A unique coastal terraced garden designed as an open air entertaining arena

Luxury design house, Paolo Moschino, transformed four acres of mediterranean mountainside into this unique pleasure garden using the principles of stylish interior design

terraced coastal garden on a hillside with views out to sea
(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

Portofino is a refined and picturesque Mediterranean fishing village in Italy, pinned between the Apennine Mountains and the azure Ligurian Sea. Here property and land are precious. This breathtaking coastal garden has been created out of four acres of formerly inhospitable, mountainside land facing towards the ocean, and transformed into a unique pleasure garden.

Demonstrating what wonders can be achieved with sloped backyard ideas, the design successfully combines planting and landscaping with the expert principles of stylish interior design, decoration and lighting.

Read on to discover how.

sun loungers by plunge pool on a terraced hillside mediterranean garden

(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

Philip Vergeylen, Studio Design Director of luxury award-winning design studio Paolo Moschino, had re-designed and refurbished the interior décor of his client’s five- bedroomed Portofino village house, but the limited outdoor space proved more restrictive.

So when the rare opportunity arose to buy a rugged, steeply-sloping tract of nearby mountainside, to expand the outdoor reach and create a coastal garden, it proved irresistible to the client.

He secured the land and Philip was briefed to extend his design skills beyond interiors, ‘to create the best garden in the Mediterranean.’ 

chairs on grass parterre terraced level of mediterranean garden with sea views

(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

The lure of an expanse of a wild, untouched and overgrown land with unrivalled sea views in such a desirable location outshone the monumental development issues and limited site access. This involved ‘a pedestrian gate off Portofino’s cobbled Piazzetta, then tunnels 200 meters through rock  to an 1950’s elevator, which lifts you 100 metres upwards, to reach the unexpected “garden”,' explains Philip. 

Undaunted, after numerous site visits and hours poring over topographical maps, he devised a master plan for how to design a sloping garden.

terraced mediterranean garden overlooking sea with path and steps flanked by cypress trees

(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

The scheme relied on a series of more than 30 hillside terraces, with level corridors and floors demonstrating sublime garden landscaping ideas linked by stone staircases carved out of the hillside’s rocky façade. 

‘As an interior designer I work with boundaries and rooms. I approached the garden’s design in the same way, like an interior project, a house without a roof,’ Phillip explains. 

mediterranean hillside terraced garden with plunge pool and loungersb

(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

By creating multiple terraces, each with a dedicated, specific use, and linked by garden path ideas, an accessory to the Portofino house evolved. ‘There was already a tiny little “house”, with no bedrooms but great double aspect views. I applied for planning to replace it with a bijou pleasure palace but, frustratingly, permissions were declined.’

So, in essence, with many outdoor dining ideas, ‘the garden is a gallery for magnificent artworks and an open air arena for entertaining, 24/7, designed to host lunches and dinners, dance parties, sunset drinks, or simply for relaxing by the pool,' says Phillip.

outdoor dining area on a terrace level of a hillside sea facing garden

(Image credit: Clive nichols)

Each garden room is individually tailored and fit for purpose yet all sit comfortably within an overarching design. By repeating, reinventing and re-scaling a geometric, rhombus-based trelliswork design, Philip subliminally knits together the parterre gardens and pathways at every level. 

‘The rhombus design is very Portofino, it’s part of the fabric of the village,’ acknowledges Philip, who transforms the vernacular emblem into a contemporary design theme. 

pergola over grass rhombic parterre on terraced garden with mediterranean plants

(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

On the ‘sundowner’ and dining terraces the repeated rhombus rolls out, wall-to-wall, more diamond-cut carpet than grass and stone parterre. A parallel all-stone effect is created by using contrasting dark and pale stonework on the terraces in between. 

The aquamarine and jet-black tiles submerged in the plunge pool area idea on a lower ‘deck’ reflect the same rhombus design, which is loosely echoed in the garden’s cross-backed, metal-framed loungers and chairs.

pergola covered in climbing plants on grassy terrace level of hillside garden

(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

The hard landscaping is soft-furnished with a profusion of Mediterranean plants. Hundreds of indigenous cypress, olive and lemon trees were air-lifted and planted in groves between salvaged pines, intrinsic to the character of the Mediterranean garden ideas and these new Italianate gardens. 

pergola covered in climbers on terrace level of a mediterranean garden leading to large stone urn

(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

Rampant flowering climbers, ivy, jasmine, plumbago, bougainvillea and prostrate rosemary, create living wall coverings, enveloping pergola ideas to create pleasant shade for dining and smothering lofty metal-work arcades to help screen and divide rooms.

marble torso statues set in wall alcoves in mediterranean garden

(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

At ground level, mounds and spheres of lavender, pittosporum and Australian rosemary, Westringia, cushion enviably verdant terraces, achieved by rigorous irrigation.

water fountain uplit in a terraced hillside garden with stone walls

(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

The garden’s decoration revolves around the client’s collection of historic artefacts and curiosities. ‘Grand Tour’ style ornamentation includes a Roman-pillared pergola; a monumental wall garden fountain created around a 17th century Italian urn as a water feature idea; an arcade of replica Roman marble torsos, and Roman mosaic inlay.  

marble torso sculptures set along wall of terraced mediterranean garden

(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

Philip’s final flourish is outdoor lighting, to extend the garden’s use from day into night. ‘In a climate like Portofino, you want to get maximum enjoyment out of the garden; accent lighting helps create a real atmosphere and subtly reveals the garden’s most beautiful features.’ This includes exquisite and atmospheric patio lighting as well as pool lighting ideas.

pool area and terraces lit at night on a hillside mediterranean sea facing garden

(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

‘Working in partnership with the client, a fearless approach to the seemingly impossible has realised an astonishing garden which never fails to totally astound and impress first-time visitors,’ says. Philip.

Philip’s wealth of interior design shines through, adding a unique dimension to an exceptional garden in an extraordinary location.

Jacky Hobbs
Gardens writer

A creative freelance writer, stylist and photographer, Jacky Hobbs has created home and garden features for prestigious lifestyle magazines for over two decades. 

An earlier career travelling the world as a fashion and homeware buyer developed her passion for lifestyle, interiors, vintage, travel and later gardens.