If the Medici were alive today, other than being bankers and politicians, they’d probably be dealing in commercial real estate. In the 17th century, they owned some 27 villas in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany; the court regularly traveled to the major ones, staying over certain holidays or seasons. While some of these are now UNESCO sites that are enjoyed regularly by tourists, others have remained in private hands, enjoyed by relatively normal families.
Recently I found out about a “new” Medici Villa on the horizon: Villa Medicea di Lilliano comes late on the timeline of Medici acquisitions, and equally late in being known to the general public. Opening up to the public this Spring for weddings, events and exclusive hospitality, the restored villa has an interesting history that would be wonderful to live for a few days!
Located in modern-day Grassina, like many Medici Villas, Lilliano is really close to Florence. This is because in the past, of course, it had to be reached by horseback and in carriages carrying women and household goods. Nowadays this proximity is an exceptional advantage, as you can almost reach it by public bus, and Florence is close enough to see the Duomo from the property. It is also the heart of Chianti territory, making it possible for the property to legitimately produce DOC and DOCG wines.
Lilliano began as a watchtower in the 11th century, but was not particularly notable until the Renaissance period, when it was developed into a villa in the hands of the Guiducci and then Capponi families. In this period, it must have been a pretty simple country home with extensive farmland.
In 1646, Grand Duke Ferdinand II bought the villa, and used it as a farmhouse for the neighbouring Villa of Lapeggim, which was his property. In 1667, the Medici family, then under the direction of Cosimo III, decided to make better use of the place: Cosimo gave it to his brother, the Cardinal Francesco Maria, and they set about doing an extensive renovation and expansion to make it into a real country villa. In case you think this is inappropriate for a Cardinal, wait until you hear that, upon behest of the Grand Duke, the Cardinal was actually married in 1709 (to Eleonora di Guastalla), mainly for the purpose of generating heirs, however they were unsuccessful and the Medici remained heirless; the villa was sold to pay off debts. After being property of the church for a while, it was bought in 1830 by the Malenchini family, who are the current owners.
The 17th-century restoration is what gives the villa its architectural imprinting. Guided by the architect Antonio Ferri, a barrel-vaulted entry hall is entirely frescoed in bucolic scenes. There is a marvelous and intimate chapel (for four people) on the property in the Baroque style, featuring an altarpiece by Francesco Botti. The original kitchen spaces available for guest use during cooking classes and wine tastings are in the Tuscan country style of the last century.
Villa Lilliano, in the late 17th and 18th centuries, was quite ideal for parties: Frederick IV, King of Denmark, was in fact entertained here in 1709. There were balls, hunting events, and numerous special guests. It’s this essence that it offers today under the guidance of Diletta Malenchini, who lives on the property with her family. Diletta’s exquisite taste shows in the decoration of the six private residential villas on the property (with two swimming pools) that could easily rival any five-star hotel. The villas are fitted with modern conveniences, while the guest rooms are tastefully blended into the historical space by Argentinian architect Fernando Malenchini.
Equally impressive is the host’s talent for creating customized sets for weddings, events and fashion shows that take advantage of the numerous spaces and vantage points offered by the villa. “Based on our family’s world travels and our interest in fashion and design,” says Diletta, “we wanted to offer a groundbreaking lodging and banqueting concept that blends time-honored beauty with contemporary casual sophistication.” From the atmospheric banquet hall to more intimate corners of courtyards and gardens, each part of a ceremony or special day could take place in a different space. By changing the villa’s lighting, decoration and temporary structures, the space transforms incredibly to fulfill dreams.
Beyond the “big event,” Villa Lilliano Wine Estate offers every part of the Tuscan hospitality experience. This place has been perfecting the Tuscan lifestyle for ten centuries, and now, Diletta shares this with her guests, introducing the best parts of country life through cooking classes, exclusive tours and other personalized experiences. With olives and grapes growing on the property, in-season you can roam amongst the vines and trees and learn about them, as well as taste their “fruits” with wine and olive oil tasting sessions to refine your palate to the level of a Tuscan. It’s even possible to lend a hand picking during specific weeks.
Villa Lilliano would be perfect if you’d like a dreamy wedding, romantic anniversary, fabulous corporate event or family reunion. It can also be rented as exclusive or shared villa accommodation – conveniently close to Florence, but far enough outside of the city to feel like you’re in the true Tuscan countryside.
For more information, take a look at www.medicivilla.com .