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Art & Culture

Villa Reale in Marlia

The gardens of the Villa Reale in Marlia, pure delight The park of the Villa Reale in Marlia, in the Lucchesia region, is one of the most beautiful in Tuscany, a wonderful place where you can walk amongst the green, discover the places of delight that belonged to the aristocracy and have a picnic. Of the many monumental villas in the Lucchesia, Marlia is the most spectacular. The dream of Napoleon's sister Of early medieval origins, the complex belonged at the beginning of the 19th century to Napoleon's sister, Princess Elisa Bonaparte of Lucca, who enlarged it and also created an English garden in the large park, one of few in Italy. The villa was later assigned to the Bourbons, who continued to use it as a court residence, then to King Victor Emmanuel II, and, after a number of setbacks, was purchased by the Pecci Blunt counts in 1923. The Pecci Blunt counts oversaw the renovation of the park, entrusting it to a renowned French architect, Jacques Greber, who created streams, woods, a lake and other landscape elements that we can still appreciate today. In recent years, the villa complex in Marlia has been the subject of an extensive restoration project by its current owners, allowing it to reopen to the public in 2019. Pan's Cave In the oldest part of the garden is Pan's grotto, a nymphaeum built between 1570 and 1580, dedicated to the deity of shepherds and the countryside. On the outside, it is characterised by wide arcades beyond which one enters a cave-like environment decorated with carved heads and niches. The work is attributed to Bernardo Buontalenti, the same artist who created the grotto in the Boboli Gardens in Florence. The two Italian gardens Dating back to the 17th century, the Italian-style garden of the Marlia villa has come down to us after various transformations and is divided into two parts: the upper hanging garden, on the terrace, at the centre of which is a magnificent magnolia, and the lower garden, with the classic square flowerbeds enclosed by hedges containing boxwood plants pruned into spherical shapes. The statues in the niches and the gravel paths as pink as the boundary wall create an overall harmony. The oldest Verzura Theatre Built between 1666 and 1670, the Villa di Marlia's Verzura theatre is the oldest in Europe, an extraordinary testimony to the taste of the time to equip the most important gardens with natural open-air theatres made of vegetation: the stage is a lawn, the curtains are sculpted yew hedges adorned with terracotta statues representing characters from the commedia dell'arte. Theatrical performances are still held in this place of delight, where Niccolò Paganini played his violin for Elisa Bonaparte. The Camellia Avenue The first camellias in the Marlia villa were brought from the Royal Palace of Caserta, ordered by Elisa Bonaparte for her brother Joseph, then on the throne of Naples, as rare exotic plants. It is thanks to Elisa that today camellias are a characteristic element of this magnificent area. Camellias are plants of Asian origin that have acclimatised very well in the Lucchesia region, so much so that the famous Exhibition of Ancient Camellias is held here at the beginning of March. The plants in the park have of course been refreshed and enriched with new varieties, allowing the extraordinary diversity of colours and shapes to be appreciated. The Spanish garden and swimming pool Among the innovations introduced by Greber's work in the 1920s, we find the Spanish Art Deco garden characterised by geometric shapes, the presence of water fountains and the flowering of hibiscus, climbing roses, evonimiums and hypericum. We also owe the lake to Greber, which today is one of the most important landscape elements of the entire garden, as well as a functional structure for the proper irrigation of the park. In the heated swimming pool (very modern for the time), built in 1928 along with tennis, bowling and croquet courts, the writer Alberto Moravia and the artist Salvador Dalì were among the many guests of the Pecci Blunt. The olfactory route The great botanical biodiversity of the park at the Villa di Marlia, which was restored thanks to the work begun in 2015, now makes it possible to transform every visit into a sensory experience where you can be guided above all by your sense of smell. There are so many scents and essences that welcome visitors to the park in every season, and they are the same that Elisa Bonaparte and the many distinguished guests of her residence must have enjoyed. To find out more The villa and gardens in Marlia are open daily from March to early November and November to December only at weekends. Dogs are allowed.
Art & Culture

Villa della Pergola

Villa della Pergola: an experience through history and nature In Alassio, a town in Liguria, the park of Villa della Pergola overlooks the sea and the spectacular panorama of the coast. Its origins date back to the late 19th century, but it was landscape architect Paolo Pejrone who restored the gardens in 2006, and today, thanks to his work, the area's 22,000 square metres have returned to their former glory. In keeping with the Anglo-Mediterranean style, the historical species were recovered and, the botanical catalogue was further enriched, so that the park now boasts a number of firsts: with its 34 varieties, the wisteria collection is the largest in Italy, while the 500 species of agapanthus make up the richest in Europe. The villa, surrounded by gardens, houses an exclusive hotel, a charming relais that preserves the atmosphere of yesteryear. Memories go back to the past, when English nobility moved to this historic residence, attracted by the mild climate and beauty of the region. The 15 suites evoke turn-of-the-century sophistication in antique furnishings, in Victorian and Edwardian paintings. The Michelin-rated restaurant completes the experience. An explosion of colours to the rhythm of the seasons Hydrangeas, oleanders, bougainvillea, jasmine and old roses. Strolling through the park of Villa della Pergola is like entering a botanical garden, always offering new surprises to the rhythm of the seasons. A living and vital environment, therefore, changeable, with an intriguing dynamism. If you are of a romantic disposition, April is the perfect month, because you will find wisteria in their heyday, with the clusters in fresh bloom. The spectacle is such that the English nobility, in the 20th century, liked to organise for the occasion the 'Wisteria Festival', an event of wide appeal for the elite. A feast for the eyes, now within every visitor’s reach. In May, roses and lavender flourish and a sweet aroma wafts through the air. If it is the shades of blue and azure that you love, then the right time is between June and late July: the first flowers of the agapanthus make waves, similar to those of the sea. Instead, lantanas and hibiscus wait until the end of summer to fill themselves with colourful flowers. Not lacking a touch of exoticism Alongside Mediterranean vegetation, including maritime pines, olive trees and myrtle, the Villa della Pergola park also boasts exotic species, including some rare specimens. For experts and lovers of botany it is a further point of interest, for tourists a pleasant discovery, an imaginary journey to distant lands, straight from this corner of the Ligurian Riviera. Various types of water lilies can be seen in the ponds dotting the garden, including the Blue Water Lily, which recalls the myths of ancient Egypt. The water basin holds a riot of lotuses and thoughts run to the Far East, to the ornamental ponds in the temples of China and Japan. An entire room is dedicated to tropical plants. Various species of palm trees, from all corners of the globe, from the Canary Islands to Asia and Central America, predominate, as well as imposing bamboos, which reach eight metres in height. An absolute rarity is the Wollemia Nobilis, a prehistoric conifer of Australian origin, known from fossils and yet here it is alive and well: it is one of only a hundred specimens worldwide. The exoticism also extends to the fine collection of citrus fruits. Alongside the local varieties (the most notable being the famous Chinotto di Savona, a Slow Food Presidium) appears the Buddha's Hand Cedar. The name of oriental origin refers to the curious shape of the fruit: not spherical, but jagged and divided into several independent sections, resembling a hand with many fingers. The citrus fruit Murraya Paniculata, the smallest in nature, is also worth a look; the Indians use the leaves to create curry, their country's national dish. A stellar gastronomic break is also possible A relaxing stay in the sophisticated suites of the historic house, an exploration of the park and finally the dining experience. Villa della Pergola is home to the Michelin-starred Restaurant Nove, with tables overlooking the sea, some outdoors. The garden bursts onto the plate with its aromatic herbs, vegetables and citrus fruits, aromas that enhance a modern cuisine strongly rooted in the land, with French influences. There is all the richness of Liguria in the dishes that use local ingredients: spiny artichokes, Taggiasche olives, Oneglia scampi, anchovies... The tasting menus, dedicated to the vegetable garden and the region, are highly recommended.