The National Trust is something of an institution in Britain – membership gets you in to historic houses, grand castles and beautiful gardens (and saves you a small fortune in parking charges). But did you know that you can use your National Trust pass in Italy?
The National Trust partners with the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano) to offer members free or discounted entry to the organisation’s properties right across Italy. They include everything from imposing lakefront estates like Lake Como’s famous Villa del Balbianello to tiny backstreet barber shops such as the art deco Antica Barberia Giacalone in Genoa’s Caruggi district.
We’ve picked out five of our favourites to get you started – and they all offer free entry to National Trust members.
Abbey of San Fruttuoso, Liguria
This former Benedictine monastery sits right on the beachfront in the pocket-sized cove of San Fruttuoso. Through the centuries, it’s been everything from a pirate hideout to a princess’ home, but nowadays it’s a lovingly restored museum where you can wander through 12th-century cloisters and see a medieval chapel and crypt.
San Fruttuoso is only accessible on foot or by boat – it’s a 90-minute walk through forested hills from Portofino, or a scenic 30-minute boat ride. If you opt for the boat, look out for the submerged statue of Christ of the Abyss at the entrance to the bay.
There’s a café and restaurant on the little pebbled beach, so once you’ve seen the abbey stick around and enjoy an afternoon in the sunshine.Via S. Fruttuoso, 18, 16032 Camogli GE
Garden of Kolymbethra, Sicily
Nestled in-between Agrigento’s Ancient Greek temples is the Garden of Kolymbethra, a lush patchwork of fragrant citrus groves, mulberry bushes, and almond, olive and carob trees. Once a stop on the historic ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, the garden had been abandoned and gradually became overgrown – until the FAI stepped in and restored it to its former glory.
Wander along rosemary-lined paths and past centuries-old tombs and ancient irrigation canals. Or find a shaded bench to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. For an additional charge, you can take a guided tour through the ancient hypogea (aqueducts), which date back to the fifth century BC.
Be sure to pop in to the little shop before you leave, where you can stock up on jams made from the garden’s citrus fruits.Viale Caduti di Marzabotto, 92100 Agrigento AG
Castello di Avio, Trentino
This medieval castle perches on a hilltop in the Adige Valley, just half an hour’s drive from northern Lake Garda resorts like Riva del Garda. While the building itself dates back to the 12th century, the real stars of the show here are the remarkably preserved 14th-century frescoes depicting life in the Middle Ages.
The castle’s fortified walls and imposing towers watch over gardens of vines and cypress trees. Look further afield and you’ll be able to see right along the wooded slopes of the Val Lagarina.
If you’re feeling peckish, there’s a restaurant next to the castle which serves regional cuisine and local wines.Via al Castello, 38063 Sabbionara, Avio TN
Torre and Casa Campatelli, Tuscany
As you approach the Tuscan town of San Gimignano, the first thing you’ll notice is the skyline punctuated with soaring medieval towers. There were once 72 of these dotted throughout the town; today, just 14 remain.
One of these is Torre Campatelli, built by a family of Florentine entrepreneurs and landowners. The FAI now owns the tower, along with the house attached to it. Step inside, and you’ll find it offers a snapshot of bourgeois Tuscan life, with furnishings and artworks from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.Via S. Giovanni, 15, 53037 San Gimignano SI
Villa Gregoriana, Rome
Journey 45 minutes from the centre of Rome and you’ll come to the town of Tivoli. Visitors flock here to marvel at the elaborate fountains of Villa d’Este and the former emperor’s palace of Villa Adriana. But there’s another villa that’s well worth seeing.
Villa Gregoriana is actually a park rather than a building, restored and maintained by the FAI. Follow the footpaths down into the ravine and you’ll pass waterfalls and hidden caves. The highlight is the Great Waterfall, a beautiful cascade which tumbles more than 100 metres into the gorge.Via Città Sant’Angelo, 19, 00019 Tivoli RM