Laidback sanctuary Villa Lena, embedded deep as a core reminiscence within the Tuscan countryside, isn’t the primary verdant property or crumbling village within the area to be wholly given to artistic pursuits.
En route from Florence is Vinci, birthplace of Leonardo. Close to Pistoia to the north is Fattoria Celle, an vintage farm plagued by site-specific works by the likes of Sol LeWitt and Richard Lengthy. With its gigantic sculptures, Pietrasanta seems like some churlish child-god tossed down their toys from the sky.
Additional south in Capalbio are the psychedelic creatures of Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Backyard. However, with artists toiling away alongside visitors and interactive workshops aplenty, Lena feels extra muse than museum, a mild name to motion.
In any case, the venture is a resuscitation, its Neverlandish hilltop property, and Toiano, the village it edges onto, courting again to the darkish ages, really feel becoming locations for stressed spirits. The latter was slowly deserted in the direction of the tip of the nineteenth century, as industrialisation lured its 500 residents to extra profitable corners of the nation.
It’s now gravely quiet, simply the rustle of bushes and fixed chirrup of invisible cicadas. The homes are tumbledown, except for the few being fastidiously restored (after a plea to the Italian Surroundings Fund for preservation).
The stays of the fortress it was constructed round nonetheless have a shabby proudness; and a church devoted to St John the Baptist has a rusty cross hanging crookedly by its doorway; its cemetery surprisingly well-tended. Add some dry ice and you would be in a Renaissance model of Silent Hill.
It’s set amid Palaia’s ‘badlands’, excessive on volcanic tuff so historic that ammonites from prehistoric flooding are nonetheless embedded in rock. The environment are so named due to the shortcoming to domesticate crops in its wind- and water-eroded soil, nevertheless it rings ironic – from up right here, the views are the image of luridly inexperienced fertility, with the Pisan hills’ wheat fields golden as retriever fur within the distance, and the walled hilltop city of Volterra trying in finer fettle.
Nature definitely by no means received the memo: a flicker of motion may be one in every of myriad butterflies, skittish lizards or perhaps a wild boar. Or, it may be one thing supernatural…
In 1947, 22-year-old resident Elvira Orlandini was gathering water from a effectively at Botro della Lupa when she disappeared, and was later discovered brutally murdered. The motive was an alleged being pregnant by one of many rich landowners, though suspicion fell on her farmer boyfriend, who was finally acquitted, leaving the homicide unsolved.
On the slim, climbing, white-knuckle highway up from Florence, you’ll see a flower-bedecked memorial to ‘bella Elvira’, though you would simply suppose it to be for a sufferer of the drivers who view speedometers as mere superstition or the vertiginous turns so blind our driver honks his horn earlier than risking them.
But it surely’s not the one place her presence is felt – her ghost is rumoured to wander Toiano’s streets and even reaches so far as the halls of Villa Lena (a really nice 15-minute stroll away), the place artist Gregor Hildebrandt created a portrait devoted to her throughout his month-long residency, made utilizing the sides of cassette circumstances.
‘I really feel like a fraud’, says Gregorio Burgio, the administrator of the lodge’s not-for-profit artwork basis, apologetically, as he reveals us round, ‘there’s presupposed to be a recording on every cassette, however they’re glued in.’
There’s one thing extra peaceable than melancholy to this unintentional enigma although; Elvira’s beaming, elegant visage welcomes and evokes artistic visitors with out turning into an informal true-crime podcast episode, her reminiscence revered somewhat than exploited.
Reconciliation and reconnection of this kind are a number of the forces that drive Villa Lena, a spot hung within the steadiness between a boutique keep wealthy in Tuscan delights, a thriving arts commune, and a down-the-rabbit-hole voyage into your unconscious, the place the previous echoes softly.
In an area this far-removed, restful and fruitfully rustic, which could have as soon as crumbled into its wrinkle in time, one can’t assist however fall consistent with its lazy rhythms, reside in its scenic pores and skin and begin to really feel inexperienced shoots of concepts, rising with the vigour of the tomatoes within the sizeable orto a brief stroll away, or the rainbow wildflowers at present filling packing containers and buckets in all places in anticipation of a marriage the subsequent day.
There’s a sun-dog glimmer of your typical Tuscan keep right here: the gutsy natural sangiovese pink and pale-pink glowing pinot grigio produced in-house (labels emblazoned with household totems – unicorn, dragon, owl – which you’ll see on hand-embroidered throw pillows in your room), olive oil that tastes tapped straight from the tree, and meats and cheeses with a satisfying farmish pungency to them, served on a terrace with romantic pastel-tinged vistas as if directed by Sofia Coppola.
There’s a panoramic yoga deck and pool with candy-striped parasols, and pasta primis so merely glorious you would weep – Italian hospitality at massive. There’s truffle-hunting (the homeowners actually have a truffle canine), cookery workshops, aperitivi…
However there’s no Byzantine gilding or Baroque grammar to the place, no beams propping up ceilings. The principle villa although – inbuilt 1890 – has a worn-in, dust-jacketed glamour to it.
That is the place artists-in-residence keep for a month at a time as a part of a Resort Chelsea-esque deal, all leaving not less than one work behind and a few internet hosting workshops in trade for room and board; cooking collectively and feasting communally underneath the tasselled chandelier of the eating room.
A frescoed ceiling within the villa’s reception room depicts the womenfolk of authentic homeowners, the Del Frate household. One other has scuffed and nicked partitions with a lot pre-loved antiques – as an erstwhile garret it’s very best, though visitors (staying within the San Michele constructing reverse, or within the additional afield Renacchi and Stentino blocks) reside a bit of extra luxuriously: deep-soaking tubs and emerald-tiled showers, thumbed retro Penguin paperbacks, local weather management…
And within the lounges, restaurant, billiards corridor, library and meditation room, furnishings in slouchy velvets and granny-chintzes have extra in widespread with Soho Home than the Risorgimento. The type of insouciant cool you’ll be able to solely obtain someplace established by a modern-art curator, musician and nightclub proprietor (Lena Evstafieva, Jerome Hadey and Lionel Bensemoun, respectively).
Work of frolicking nymphs or multiverses of Virgin Marys are swapped for wonky ceramic slices of cake (leftovers from a workshop), Fluxus-esque compositions of sand, oil and grime on cardboard (Armando Messias), explosive summary nonetheless lifes (Rosson Crow), and tapestries impressed by foraging journeys (Coco Brun).
Filmmakers, vogue photographers, graffiti artists and skills from extra area of interest mediums have all left their mark, too. The shared love of the lodge ends in varied attention-grabbing interpretations right here – from Katie Barrie’s Poolside, a postcard-style triptych of zoomed-in sunlounger stripes, to Treasured Opara’s disorienting between-sea-and-sky portray If I Can’t Fly, I’ll Swim, to Theo Turpin’s minimalist piece which speaks of falling in love with the lodge in a fantastical sense, imagining two lovers constructing emotions for one another whereas frescoing an Italianate ornament on the villa’s portico.
Each bit is sweetly revealing, a coy declaration of the love one can’t assist however really feel for the place after spending even an evening right here. And there’s no sycophancy – items crafted by employees and visitors onsite dangle equally higgledy-piggledy on the partitions.
Very like the work on show – seasonally altering when a brand new crop of artists arrives or visitors purchase items to take house – workshops are ephemeral in nature.
You may weave flower crowns, craft wearables from foraging journeys, head into the woodlands to commune with crystals, throw clay, sketch emotionally and intuitively, develop cyanotypes, concoct perfumes…
Some concentrate on wedding ceremony images, meditative follow, or queer tradition – and there are playful paint-splashed classes for youths. It’s invigorating stuff, and but, so stress-free, too.
Impressed, I write within the bar as a shell chandelier jangles within the breeze, solely a chirp or clink of glasses chiming in. To comply with, soaking for an expensive size of time and crawling underneath my mattress’s natural cotton cover, considering the hand-painted intention on the wall: ‘Do not forget that second’.
There aren’t any ghosts, no Elvira softly padding down the corridor, however there are kindred spirits aplenty; not stressed, simply eagerly anticipating tomorrow’s awakenings.
All images by Michaela Watkinson