By Meredith Pollock, MA 2015-16
There is nothing more “Tuscan” than a villa. Immortalized in movies like Under the Tuscan Sun, the classic Italian villa is a truly spectacular sight. Typically surrounded by extensive gardens, villas and their grounds can be explored for hours. Thankfully there are a number of villas around Florence that have been beautifully preserved.
One of these Tuscan villas is Villa La Pietra. Located on 57 acres and constructed in the 1460s, La Pietra was bequeathed to New York University in 1994 from Sir Harold Acton. Acton’s father Arthur bought the villa in 1907 and he and his wife, and later Harold, amassed a collection of more than 5000 items. The collection includes early Italian panel paintings, Flemish tapestries, Renaissance sculptures, Chinese ceramics, Baroque furniture, and more. Much of the collection is displayed as it was during the Actons’ lives, fulfilling its role as a true house museum. There is also a library with 10,000 books and 17,000 photographs. NYU currently uses La Pietra as an educational and research facility. Guided tours of the Villa, the Collection, and the Garden are offered on Friday afternoons with advance reservations, and tickets are €20 per person. Tours of the Gardens are offered Tuesday mornings for €12 per person. Twice a year La Pietra holds Open Week, during which tours are free. The next open week will be April 18-23, 2016. A tour of Villa La Pietra is a magical way to experience a historical Tuscan estate!
Villa I Tatti is another excellent example of a true Tuscan villa. Villa I Tatti was the home of Bernard Berenson until 1959 when he bequeathed it to his alma mater, Harvard University. Harvard still maintains the villa as a research center. The home contains a library of more than 175,000, as well as a collection of more than 150 pieces of pre-Colombian, Greek, Islamic, and Renaissance art. The villa is located on 73 acres, including seven acres of gardens in the early Renaissance style. Villa I Tatti is not open to the public, but tours are available by request for scholars, students, Harvard alumni, or those with special interest in the Renaissance. Tours occur on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons at 3pm.
Both villas are about thirty minutes outside of the center, but they are well worth the bus ride. Spend an afternoon at Villa La Pietra or Villa I Tatti for a truly enchanting experience!
Photos by Meredith Pollock