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June 24, 2011 / TAB

Medici Villas

From my base in Montaione, I attempted to visit 5 Medici Villas, some more successfully than others.

The first was at Artimino, the Villa La Ferdinanda. I knew from the guide book that I could not visit the interior but the gardens would be possible. Despite opening hours posted on the gate, a buzz to the inner sanctum gave a firm “No” when asked about a visit. So a photo from the road of the front with its many chimney pots. If you are a Lions Club member they do have regular lunch there and it is available for wedding and ceremony rentals.

Next stop were two fairly close together but were a nightmare in terms of traffic, passage through unattractive industrial areas, and unmarked roads, Castello and Petraia. Villa di Castello is now the site of the keepers of the Italian Language (Accademia della Crusca) and visits to the interior can be made in advance. However the gardens and park are free entry.The park is overgrown and full of shady paths leading up to an overlook of the Villa gardens which are geometric in design and beautifully maintained. There was a complement of workers attending to the plantings when I was there. The most interesting feature was the Grotto of Animals that reminded me of a similar grotto in the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Petraia is just up the road a few kilometers and also free for the garden entry. There is also the possibility of a guided tour but I missed the timing and didn’t want to wait. No photos inside. The gardens here are a mix of formal geometric beds and open grass area. There are benches in the shady spots. The ones at the end of the garden have great views toward Florence. I could sit there and imagine what the views in the 16th century and up would have been without all the modern factory and houses being in the way. This was also the summer residence of the King Vittorio Emanuel II during his reign in the 19th century.

Rounding out the successful visits is one to Villa di Poggio a Caiano. The visit is free and accompanied by a watcher to make sure you don’t take photos in the villa. Our guide would answer questions (no English spoken) but didn’t offer any information. There were on 4 of us walking through at that time and I was very lucky to strike up a conversation with the extremely charming and knowledgable Mark, from Vienna, who gave me a background in all that was on display. He told me that the pouty look on some of the portrait subjects was a trademark of the Habsburg dynasty. This villa is where Francesco I and his wife, Bianca Cappello died within hours of each other and poison is suspected. Their bedroom and a wonderful decorative stairway/balcony. Napoleon’s sister, Elisa (of Lucca fame) also had apartments here and King Vittorio Emanuel II stayed here when Florence was the capital of Italy. The great hall of Leo X is a wonder to see.

The last on my list was the villa at Cerreto Guidi, Villa Medicea, which was used as a hunting lodge. It is where Isabella (Medici) Orsini was murdered by her husband. In a trap of poor signage (there was a “to the left sign” followed by the “to the right sign” and nothing in the middle), I circled the town several times and couldn’t find a way in to the villa. Perhaps I’ll try again before I leave on when I come back to Lucca in a few weeks.

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