Built between 1600 and 1615 among the green hills of Gattaiola, Villa Bernardini's patron, Bernadino Bernardini, wanted it to be built according to the principles of elegance and sobriety. Its plain, cubical shape, with a three-arched porch on the front, gives on the whole a feeling of simplicity, with just a touch of refined mawkishness in the group of openings at the first floor. The splendid garden is enriched by rare plants and trees, and by a beautiful lemon-house. But the treasure of Villa Bernardini is certainly the shrubbery amphitheatre, dating back to the XVIII century, that offers a scenery of incomparable fascination.
The villa was built in the XVI century for Ludovico Buonvisi. A very famous sculptor and architect, Matteo Civitali, was commissioned to build it. The columns are made of Matraia stone and in a single block; the arches of the open gallery comprise the ground floor and the first floor where the two living-rooms are superimposed and passing through attesting the Lucchese villas' peculiarity. In the XVII century the villa belonged to the Cardinal Francesco Buonvisi, who promoted a consistory in the living room on the villa's first floor in the presence of Pope Alexander VII Chigi Della Rovere. The five-hectare park stretches over three levels and includes several ponds and fountains of considerable artistic value.
Villa Reale di Marlia
The original building is very old. During the Longobard age it was the mansion of the Dukes of Tuscia, and, later on, of the most important Lucchese families. In 1651 the villa was brought by the Orsetti family, who kept it until Elisa Baciocchi Bonaparte took a fancy to the villa; she forced them to go away and turned the villa into the mirror of her regal status. Marvelous and surprising is the XVII century park, with its "water theatre," its lemon garden and its "theatre of verdure," where many a great artist showed their works; one of them was Niccolò Paganini. After the fall of Napoleon the Villa Reale had by turns periods of splendor and of decadence. That lasted until the beginning of our century, when it was bought by the present owners, who undertook its complete renovation.
Villa Mansi is the pride and the symbol of Lucchese architecture as far as villas go. It stands out from the other villas by its magnificence and by a certain mannerism, almost a sort of Baroque that elsewhere in Lucca has been seen but marginally. The present look of Villa Mansi is due to the architect Maurizio Oddi, who worked on the rearrangement of the preexistent building by appointment of Countess Cenami during the years 1634-1635. Later on there were new interventions that further enriched the villa, most of all the garden. In 1675 the property of the villa went to the Mansi family; they entrusted the architect Filippo Juvarra with the task of renovating the garden. The whole park was thus transformed by his genius into the perfect scenery for many a suggestive legend.
The villa and its park sum up all the splendour and magnificence of the Lucchese tradition of the country mansion-house. The long and monumental avenue leading to the villa is lined with cypresses, and has a pompous gate from where the façade can be seen, so rich and adorned that it seems to be embroidered on the stone and marble in a triumph of niches, statures and balustrades. The original building dates back to 1500, but it was radically rearranged a century later by Maurizio Oddi, the same architect that had so deeply transformed Villa Mansi. The "garden of Flora" is the clearest example of the Lucchese taste, a bright and surprising ensemble of grottoes, nymph temples, flowers, masks. play of water... that make you feel as if you were in a fairy-tale.
Located at the foot of the Colline Lucchesi, Villa Grabau is an outstanding example of neo-classical architecture, even if its origins are much more ancient. It was built during the first half of the 16th century, on a pre-existent medieval building, by the powerful Diodati family. After it passed into the Cittadella family, the building assumed the present architectural state, and its drawing-rooms were decorated with an elegant cycle of frescoes and trompe l'oeil, in full neo-classical style.
During 1868 the villa was bought by the Grabau family, originating from Hamburg. They are still the owners of the property. Its nine hectare park, one of the most interesting in the Lucca area, is made up of a box hedge theatre, a large English Garden with its many rare species of tall trees, and a great Italian garden, whose lawns, encircled by a large row of Holm-Oak and Laurel in exedra style, are decorated with over one hundred terracotta vases of 100-year-old lemon trees. The impressive Lemon House, dated 1700, is still used today to store the lemons during the winter.
Fountains decorated with masks and valuable white marble statues, which are placed along the garden, tall hedges through which shady paths twist, give a romantic and mysterious atmosphere.