An open air museum: the Park of Villa Reale
A few kilometers outside Lucca, located in a small district of Capannori, lies a unique treasure, renowned for its beauty: The Villa Reale of Marlia and its immense park.
I decide to visit the Villa for the first time with Gianni, a friend and colleague. We pass through Lucca and leave the city’s imposing walls behind us and after about 10 minutes by car we turn into a tree-lined avenue which leads directly to the villa gates.
Welcome to the Villa Reale of Marlia!
A genuine treasure trove of history, the foundations of the Villa date back to the Middle Ages. It then underwent a complete restoration, thanks to Napoleon’s sister in the 1800s. At present the Villa itself is closed due to restoration work and shall open to the public in 2020. It is only possible to visit the gardens. You should allow at least an hour and half for the visit in order to fully appreciate all there is to see, because every step you take will lead you to an area which is completely different from the previous one.
You can be accompanied by a guide or visit the park on your own.
Michela, our pleasant and cheerful guide, greets us as we enter the Park.
We begin our tour with the olfactory itinerary, a new addition to the Park, It was introduced on 1st March 2018 and winds along the Camellia Walkway. This itinerary was the brainchild of Elisa Bonaparte (Napoleon’s sister) who planted throughout the gardens many different species among which silver wattles, wisterias and camellias from all over the world. The result is an olfactory map which can be followed through the senses of smell, sight and touch, and that puts you directly in contact with history.
A small stream accompanies us along the first part while we admire the buds of different species of camellia japonica. The stream water comes from the Fraga river, which it will then rejoin after the lake.
The Great Lake
The position of the lake affords a magnificent view: in the distance, at the foot of the slopes of Mountain, the Villa Reale, flanked by the Villa del Vescovo (Bishop’s Villa) and the garden. The Villa del Vescovo is also undergoing restructuring work and will be the main residence of the new owners.
The design of the lake was entrusted to the architect Jacques Greber, who enhanced the design with a teardrop island created by a divergence in the canal that flows into the lake.
The Tennis Court and the Hidden Swimming Pool
We continue past the Villa del Vescovo and behind the building we discover a clay tennis court, where over the years grass has grown and brings to mind past times. Among the bushes we can see a swimming pool, in need of restoring but still charming with its brightly coloured dressing rooms.
The pool, which also has a diving board, was conceived for the glamorous and illustrious guests that stayed here, among which Salvador Dalì and even if the pool is empty and abandoned you can still feel the charismatic and enticing atmosphere of its past.
We return to the main path and we find ourselves in front of the grotto dedicated to the god Pan. The edifice is divided into two areas:
- The first edifice has a square layout on two levels with large openings along the walls. The arches of the ground floor entrance are flanked by pillars with tufa embellishments. Throughout the whole building decorative effects have been created using different materials: smooth stone, tufa, white and black pebbles.
- The second area imitates a grotto with a circular layout with recesses and a domed roof which creates a dark space with limestone concretions. It is lit by an oculus in the dome. The walls are decorated combining rough tufa cladding, stalactites, regular geometrical decorations and grotesque masks. In the niches the statue of the god Pan and anthropomorphic marine figures are situated.
The temperature drops considerably inside the grotto and if you are lucky you can see the water features that flow from the faces of the sculptures.
The Spanish Garden and the Lemon Garden
Continuing along the path, after Pan’s Grotto, the scenery changes and we enter the Spanish Garden: it is an environment of sophisticated beauty where you can lose yourself in the thousands of colours and scents of the flowers during the summer months. This garden was designed in a Hispanic-Moorish style by the landscape architect Jacques Greber in 1924.
Further on there is the Villa Chapel, where the Bishop celebrated the religious services and then we find ourselves in a fantastic garden full of lemon trees: over two hundred citrus plants, of different varieties in antique pots, surround the fish pond and flower beds and fill the air with their enticing perfume. In the past they had to be watered one by one by hand, but now there is an irrigation system, for which the gardener is undoubtedly grateful!
The Green Theatre
Our visit continues: we reach a natural theatre, designed so that the surrounding plants create the ideal shape of the wings and curtain while the stage is a raised lawn with three terracotta statues representing the masks of the Commedia dell’Arte Italiana: Pulcinella, Colombina and Pantalone.
Give yourself a minute take in the breathtaking view of the villa from this perspective, it an unique sight.
Continuing along the path we reach a large building which used to house the servants. Today it used for exhibitions and contains a scale model of the villa and the estate. Michela tells us about the secret underground passage that connects the servant building to the villa!
The Water Theatre
Finally we reach the Water Theatre, an imposing fountain situated behind the Villa: here the colours of the vegetation and the gushing of the water combine to create a rare and beautiful natural spectacle.
We conclude our tour in front of the Villa, which is closed for restoration. From the entrance we have a view over the whole park with Montepisano in the background.
We thank Michela for her truly wonderful tour, she really managed to convey all the charm of this incredible place!
Villa Reale di Marlia
Via Fraga Alta, 2
55014 Marlia, Capannori (LU)
Tel: +39 0583 30108
- Full price 9 € – adults
- Reduced price 7 € – children between 14 and 17, groups of min.10 people, over 65s, FAI and Touring club members, CTTNORD subscribers
- Free entry – children under 14 (groups excluded) Guides, Group leaders, drivers
- Seasonal ticket 55€ – unlimited entries
Combined ticket Camelia valid in March includes the visit to the Villa Reale Park in Marlia + in Pieve and Sant’Andrea di Compito entrance to the Mostra delle Antiche Camelie della Lucchesia and visit to the Camelia Garden in the Borgo delle Camelie.
- 13 € per person
from 1st March to 31st October
daily from 10am to 6pm
for more information: www.parcovillareale.it