To where would you retreat if you had unparalleled wealth? J. Paul Getty, whose oil empire had made him the world's richest man by the 1950s, looked just outside Rome to the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea, beloved by emperors thousands of years before him.
In the days of Pompeius, Caesar and Marcus Aurelius, the area known as Alsium was described as a "voluptuous seaside resort" where careworn emperors could lay down the burden of rule for a brief while. Little remains of their presence, bar a few ancient walls along a narrow, black-sand beach, but the tranquility belies a spot just 40 minutes from the city.
Getty, then a reclusive Europhile looking for a place to retire, became transfixed by the area when he stumbled across La Posta Vecchia (the Old Post House) a magnificent, if crumbling, coastline villa. He set about restoring it to its former glory, seeking a haven that could house his mistresses and other assorted treasures.
An Italian prince had built the villa in 1640 for visitors to his nearby castle, and it remained a lodge for wealthy travelers until it was almost destroyed by fire in 1918. Only when Getty bought the property in 1960, after decades of neglect, was its full splendor revealed: excavations uncovered the ruins of a substantial Roman villa beneath the foundations, decorated with intricate masonry, mosaics and African and Greek marble. Getty lovingly preserved the ruins and built a small museum in the villa's basement showcasing artifacts found there, including crockery, lamps and makeup tools from the 1st century.
La Posta Vecchia is now a memorial to Getty, too. He fled Italy for England in 1973 after his grandson was kidnapped and his ear sent as a grisly warning when Getty failed to pay ransom. The villa was left almost untouched and remains so today as a 19-room hotel. It is furnished as Getty left it, complete with rare Flemish tapestries, antique furniture and artwork. There is no formal reception or bar or gym. Instead, La Posta Vecchia has been left as a beautiful home where you sense that Getty or his guests could join you for lunch on the terrace or a dip in the pool. Some of the present staff were trained by Getty's own servants, and the personal touch remains the gardener picks vegetables for dinner each day, the Michelin-starred chef gives cooking lessons. Private watercolor sessions can also be arranged at a nearby lake, as can trips to Rome for dinner or the opera. The old mogul must have hated leaving this place as will you. See lapostavecchia.com for more.