Postcards from Italy

The Medici Villas and Gardens: Renaissance Jewels in the Tuscan Countryside

The Medici Villas and Gardens has recently unveiled a new website dedicated to their group of storied properties in Tuscany, making it much easier to find information about how to visit and what events and exhibitions are being held during the year. So it only seems fitting that we take a look at these beautiful estates and their histories.

Villa Medici La Petraia by Sailko via Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.5

What are the Medici Villas and Gardens?

The Ville e Giardini Medicei are a group of 14 properties (12 villas and two gardens) scattered across the city of Florence and in the hills north and west of the city that was named a collective UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013. These grand pleasure palaces were primary and secondary residences built (or expanded) by the powerful Medici family during the height of their wealth from the 15th to the 17th centuries.  

Most of these are open to the public (either with regular opening hours or by appointment) and are treasure troves of Renaissance art and architecture; some house museums, others are surrounded by dazzling Italian gardens. Two sites are located within the Florence city limits: the Boboli Gardens, open to the public; and the Villa del Poggio Imperiale, today seat of an exclusive boarding school—a handful of rooms are open to tours by prior appointment.

Where are they located?

Aside from the two Florence properties, the remainder of the Medici Villas and Gardens are located in the Tuscan countryside to the north and west of the city. Many are clustered in the province of Florence, but there is also a handful scattered through the hills of Prato, Pistoia, and Pisa. The Palazzo Mediceo in Seravazza is perhaps the farthest afield, set northwest of Lucca not far from the Tuscan coast.

Since the estates are generally located in rural areas not well-served by public transportation, you must have access to a car to visit them. Since many can be tricky to find in the Tuscan hills, we suggest booking a private driver and making a day of it by visiting more than one. Just be sure to check opening times and policies beforehand, as not all keep regular hours or are open for walk-ins.

Villa di Poggio a Caiano by Sailko via Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.5

Which are the most beautiful Medici Villas?

Each Medici villa or garden is a Renaissance treasure, though they vary in style from fortress-like outposts that highlighted the dynasty’s dominance over the area to opulent palaces that were more a show of nobility and culture for this family known as important patrons of the arts. We’ve highlighted a few that are relatively easy to reach from Florence and open for visits.

Villa Medicea Di Poggio a Caiano

One of the premier Medici estates, Villa Medicea di Poggio a Caiano (located near Prato), was built by Lorenzo Il Magnifico and is an architectural jewel that combines Classical and Tuscan Renaissance stylistic elements. There are pretty views over the surrounding countryside from the villa, which houses a Still Life Museum featuring a vast collection of paintings amassed by the Medici. 

Both the villa and are open for guided visits, and highlights include a spectacular 16th-century  fresco cycle by Mannerist master Pontormo with Andrea del Sarto, Franciabigio, and Alessandro Allori. 

Villa Medicea di Artiminio

Also known as “La Ferdinanda”, Artimino is not far from Poggio a Caiano and can easily be visited in a single day trip from Florence. Artimino is often called Villa dei Cento Camini, or Villa of the 100 Chimneys, due to the mass of chimneys jutting out from its roof, testimony the sumptuous interiors that feature monumental fireplaces in virtually every room.

Built as a hunting lodge in the 1590s, this magnificent villa is now under private management and a popular venue for weddings and other events. You can admire the building’s exterior or join a guided tour offered the first Sunday of the month; check the calendar for other periodic open days and public.

Villa di Artiminio by Sailko via Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.5

Villa Medicea di Castello

Set on the northern outskirts of Florence, this 15th-century villa is where Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici spent his childhood. Known as “Cosimo Pater Patriae” (or father of the nation), Cosimo cemented the Medici political dynasty and Villa di Castello held a special place in his heart. He later expanded the property, adding an extensive garden with tree-lined lanes, fountains, and the Animal Grotto. Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” once adorned the interiors here. 

Today the villa is the seat of the Accademia della Crusca, the oldest linguistic academy and research institution in the world, and the interior of the villa can only be visited by appointment; the garden is open to the public for free.

Villa Medicea in Fiesole

Designed by Michelozzo, this magnificent villa is considered one of the most beautiful, best-preserved, and most storied Medici Villas in Tuscany. Villa Medicea in Fiesole is perched in the Fiesole hills and was one of the first countryside villas designed in true Renaissance style when it was built in the 14th century; its elegant design and terraced gardens inspired countless villas and estates built in the centuries afterward.

The villa itself is closed to visitors, but the gardens can be visited by appointment only each morning Monday through Friday.

Villa in Fiesole by Sailko via Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.5

Villa Medicea La Petraia

Villa La Petraia is also considered one of the most captivating Medici properties in Tuscany. A fortified villa set on a hill just north of Florence (with breathtaking views of the city), this property was purchased by the Medici family in the 16th century and transformed into a residence fit for royalty by Cardinal Ferdinando. 

There are sumptuous interiors and a dazzling Italian garden; the courtyard decorated with late-15th-century frescoes by Cosimo Daddi is a highlight. Guided tours of the villa interiors are offered hourly and the garden is open to the public.

The Garden of Pratolino

Today park of the Villa Demidoff park, the Garden of Pratolino is an excellent example of Renaissance pairing of natural vegetation and artistic decoration. Home to Giambologna’s “Colosso dell’Appennino” sculpture, fountains designed by Buontalenti, several grottos, and other late Renaissance elements, the park is an open-air museum. 

The Garden of Pratolino is free to enter on weekends and holidays and an excellent spot to take a break from the crowds in Florence.

Parco di Pratolino by Valerio Orlandini via Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

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