Starting in May 1903, Hortense and Arthur began to explore the peninsula, following the classic itineraries of the Grand Tour, but also taking paths that were less traveled by American and European tourists. The Acton Collection offers the opportunity to fully understand the tools that the couple used during their travels. Most of the books, guides, travel books, maps and Touring Club of Italy issues kept in Villa La Pietra’s library bear Hortense Mitchell’s bookplate, datable before and after her marriage. The obvious signs of wear and the marginalia show the central role played by these volumes in the discovery of Italy, together with friends and always aboard an automobile—a great passion of Mr. Acton’s. Thanks to the picture postcards purchased by the couple and used by Mrs. Mitchell as a sort of travel diary, it is possible to follow the timing of their excursions, the roads they traveled, the hotels they stayed in, the quality of the meals, the climate, and the conditions of the road surface.
The Acton Collection also includes the so-called “garden books”: photo books, essays or treatises dedicated to historic Italian gardens and written mainly by Anglo-American authors. These are volumes full of photographs and graphic illustrations, sometimes of large dimensions (up to 44 x 35 cm – 17 x 14 in), which have a dual purpose: to make known the history, evolution and characteristics of the main villas in Italy as well as to lead garden lovers on true “pilgrimages” (Le Blond 1912, 138), to discover the “Italian garden-magic” (Wharton 1904, 5). In some of these texts a purely operational character emerges studying the principles and methods adopted by the architects of the past was crucial in order to “apply in the changed circumstances of modern life the principles which guided the garden-makers of the Renaissance “, as the English scholar George Sitwell, a friend of the Acton Mitchells, wrote. It is therefore not surprising to see notes, sketches, and ideas in the “garden books” of Villa La Pietra. Books such as The Old Gardens of Italy, How to Visit Them by Mrs. Aubrey Le Blond (1912) were an essential tool for exploring and fully understanding the gardens of the past. Volumes such as Italian Villas and their Gardens by Edith Wharton (1904), instead, gave readers the reference points needed to create, in the contemporary world, a true Italian garden