Love, duelling pistols and an outdoor theatre in a Luccan garden

I’ve been all – and happily Kent, Kent, Kent gardens recently (and a little ghost ones) so this post on a garden I visited in Lucca recently has got lost.

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I’m sure the Villa Bernardini can wait though – what’s two or three weeks when you’ve been standing since 1615?

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We stayed in the centre of Lucca, inside the city walls (another post on this to come soon) so we hired a taxi to take us the four or so km to the village of Vicopelago . Lucky us, we ended up with the marvellous Elisa Lucchesi, who although not an official guide has lived in Lucca all her life and told us some fabulous stories so we felt like insiders by the end of our day. As did Massimo Fanizza Bernardini, the latest family member to live in the house and garden.

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Villa Bernardini isn’t as well known as Villa Reale (which we also visited) and I’ve been half tempted not to tell anyone about it so I could be one of those annoying people who say things like ‘Reeeaaallly, you don’t know it? But then Massimo is a grrraattee chum of mine.’ But wait, a) I’m already annoying and b) although Massimo is so charming it really does feel as if he could be my best friend, I can’t really pretend it was for more than our visit.

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Reminders of the sense of history he carries though are everywhere in the crests on the furniture and the family portraits found inside the house, chairs for the country house, chairs for the town, and those rather exciting pistols carelessly laid out on the table…

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He was also very patient at how excited I got by the little robot lawnmower doing its bit on the front. When it gets ‘tired’ apparently it makes its own way back to the battery recharger and then, out it goes again…

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There are three parts to this garden. The front lawn, romantically and appropriately – given the Villa is a popular spot for the best weddings – is heart shaped. It was remodelled in the 18th century for the marriage of a Bernardini couple.

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Then there is the ‘secret’ garden with its stone statues, orangery with a green wall for maintaining temperature and a fountain.
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This is where the family would retreat from visitors and the cares of the world. Probably needed since the original Villa was commissioned by Bernardino Bernadini, an influential Luccan philosopher and politician. Here’s his portrait hanging up in the Villa with a plan of the wall.

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But the most interesting part of the garden for me was the Verzura Theatre, the green amphitheatre at the back, using the natural dip in the ground and planted with boxwood hedges and box shapes to help with accoustics.

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It is used as a mini-Glyndebourne today and could apparently seat nearly 400 people How I would like to see something here. It got me wondering how many times I’ve enjoyed something outside in Britain without being rained on. Maybe this year?

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Massimo showed me the 18th century wooden model of the gardens. Interesting to see the parterres that weren’t created.

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Yet. It seems there may be plans afoot. Here’s the original plan that the Bernardini’s are looking at to see how they could expand the garden.

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And as we walked back through the lemon grove to the gate, Massimo pulled a lemon off for me to take home ‘for my gin and tonic’. Did I say already that he was my new best friend?

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And here’s a poem I wrote for every couple who gets married in such a beautiful garden.

The Heart of the Garden
For Villa Bernardini

Dare to walk into the heart’s centre
and the words you’ve come to say
shape themselves with curved arms,
fingers laced to open the garden’s
curtains on the two sides of love:
a high gate protecting secrets whispered
over centuries and you’re safe,
lemons like gold coins dropping in your path
as you walk to the stage, your future
starts now. Listen, the world is applauding.

3 thoughts on “Love, duelling pistols and an outdoor theatre in a Luccan garden

  1. This garden is so beautiful, and as always the way you take us through it makes me want to hop on a plane this second. Great poem as well, I hope Massimo finds a place of honor for it.

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