There came a time in my trip to Miami where my three travel companions and I needed something to do. I thought back to some of my pre-trip research, when wandering around on Google maps revealed an exotic, intriguing structure just south of downtown.
“Let’s go to Vizcaya,” I pleaded. “It’s some kind of museum. Or gardens. I’m not really sure, but it looks awesome.”
Somehow, that unconvincing spiel caught their interest. The girls looked it up on the net to be sure I wasn’t making it up, and without much more discussion, we hopped in our rental car and made our way to Vizcaya.
Up until that point, our trip consisted mostly of activities most people would associate with Miami: partying in South Beach, exploring the downtown area, finding the best Latin food and music. I was in the mood to see something more tranquil, more natural.
Vizcaya was just that. The unbelievably ornate gardens, however, were not what we first saw when we toured the property. As you enter, you certainly do get the feeling that you’ve somehow escaped Miami into a magical world of sorts, but the property reveals itself little by little.
We first went straight for the Main House, which was once the summer home of agricultural industrialist James Deering (no photos allowed, unfortunately). He built the magnificent dwelling in 1916, a time when most Americans were not as preoccupied with creating a leisurely palace as they were with the ever-escalating World War.
Clearly, this place was built for entertaining. Each room overflows with elegant artwork and furniture, made with high quality materials in tasteful designs. We encountered many rooms we’d expect to see in a house of this caliber: a kitchen, a tea room, a library, a banquet hall (of course they were all beautifully appointed—not ordinary rooms!).
We swooned over the second-story rows of quaint guestrooms that look down into a lush, open courtyard. Just imagining the parties that would take place here delighted us but also made us ache with jealously.
Vizcaya’s Gardens: We are not in Kansas anymore
By far, the most impressive aspect of Vizcaya are its enchanting gardens, a mesh of Renaissance Italian and French designs. Occupying more than 10 acres, the land is almost a little overwhelming to behold. After an awe-filled minute of trying to take it all in, we decided to explore.
The striking thing about the gardens, besides their sheer beauty, is their variety. A maze of cropped bushes serves as the playful center for the gardens; not too far away, a pavilion looms, offering another vantage point for viewing the gardens.
A “secret garden” breaks up the greenery with stone structures whose architectural elements add style to the floral designs. Visitors can pass through the breezy orchidarium to see a variety of orchids in bloom. Everywhere you look, statues and other architectural elements act as jewelry for the gardens.
I was careful to be sure that my travel companions—who under normal circumstances would not have sought out a garden tour—were as amazed with the experience as I was. But just as we’d finish touring one part of the property, we’d discover another that was just as eye-catching.
Vizcaya is positioned on Biscayne Bay, which means visitors can venture out onto a spacious patio to see views of the bay and city in the distance, as well as the barge that was built to protect the property from tidal surges. Compared to the compact gardens, the bay is an open, expansive space that is soothing to take in after hours of nonstop leaves, branches and flowers.
At the Vizcaya Café and Shop, I found a few surprises: 1.) They serve beer 2.) Guests are treated to an excellent view of the historic swimming pool. After hours of walking in the hot sun, it was a treat to rest next to the blue, tranquil water and fantasize about taking a dip.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
3251 S Miami Ave
Miami, FL 33129