Nice & Tuscany 


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Crossing the border and an hour into Italy , I noticed the could not help but notice the tunnels because there are over 200! Ranging in length from 45 metres to 2006 metres…yes, I looked at every one of them!!  I also noticed all of the was almost non stop greenhouses all the way to Florence .



we made our first stop at Hanbury Botanic Gardens….


To Sir Thomas Hanbury, when he returned as an extremely wealthy man from the Far East, that small Cape seemed at once a piece of heaven, a green slope ending in a headland extending into a calm blue sea, olive groves, citrus orchards and vineyards, bordered by the thick green carpet of the Mediterranean scrub.  In 1867, on purchasing this property, that English gentleman, with the help of his brother Daniel, a distinguished pharmacologist, began to rule the destiny of what would become of the world’s most important botanic gardens.


The first index seminum, published in 1883, featured the seeds of about 600 species, the first catalogue of the plants cultivated in the garden put out in 1889 quoted 3,500 species, the third issued in 1912 reported 5,800 species.


Daniel died in 1875, Thomas followed him in 1907 leaving his son Cecil as his heir. Cecil’s wife, Lady Dorothy, carried on after world war I.  During world war II the garden became subject to cannonade attacks, passing troops and vandalism.  In 1960 she sold the garden to the Italian State and it was run by the International Institute of Ligurian Studies.  They could not keep up and it was then entrusted to the Genoa University where it remains to this day.



We stopped at Santa Margherita for lunch then made the short walk to the Villa Durazzo – that is the one with the bright green shutters.  It had a beautiful view of the surrounding area…and we could not get over all of the stones that were used and the artwork on the house… but could see whay when we found out it was planned in 1840 by Michele Canzio, an eclectic and ingenious artist. 


It is in Genova that Christopher Columbus was born, it’s a big sprawling city with a port that is the second busiest and biggest.


Then we arrived in Florence ….and our hotel, up in the hills, about six kms from Florence , with an incredible view of the olive groves and terra cotta coloured villas was in sight.  This hotel was built in the 15th century and in comprised of a few buildings situated on the 22 hectare property.


We all got our rooms, got settled, then headed to the dining room for dinner.  It was again incredible food and sometimes we didn’t get what we ordered but kept it anyway because it was so good.  Needless to say, some of the group enjoyed their red wine each night….and because most of the group was staying at one of the other buildings, they decided to have a couple of cocktail parties during the course of their stay, before dinner.  I do think they enjoyed themselves and enjoyed each others company!


Our first day in Italy included visits to Boboli Gardens and the Villa Gamberaia.


Boboli was an incredible place… Designed for the Medici family after they bought the Palazzo Pitti in 1549, the gardens are an excellent example of stylized Renaissance gardening and were first opened to the public in 1766. The more formal parts of the garden consist of box hedges clipped into symmetrical patterns that lead to wilder groves of ilex and cypress trees, planted to create a contrast between artifice and nature. 

The Boboli Gardens were not to become famous until they became the property of the Medici family, who called in Niccolò Pericoli, known as Tribolo, to design them; this artist had already given ample proof of his talent with his designs for the gardens of the Medici Villas of Castello and Petraia. Tribolo created a masterpiece of "landscape architecture" in the Boboli Gardens between 1550 and 1558, the year of his death.   This place is massive, both in size and in scope of gardens and the size of the Palazzo was outstanding.  We also discovered some of the most beautiful trees here as well….some of them even Marjorie could not name or recall ever seeing.


The Villa Gamberaia … 'Certainly the minds of the Florentine family of Capponi were original and inventive.' First, in 1570, they created the beautifully detailed asymmetrical gardens at Arcetri overlooking Florence, to simple design that has the archetypal similarities to Bingham' s Melcombe in England; and in 1717 they finally synthesised and completed the slowly evolving complex of the Villa Gamberaia at Settignano across the Arno valley, whose concept of domestic landscape is by general consent the most thoughtful the western world has known.' Geoffrey Jellicoe, Italian Gardens of the Renaissance




Our next day, after breakfast, we were off to visit three Villas…


The Villa Petraia Gardens was formerly the castle of the Brunelleschi family and in 1575 it passed to Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici and he had it completely renovated.  Of particular note to me was the great entrance court, covered with a glass skylight in the 19th century so it could serve as a ballroom.  Now if memory serves me well, this skylight was designed by the same fellow who designed the Eiffel Tower , Mr. Eiffel!  I took pictures of it because it was so striking with all the metal and glass.  The garden was laid out by Tribolo.  Nurseries, hothouses and basis are scattered throughout the terraces with their geometrically patterned boxwood hedges.


The Villa Reale di Castello got its name from a water reservoir that once formed a Roman aqueduct, later to be used to supply the water for the fountains in the park. This Villa was within walking distance of the Petraia and was again, one of the country houses for the Medici and then the Lorraine .  The interior is not open to the public, but houses the seat of the Accademia della Crusca, founded in Florence in 1583, it’s purpose is that of safeguarding and documenting the Italian language.  This garden was originally planned by Tribolo, but has been modified.  It has the famous fountain of Hercules and Antaeus and a grotto with sculptures by Giambologna and his school.


Garzoni Villa  is considered to be the finest of the chain of villas that shower the hills to the North-East of Lucca . Described as 'more lordly park than intimate garden' and one of the 'planning triumphs of the 17th century', the visitor descends through a bosco of holm oak, cypress, bay & box to the head of the cascade. Along the edge of the cascade, the gardens open out, allowing the visitor to reach the highest of three terraces, which provides a great panoramic view of the parterre below. The gardens are also known as a place of inspiration to writers and poets alike, including Abarra's 'Le Pompe di Collodi', written in 1652.


The citizens of Pistoia were once known for violence and intrigue, a reputation gained largely due to the medieval disputes between the city's rival factions, the Bianchi and Neri. The favoured weapon at the time was a tiny, locally crafted dagger known as a pistola, from where the city gets its name.


We also had time to stop in Collodi, the home of Pinocchio and pick up some of the best nougat I have ever tasted…




This morning after breakfast, we met our coach and headed off to the Villa Mansi, and Villa Torrigiani and the Villa Reale di Marlia, then out to Pisa !


Just a note to let you know that most of these Villas have small gardens and the Villas themselves are not usually open…I wanted to let you know because I didn’t want you thinking I was rushing these days….


Villa Mansi itself stands out among other Luccanese palaces, as do the once elaborate water gardens designed by the late Baroque architect, Filippo Juvarra. The present house was begun in the late 16th century and rebuilt in the 1630s, but it was then recast for the Mansi family in the 1670s. Juvarra altered the gardens in 1720, giving them the theatrical stamp that can be seen today. However, only the fishpond, the ruins of Diana's Grotto, a section of cascade and segments of hedge survive today.

The Villa Torrigiani and the park date back the beginning of the 16th century, the owners then were the powerful Buonvisi family. During the first half of the 17th Century Villa di Camigliano was purchased by Marquis Nicolao Santini, the ambassador of the Republic of Lucca to the court of Louis 14th (the sun King), who wanted to transform it into a sumptuous dwelling, with a garden of flowering parterres and grand basins, into which the facade would reflect. The garden was to be built according to the plans done by Le Notre for the royal home of Versailles

The work done by Le Notre, the famous landscape architect of Louis the 14th, who created the Garden - Theater of Flora with grottoes and water works which still function and which are visible in the Grotto of the Winds. There is an exceptional example of a round grotto with stone mosaics and the niches surrounding with remarkable statues of the winds, fountains serving as basins, and above them a dome from which great rain pours down. Today we have splendid examples of Liliodendron Tulipifera, Taxodium Disdreum, Olsmanthus Fragrans, Atlas Cedar and many varieties of magnolias and Camellia. 

The Villa Reale di Marlia, has been the residence of the greatest aristocratic families and patrons of the arts for generations. Napoleon's sister, Elisa Baciocchi, the sovereign of Lucca and later of all Tuscany , created, she herself, this grandiose complex by uniting the vast Villa Orsetti with the surrounding grounds which also included a palace, a summer residence, which years before belonged to the bishop of Lucca . She modernized the antique Orsetti palace and the front loggias which serve as the entrance. 

Count and Countess Pecci-Blunt, the parents of today's owners, purchased the property in the nick of time to stop the destruction of the park. They commissioned the restoration of the garden to a famous French architect, Jacques Greber. They created woods, brooks, and a lake which presents a grandiose romantic complement to this serious of classical Italian gardens of Orsetti era.

Lucca 's grid of streets today still follows the original Roman pattern dating back to 180BC. Big, solid ramparts, built in the 16th century help to shut out the traffic making the city a pleasant place to explore on foot. San Michele in Foro, one of the many Pisan-Romanesque churches stands on the site of the Roman Forum that formed the main piazza in ancient times and this is still Lucca 's central focus today.   The center of Lucca is in a circle, and I found the streets very narrow and loved the three and four story buildings, all unique and filled with flowers.

Lucca was a wealthy city, producing silk and its gardens are more romantic and not formal like Pistoia .


Then we were off to Pisa …we got there so fast I didn’t realize it!  We had to get out of our coach and board a bus that would take us to the Leaning Tower and even though there were hordes of stalls surrounding the Cathedral, Baptistry and Tower, once inside the grassed area surrounding the buildings, it was nice and quiet.  The beauty of these buildings takes your breath away.  Next to the other two buildings the tower looked out of place and strange, and very close to the church.  When you realize that the tower was really the bell tower for the church it is understandable.


The completion of the three buildings took over 300 years.  Work on the Cathedral began in 1064 under the direction of Buscheto, the unfinished building was consecrated in 1118 by Pope Gelasius II.  In the 12th century the façade was erected, although construction went on for centuries more. The Cathedral, like the other two buildings, are all completely faced in precious colored marbles.  The columns and carvings are incredible.  The mosaics in the portal lunettes date from the 1400’s.  I won’t even get started on the interior…it was indescribable…the pulpit alone , sculpted by Giovanni Pisano between 1302 and 1310 is considered the master’s finest work and ranks as one fo the great sculptures of the Italian Gothic.  The pulpit proper is supported by allegorical statues and columns, two of which rest on crouching lions.  It is round.


The Leaning Tower has come to be the symbol of Pisa . It stands 179 tall on the north side and 177 feet on the south side.  On the top where Galileo performed his experiments on falling masses in the 16th century, you can enjoy a splendid view…I just didn’t have time for everything!!  The belltower was begun in 1173 under the supervision of Bonanno and when the first three floors were erected, it has started showing signs of sinking.  Work was suspended then and started again in 1273 and was not completed until the 14th century.


The Baptistry was started in 1152 by Diotisalvi and matched the other two buildings in materials and design.  This building was also completed in the 14th century.  Here again is another pulpit beyond belief.  Built in 1260, it is hexagonal and suspended by 7 columns, three of which are crouching lions.



Our last day was in Florence itself, with a walking tour and then time to shop or to go back to the hotel to get packed up and rest.


Our guide was telling us that people get so hyper – not the right word, but they are struck with so much beauty all at once, that they cannot handle it.  Florence has been called the open air museum, because there virtually is no place that you can go that you do not find something.  I think the highlight of my time here was going into the Accademia Galley and seeing Michelangelo’s ‘David’.  This really stunned me, because of the setting it was in – he was at the end of a long hallway and on each side there were three of his works called the Slaves.  I cannot tell you what it was like looking at this…everything very pale, a room with a circular skylight and in the center of that skylight stands the ‘David’.  The room is so quiet and people just walked around him…I was surprised at how tall he was.  I know why they say many of the visitors to this experience a perception of beauty which is strong and sudden enough to almost overwhelm the senses.


We saw many beautiful works of art while here, beautiful buildings with carvings so delicate, I just cannot begin to tell you everything…I hope you enjoy the pictures and  hopefully we will have another tour like this one in the near future….it was indeed a very memorable tour.



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