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Respite in the City

The Arabs, who knew the joy of a green oasis, were the ones who introduced gardens to Palermo. The Normans extended the idea by creating extensive parklands and summer retreats to escape the heat. Today, you can wander among gardens and greenery and encounter incredible, centuries-old banyan trees and other exotic plantings. An hour or two in one of Palermo's parks allows you to take a breather from the noise and pollution, while admiring the stunning Mediterranean landscape.

Villa Bonanno, behind the Palazzo dei Normanni, is among the most beautiful public gardens of Palermo. Enter from Piazza della Vittoria. The city added palm trees in 1905, making the park look like an oasis in North Africa. Note the roof covering the ruins of a Roman villa, the only such artifacts of their kind left in Palermo. Entrance is free, so take advantage -- some of the mosaics are well preserved.

The Giardino Garibaldi (Garibaldi Garden), in Piazza Marina, has stunning banyan trees, with their exposed, trunklike "aerial" roots, along with fig trees and towering palms.

The Orto Botanico (Botanical Garden), at Via Abramo Lincoln 2B (tel. 091-6238241; www.ortobotanico.palermo.it), was laid out in 1795.The garden is known to botanists the world over thanks to the richness and variety of its plant species. Among the curiosities are the Bombacaceae and Chorisias plants shipped here in the late 19th century from South America. These have swollen, prickly trunks and, in spring, bloom with beautiful pink flowers that turn into a strange fruit. Upon ripening, the fruit bursts open and drops its seed on the ground along with what is called "fake cotton." Admission to Orto Botanico is 4€. It is open April to October daily 9am to 7pm; November to March, Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm, Sunday 9am to 2pm. Take bus no. 139, 211, 221, 224, 226, or 227.

Villa Giulia, next door to the Orto Botanico and also opening onto Via Abramo Lincoln, is an Italianate oasis created in 1778 and enlarged in 1866. This was the city's first public park, named for its patron, Giulia Avalos Guevara, the wife of the ruling viceroy. Goethe came this way in 1787 and had much praise for the garden, which is also called "La Flora." Its beautiful trees and flowers are in better shape than the monuments, which include neoclassical band shells. The best-known statue is called Genius of Palermo, by Marabitti.

The Parco Della Favorita is reached by going 2.8km (1 3/4 miles) north of Palermo along Viale Diana. This was part of an estate acquired in 1799 by Ferdinand of Bourbon, who came here after he was driven out of Naples by Napoleonic troops. He ordered that the land be laid out according to his rather Victorian taste. In time, it became the ruler's private hunting estate. The fantastic Casina Cinese (Chinese House) built for Ferdinand is still standing. It was in this exotically decorated palace that the king, along with his wife, Maria Carolina, entertained Horatio Nelson and Lady Hamilton.

In the heart of the city center, just after Piazza Croci and ending at Via Duca della Verdura, is the Giardino Inglese (English Garden), the "green lung" of the city. Laden with sky-high palm trees and busts of Sicilian notables, it's where workers come to get air during their lunch break.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.