One of the more remarkable things I saw in Italy: the Villa Collazzi

pietro porcinai architettoAbove: the pool at the Villa Collazzi designed by Pietro Porcinai, a pioneering landscape architect, active in Italy from the 1930s through the 1960s.

Enogastronomy has become my professional focus over the last fifteen years or so.

But every time I return to Italy, I am reminded by what first drew me there: the Italians’ rich cultural and artistic legacy and the country’s many extraordinary works of art and immense natural beauty.

During my November trip, I took a break from the wine and food trail to visit the remarkable Villa Collazzi just outside of Florence.

villa collazzi florentine rentalAbove: a shot of the pool with the villa in the background. Note how the villa façade is reflected with perfect symmetry in the body of water.

Of course, it was wine that led the way. The villa’s winery is represented in the U.S. by New York-based publicist Donna White, a friend and sometimes client. And she graciously arranged for me to tour the property.

Although the attribution isn’t certain, it is generally believed that Michelangelo designed the villa.

As one of the villa curators explained to me, he was active in Florence when construction of the country house began and he designed another similar villa in Florence around the same time.

michelangelo buonarroti buonarottiAbove: note the classic Renaissance design and the more refined character of the upper tier.

The property was acquired in the 1930s by the Marchi family, Italian nobles and industrialists.

And since that time, the villa has been used as a summer vacation home.

charles and diana bedroomAbove: the villa hosted Prince Charles and Princess Diana shortly after they were married; that’s the bed where they slept.

Even though she generally only visits during summer, “the marchioness could drop in at any given moment,” said one of the groundskeepers.

And that was one of the elements that made my visit so electric: as we slowly wandered through the bedrooms and living spaces, I was keenly aware that this was a living-and-breathing household.

globe roomAbove: the globe room had me feeling like a little boy wandering through wonderland.

The estate produces wine and olive oil, although the cold and rainy summer of 2014 was disastrous for the olive crop. They hadn’t even bothered to pick the olives, they said.

The sale of wine and olive oil is what covers the maintenance and upkeep of the household, which was impeccable in its cleanliness and working order.

map detailAbove: there were two globes, each from the 17th century, one of the earth, the other of the constellations.

I can’t conceal that the thrill of the visit was in part voyeuristic.

The villa’s rooms could have been the set of a film by Merchant Ivory, De Sica, Rossellini, or Pasolini.

villa chapel altarAbove: the altar in the villa’s private chapel.

The chapel is reserved solely for use by the family, I was told.

Evidently, many celebrities and well-to-do citizens of the world rent the villa for weddings.

But the consecrated chapel is used only by the Marchi family.

florence villa garden rentalAbove: the garden that lies on the backside of the property.

Of course, Michelangelo is about as big as it gets.

But I was more interested in walking the grounds and seeing the landscaping.

Porcinai, the son of an artisanal Florentine gardner, revolutionized landscape architecture during the 20th century, elevating it to a fine art.

alberto torelli collazzi winemakerAbove: winemaker Alberto Torelli, a Florentine through and through and a wonderful host.

Dulcis in fundo… One of the greatest treats was getting to know winemaker Alberto Torelli, who makes the estate’s wine, manages its vineyards, and oversees the villa.

From his accent to his earnestness and energy, he is a Florentine in every sense of the word. It was amazing to hear him talk with such pride about the villa and his role there. I really liked him a lot and am hoping to reconnect with him when I get back to Central Italy in the spring.

Alberto, friend, thank you again for a truly unforgettable visit!

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