Monday, 28 April 2014

An opportunity to stay at Villa Gamberaia, one of the most famous historical villas in Tuscany

The Villa Gamberaia is a 14th Century Tuscan villa located on the outskirts of Florence, ten minutes' walk from the ATAF bus stop at Settignano, and famous for its beautiful "hanging" garden. Villa Gamberaia has featured in almost every book about the formal gardens of Tuscany since Platt and Morgan's Italian Gardens of 1884.

stay at Villa Gamberaia, one of the most famous historical villas in Tuscany
The garden of Villa Gamberaia, one of the most famous historical villas in Tuscany
From 1895 until 1925, Villa Gamberaia was owned by the increasingly eccentric Princess Jeanne Ghyka, sister of Queen Natalia of Serbia, who lived here with her equally eccentric American companion, Miss Blood, and thoroughly restored the villa and reconstructed garden. It was she who substituted pools of water for the parterre beds. Although, as her great beauty faded, she was only ever glimpsed, if at all, draped from head to foot in veils, Lady Sybil Cutting of Villa Medici and mother of Iris Origo, reported being told that the princess would sometimes emerge from the villa at dawn to swim in the pools. The villa was badly damaged during WW II but brilliantly restored from 1954 onwards by Marcello Marchi.

Vacation rental accommodation at Villa Gamberaia
Villa Gamberaia seen from the garden

While innumerable visitors have made the pilgrimage to visit this enchanting Tuscan villa garden, few seem to have realised that we now have the opportunity to stay at Villa Gamberaia, one of the most famous historical villas in Tuscany! That's right - you can spend your vacation at one of the most beautiful and famous villas in Tuscany, indeed, in all of Italy, either in the guest houses that have been created in some of the annexes to the main villa or in the main villa itself. The apartments are self-catering and furnished in exquisite and luxurious taste. In addition, the reception rooms and grounds of the villa can be rented for events and Tuscan weddings.

One of the guest rooms at Villa Gamberaia
Click here for more information about vacation accommodation and events opportunities at Villa Gamberaia.

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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Sunday, 27 April 2014

When do the poppies appear in Tuscany?

Wild flowers in Tuscany.


This is the time of year when many readers ask me, "When do the poppies appear in Tuscany?" Of course, the exact time varies a bit from year to year, but right now, the end of April and beginning of May, is the time to see poppies and many, many other species of wild flowers in Tuscany. This is basically because April is one of the two rainy months in Tuscany (the other being October) and as long as the temperature and rainfall are more or less average, flowers will spring up everywhere - ploughed fields, olive groves, vineyards, roadside.

The picture below shows a bunch of wild flowers that I picked yesterday during the course of a 20 minute walk through my olive grove here in central Chianti. Those are just a few of the more spectacular blooms that had sprung up since the thunderstorm the day before, irises and poppies among them.

wild flowers of Tuscany
Tuscan wild flowers

Poppies of the Val d'Orcia

When visitors to Tuscany ask about poppies in bloom, they're usually referring to the red poppies that blanket the Val d'Orcia at this time of year. This display is most spectacular on the ploughed hills of the heavily alkaline Crete Senesi in the Val d'Orcia before the crops are planted, and is the object of many a photographic excursion to that area of Tuscany during the last days or April and early May. Cultivation of agricultural land is often detrimental to wild plant species but not so the Tuscan poppy which, indeed, is also known as the "corn poppy" because it thrives on land subject to the annual rhythm of grain cultivation. This species is also famous under the name "Flanders poppy", the emblem of the fallen soldiers of World War I. Papaver rhoeas, the variety of papavero (poppy) that has become known as the Tuscan poppy, probably originated in Egypt, where the cyclic agricultural practices regulated by the annual flood of the Nile began favouring this spectacular plant. By growing on disturbed soil and seeding itself profusely during its growing season, the poppy has found a perfect harmony with the agricultural practices for the past 3,000 years or so and remains of poppies have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.

Poppies in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany
Poppies blooming in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany

Orchids in Tuscany

Not everyone realises that there are more than 40 species of orchid native to Tuscany. Ophrys speculum is one of the most common and easiest to recognise of the Tuscan orchids, but the diligent flower enthusiast will soon discover several other common species that are currently in flower. Many of these are found in or near bogs high in the Apuan Alps, but others are common throughout Tuscany, especially in the hilly vineyards and fields of Chianti. The flowers of members of the genus Ophrys are famous for their resemblance to female insects, to the extent that male insects, bees in particular, attempt to copulate with them, hence pollinating the flowers. Although many authorities list between 50 and 150 species of Ophrys in Europe, molecular genetic analysis suggests that there might be as few as 10 species, with the other apparent species being variants arising from hybridisation. Nevertheless, whether they are different species or not, this genus alone provides a huge variety of floral pleasures for country walkers in Tuscany.

A Tuscan orchid, Ophrys speculum
A Tuscan orchid, Ophrys speculum
More about the orchids of Tuscany.


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Thursday, 24 April 2014

The upper floor of the Mercato Centrale in Florence has re-opened today

Great news! The upper floor of the Mercato Centrale in Florence has re-opened today. Readers of my posts will know I'm a great enthusiast for the Mercato Centrale in Florence, both for its wonderful Art Deco cast iron architecture (called "Liberty" style in Italian after the Liberty shop in London) and for its amazing contents - edibles of every kind displayed with Italian flair. The upper floor has been closed over a long period for restoration and now we can see that they have not only restored it but created a really pleasing public area, high and light, for sales of food products to take away (cheeses feature prominently) but also to stop for something to eat or drink in a great ambiance.

Upper floor of the Mercato Centrale of Florence re-opens
Upper floor of the Mercato Centrale in Florence re-opens
So this is an additional reason not to miss this architectural gem right in the middle of Florence. And not just for the architecture. The Mercato Centrale is a working market - real Florentines flock here to buy their supplies. Some are restauranteurs and others are Florentine housewives who like the huge choice, freshness and prices of the fruit,vegetables, meat, salumi and sea food on offer.

The Mercato opens Monday through Saturday early in the morning (7 am) and closes at 2 pm. By 1.30 pm many of the stalls are already closed or closing. I'll report back if these hours will be extended with the availability of the newly restored space upstairs.

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