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A feast for the senses

Jan 22, 2015 Dorset
Villa Lanfranchi

A captivating villa in the Tuscan countryside offers the perfect location to explore the cities of Lucca and Pisa and enjoy some lakeside Puccini.

The huge wrought iron gates swung open as if by magic and we were inside. We wound our way through trees and bushes and suddenly, there was the Villa de Lanfranchi. Waiting to welcome us, with a glass of champagne, was the owner Claudio Zeppi. Situated in the village Molina di Quosa, halfway between the Tuscan cities of Pisa and Lucca, our beautiful villa was one of 34 built in the 18th century in a line between the two cities. Many are now hotels but ours was still privately owned, and what a remarkable villa it would tum out to be.

Every room was utterly individual and the villa was brimming over with Claudio’s amazing collection of just about everything you could possibly imagine.

It was an intriguing place to explore. In one room was a photograph of Andy Warhol given to Claudio by the photographer who took it. In the kitchen there were silver plates from the set of a Visconti movie; in another glass chandeliers that had belonged to Modigliani and subsequently given to Claudio by the artist’s daughter. Dinner as guests of Claudio on our first evening, was at a table behind the swimming pool, enclosed by giant bamboos planted in the 18th century by the curator of Lucca’s famous botanical gardens. Claudio regaled us with stories of his varied life. Though how a chemical engineer ended up mixing with movie royalty in Hollywood is still a bit of a mystery to me. Some of my crowd stayed up late to watch a film in the outdoor cinema set amongst the trees. But l headed for bed. Tomorrow we started our tour of the famous cities. Lucca and Pisa were only a few miles from Villa de Lanfranchi so both cities were just a short ride away. We settled on Pisa first and, of course, had to make the obligatory climb up the Leaning Tower in the Piazza del Duomo, which alter recent renovations is not leaning quite as precariously as it once was. I last climbed its two hundred plus steps in my early twenties when l was tottering Italy in a friend’s sports car. It‘s a lot busier now and climbing slots are allocated, with only 45 people allowed up at a time. The Cathedral (Duomo di Pisa), next to the Tower was breath-taking. I especially loved the Camposanto Monumentale or Monumental Cemetery along building alongside the cathedral with wide cloisters and walls covered in exquisite frescoes. They are the largest frescoes in Europe and took over 300 years to complete. With Etruscan and Roman origins, Pisa is a city with a long history. There’s the Renaissance Square of the Knights of St Stephen and the 12th century tower houses. Around 700 are still standing out of the 10.000 that were originally built. This is also a city rich in art. Overlooking the River Arno are a number of museums including the San Matteo which has the best collection of medieval art in ltaly. We were in Tuscany at the satire time as the Puccini Festival which takes place every year (at the end of July and August) at the lakeside town of Torre del Lago, half an hour from the villa. We booked to see one of my favourites, Madame Butterfly.

A panoramic view of Lucca operas are performed in a large open city below. Back on street level Lucca air arena, the Gran Teatro all‘aperto, set on the edge of Lake Massaciuccoli, is just about the right size to wander around comfortably on foot. We had a lovely two hour walk with the Apuan Alps providing a majestic backdrop.

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