Friday, 10 April 2015

Edith Wharton in Italy - villas and gardens of Tuscany

The novels and short stories of Edith Wharton are still on the reading lists of the more progressive women's colleges in the United States, and some of them are even read from time to time. However, my interest in Mrs Wharton is based on her life-long passion for garden design on the grand scale and on her excellent book, "Italian Villas and their Gardens" which was published in 1904 and is scarce in its original edition. As a substitute or additional read, I can recommend Edith Wharton's Italian Gardens by Vivian Russell, who visited and photographed the surviving gardens described by Mrs Wharton.

Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton as an earnest young woman

Although Mrs Wharton (1862-1937) is often tarted up by English Literature departments as something of a rebel, her birth in 1862 into the richest of the rich class of "Old New York" made possible not only her fictional writings, with their insider's view of America's privileged classes, but, much more importantly to me, made it natural that she would travel extensively in Europe and allowed her to create a wonderful house and garden, "The Mount", near Lenox, Massachusetts, and to recreate a second one, "Le Pavilion Colombe", at Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt. These houses and estates were created according to the principles elaborated in her book The Decoration of Houses (1897), co-authored by Ogden Codman, and drew heavily upon her observations of the villas and gardens of Tuscany, especially of the Medicean villas. She wrote in Italian Villas and their Gardens that gardens should be divided into rooms and planned in concert with the house and the natural landscape, a Classical concept revived in Renaissance times.

"The Mount", Edith Wharton's house and garden at Lenox, Mass.
"The Mount", Edith Wharton's house and garden at Lenox, Mass.

Edith Wharton's parents were George Frederic Jones and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander, and the saying "keeping up with the Jones" is said to refer to her family. After the end of the Civil War, her family traveled extensively in Europe. From 1866 to 1872, the Jones family visited France, Italy, Germany and Spain. During these travels, Edith became fluent in French, German and Italian. When at home in the United States, the Joneses spent their winters in their New York mansion and their summers in their Newport "cottage". In 1885, at age 23, Edith Jones married Edward (Teddy) Robbins Wharton, who was 12 years her senior. Wharton was from a well-established Boston family, and was a sportsman and a gentleman of the same social class, and shared her love of travel. Unfortunately, the marriage began to deteriorate, in part due to Teddy Wharton's severe depression, and Mrs Wharton eventually moved permanently to France. During World War I, she remained in her Paris apartment and was an ardent and effective supporter of the French war effort.
Henry James, Edith Wharton, and Howard Sturgis
Henry James, Edith Wharton, and Howard Sturgis

Edith Wharton was an indefatigable motorist and was driven throughout Europe by her chauffeur Charles Cook in amazing, usually huge, cars that were often one of a kind. Her tours resulted in some excellent travel writing, including her book Italian Backgrounds and of course, Italian Villas and their Gardens. One of her favorite Tuscan gardens is also a favorite of mine, namely Villa Gamberaia, located on the outskirts of the village of Settignano near Florence. Bernard Berenson was another Florentine friend of Mrs Wharton and his Villa I Tatti is about a mile away from Villa Gamberaia. Villa I Tatti belongs to Harvard University and is not easily visited, but Villa Gamberaia is still in private hands and one can not only visit the gardens but it is possible to stay in one of the guest houses within the garden.

The garden of Villa Gamberaia viewed from the villa
The garden of Villa Gamberaia viewed from the villa

Edith Wharton passed away on 11 August, 1937 at Le Pavillon Colombe, her 18 C house on Rue de Montmorency in Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt. She was comforted by her friend Mrs Royall Tyler, a native of Florence, born Elisina Palamidessi de Castelvecchio (sometimes styled "Contessa" - including by herself - but, although her mother held that title, it was not hereditary and she had no right to it). She was the wife of a famous Bostonian historian educated partly at Harrow and Oxford, with extensive European connections. My friend Paul Chipchase knew their son, William Royall Tyler, himself an eminent American abroad, and passed on to me many interesting reminiscences of Mrs Wharton.

I can strongly recommend the excellently written and beautifully illustrated recent biography of Edith Wharton by Eleanor Dwight. Everything you need to know is here along with masses of rare photographs.

R.W.B. Lewis wrote an earlier and highly regarded biography of Edith Wharton which I am about to read. I'll report back on that later. There is a further recent biography of Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee. This latter runs to 850 pages, including masses of analysis of Mrs Wharton's fiction. I doubt that I'll read it.

Villa Medici at Fiesole
Villa Medici at Fiesole
Among the villa gardens near Florence that Mrs Wharton described in her book are Villa Petraia, Villa Demidoff (Pratolino), Villa Medici at Fiesole, Villa Corsini near Impruneta, Villa Gamberaia and Villa Capponi at Arcetri.

More about Tuscan villas.

Click here for more information about vacation accommodation and events opportunities at Villa Gamberaia.

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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Things to do in Pienza and the Val d'Orcia - first two weeks of May 2015

Pienza, the pearl of the Val d'Orcia, is one of my favorite towns and from 1st to 10th May, 2015, Pienza will look more beautiful than ever. During that period there will be even more things to do in Pienza and the Val d'Orcia with this year's 30th edition of "Pienza e i fiori", the flower and plant festival with the theme: "Cloisters and gardens in bloom". The cloisters and courtyards of the best of the Renaissance palaces (Palazzo Piccolomini, Palazzo Borgia and Ammannati) and some of the piazzas of Pienza will be decorated in the style of a great renaissance festival, festooned in laurel wreaths and bouquets of fruit (inspired by Renaissance paintings), box shrubs, climbing roses and many other flowers in the most beautiful areas of the town.

"Pienza e i fiori", the flower and plant festival in Pienza
"Pienza e i fiori", the flower and plant festival in Pienza

The flower market, the final event, will take place in the streets of the old town and the gardens in Piazza Dante Alighieri, on Saturday and Sunday 9th & 10th May 2015. You can buy both in plants and flowers of all kinds, including everything you need for gardening and for cultivation. But for visitors, the pleasure is strolling through the streets and squares.

Courtyard of the Palazzo Piccolomini decorated in classic garden stlle.
Courtyard of the Palazzo Piccolomini decorated in classic garden stlle.

In addition, there will be a shuttle bus providing visits to the historic gardens of the Val d'Orcia including the wonderful architecture of the gardens of Palazzo Piccolomini, the Leonini Garden in San Quirico d'Orcia, the famous garden of Villa La Foce, the life's work of Iris Origo, and finally the elegant garden of Palazzo Massaini where, at the conclusion of the visit, you can enjoy a free taste of the food and wine produced on the farm owned by Bottega Verde.

For garden nuts (and all other lovers of beauty) who will be staying in or visiting Florence, don't forget to pay a visit to the exquisite gardens of Villa Gamberaia nearby in Settignano.

Villa Gamberaia garden visit.

More about The classic gardens of Tuscany.

More about the town of Pienza in the Val d'Orcia.

More about staying at Villa Gamberaia.

More about Visiting Pienza in the Val d'Orcia.

More about Gardens of the Tuscan villas.


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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Sunday, 5 April 2015

Farm stay in Chianti - vacation on a genuine Tuscan farm

If you're looking for a genuine farm stay in Chianti, Tuscany, you might be interested in Podere Tegline, a working farm and winery located near Lucarelli on the road between Panzano in Chianti and Radda in Chianti. This is the heartland of Chianti Classico wine, an area that makes an excellent central base for a vacation in Tuscany.

Podere Tegline farm stay in Tuscany
Podere Tegline farm stay in Tuscany

The farm house of Podere Tegline is of quite ancient origin. During restoration, the remains of an ancient Longobard (Lombard) watch tower were discovered forming part of the walls of the current tower apartment of Podere Tegline. In addition, the farm is identified by name on the famous map of the Captains of the Guelph Party, dated 1584.

Vacation apartment in Tuscany
Apartment "La Torre" living and dining room.

Podere Tegline offers four apartments that can also be rented in combinations of two or three apartments or the entire farm house. There are doors that can be unlocked to connect the apartments. The apartments sleep from 2 to 4 persons, and the farm house as a whole sleeps up to 11 persons. Each apartment has a fully equipped kitchen and modern bathrooms. Each apartment also has its own secluded gazebo for relaxation and outdoor dining.

Place to stay in Tuscany
Double room in apartment "La Fonte"

At the farm, there are numerous friendly animals, large and small, to provide amusement for children. Podere Tegline also provides pastimes for entire families in the form of lessons on how to cook traditional Tuscan dishes, especially pasta, and a course on how to taste wine and olive oil.

Tuscan cooling lessons
A lesson on how to make Tuscan pasta

The farm's traditional products are available for purchase. These include wine, of course, extra virgin olive oil, honey, salami, lard and goats milk cheese.

Podere Tegline country vacation in Chianti, Italy
Podere Tegline country vacation in Chianti, Italy
As a place to stay in Tuscany for a great family vacation, Podere Tegline, with its authentic ambiance and extremely reasonable prices, is hard to beat.

More about "Podere Tegline" Tuscany holiday home.

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