscape and made sure to include a symmetrical parterre and handsome grotto.

Fingal’s Cave, Staffa Island, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

Perhaps the least accessible of all the grottoes on the list, as remote as the Inner Hebrides are, Fingal’s Cave may be the most dramatic of them all. Familiar to fans of composer Felix Mendelssohn, who wrote a lyrical overture of the same name, the imposing sea cave is a National Nature Reserve of Scotland and has served as muse to a wide range of poets, novelists and painters over the centuries.

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