Couple of days ago I spent the whole afternoon reading The house of myrth under the sun at Le serre dei Gardini, the only true garden cafe of Bologna and one of its most precious spaces. Written by Edith Warton (author of that famous The age of Innocence that became an iconic movie by Martin Scorsese), The house of myrth is a marvellously written novel centering on the unhappy life of Lily, a young woman gifted with intelligence, natural grace and a genuinine sensibility to beauty, art and harmony. Lily’s misfortune, alongside her pahological lack of economic means, is being surrounded by a smug high society mostly made of people of far lesser subtility and generally unimpressed by what so often catches the vibrant attention of our heroine.
With its undeniable beauty, the vast, harmonious, green space of Le Serre dei Giardini created a peculiarly appropriate place for me to soak into such read, and also provided an intriguing situation of cross-references and metaphorical mirrors.
What stroke me the first time I went to Le Serre, its first year of opening in 2014, was the contrast between a place with such huge poetical potential (think greenhouses, tables among little bushes of sage, vases and plants everywhere, a rustic countrystyle house and the big Giardini Margherita all around) and a management that, well, let’s say it lacked poetry.
Year after year the way the place is run evolved, management changed too and there has been constant improvement, in particular with the addition of a lovely vegetable garden in the back and of little areas of privacy where people can also bring their own food. Also the guys of Kilowatt, that currently run Le Serre, have a special eye for sustainability, regularly host dedicated events and conferences and also organise some very good concerts and screenings in the summer.
Basically, Le Serre is the perfect place. However, just like the lavish society of wealthy Newyorkers described more than a century ago by Edith Warthon – beautiful, rich of delicacies, taste and extravagances but also rigid, cold and classist – this perfect place doesn’t always make you feel full at ease. It might be for a certain fashion-oriented overall look and feel inside Vetro (the beautiful little glass house where you order food and drinks), or the coolly dressed crowd of people apparently living in the affluent streets nearby (have you noticed that most dogs here are pure breed?), or even more probably the fact that, being a rather fashionable place, many people seem to have made the effort of looking their best when coming here, which of course isn’t wrong or bad or anything like, but just takes away a little of that chilled, relaxing, spontaneous feel that makes a beautiful garden cafe a great place to spend time.
This said, though, I’m still a fan of Le Serre and applaud its recipe of being a place for all times (breakfast to evening), different ages and diverse needs, without loosing an inch of its charm or beauty. And it is just great to have a clean, beautiful place in the middle of plants at the center of a park, where you can have a coffee, read a book, work on your computer (plugs are provided on most of the tables outside, and this is not common at all in Bologna) or just chill, literally a few steps from the city center. Even greater is the possibility to walk whithin or even take care of a vegetable garden open to everyone (just join the Facebook group).
So I will continue to go to Le Serre with or without a book, and encourage you to do the same. And hope to see more and more people smiling at the beauty of the place, appreciating the simple pleasure of looking for a strawberry in the garden or relaxing in the scent of thyme, leaving the city and the fashion a step back.