"no one except the English patient and herself in the Villa San Girolamo"

Villa le Balze
GNU Free Documentation LicenseVilla le Balze - Credit: Sailko
The Villa San Girolamo is a real place in the small hill town of Fiesole, just outside of Florence. The Villa San Girolamo is now a hotel, formerly a convent, and has beautiful gardens overlooking the city of Florence.

Next door to the Villa San Girolamo is the Villa le Balze, which Micheal Ondaatje used as a model for the Villa in The English Patient. The Villa le Balze has an interesting history, being occupied by German forces in World War II, and shelled by the Allied army. Now owned by Georgetown University, their site provides a wonderful history of the building, including photographs. 

This New York Times travel article, written in the 1989, talks about staying at the Villa San Girolamo when it was still run by nuns. Sadly, times (and prices) have changed somewhat.