It was in TRSTENO in 1502 that Dubrovnik noble Ivan Gucetić built his summer villa, surrounded by decorous gardens which spread along a terrace overlooking the sea. Such gardens were considered de rigeur by the aristocracy of sixteenth-century Dubrovnik – sadly, those of Trsteno are the only ones still which can be enjoyed in something approaching their original form.
Maintained by successive generations of the Gućetic family, the villa and its gardens were confiscated in 1948 by a communist regime eager to destroy any latent prestige still enjoyed by the Dubrovnik nobility. The Yugoslav (now Croatian) Academy of Sciences took the place over and expanded it, turning it into an arboretum.
Trsteno is relatively easy to get to, with Dubrovnik–Split buses dropping off and picking up in the centre of the village. Standing by the roadside just next to the bus stop is a majestic pair of 400-year-old plane trees, some 50m high and 15m in circumference. From here a path drops you down to the main entrance to the arboretum, where Gucetićs former villa overlooks the oldest part of the estate, a typical Renaissance garden in which patches of lavender, rosemary, oleander, bougainvillea, myrtle and cyclamen are divided up by lines of box hedge to form a complex geometrical design. A nearby orchard sports bushy grapefruit and mandarin trees, but beyond here the garden has a wonderfully lush, uncontrolled feel, as pathways begin to lose themselves in a dense woodland environment comprising trees from around the world. Amidst it all, a trident wielding statue of Neptune overlooks a pond packed with goldfish. Running northwest from the villa, an avenue of palm trees leads to yet more semi-wilderness areas, thick with cypresses and pines. The effects of two recent fires (the first resulting from Yugoslav artillery in 1991, the second starting accidentally in summer 2000), can be seen in the shape of blackened tree trunks and waste ground, dotted here and there with areas of new planting. Once you've seen the gardens, however, there's not much to keep you here, save for the little cafe attached to the campsite just uphill from the garden entrance