Gardens Around Florence

Like any well-heeled Florentine, you, too, can get away from Florence's hustle and bustle by heading for the hills. Take a break from city sightseeing to enjoy gardens and villas.

Villa Demidoff. Francesco I de' Medici commissioned the multitalented Bernardo Buontalenti in 1568 to build a villa and a grandiose park (Parco di Pratolino) to accompany it. The park, particularly the colossal and whimsical sculpture of the Fontana dell'Appenino (Fountain of the Appenines), executed by Giambologna in 1579–89, is worth a visit. Besides providing a nice excursion from Florence, the villa is an excellent picnic spot.

To get here by car, head north from Florence on the SR65 toward Pratolino and follow signs to the villa. Or take Bus 25 from Piazza San Marco and get off at Pratolino. Località Pratolino, Vaglia, Tuscany, 50100. 055/4080721; Free. May–Oct., Thurs.–Sun. 10–7:30.. Closed Mon.--Thurs. and Nov.--Mar..

Villa di Castello. Villa di Castello was bought in 1477 by Lorenzo and Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de' Medici and restructured by Cosimo I in the 16th century. The Grotta degli Animali displays sculpted animals by Giambologna. Allow about 45 minutes to visit the garden.

To get to Villa di Castello by car, head northwest from Florence on Via Reginaldo Giuliani (also known as Via Sestese) to Castello, about 6 km (4 miles) northwest of the city center in the direction of Sesto Fiorentino; follow signs to Villa di Castello. Or take Bus 28 from the city center and tell the driver you want to get off at Villa di Castello; from the stop, walk north about ½ km (¼ mile) up the alley. (Hours and opening times are highly variable; call ahead to verify.) Via di Castello 47, Castello, Tuscany, 50100. 055/454791. Free. Garden: Nov.–Feb., daily 8:15–4:30; Mar., daily 8:15–5:30; Apr., May, Sept., and Oct., daily 8:15–6:30; June–Aug., daily 8:15–7:30. Closed 2nd and 3rd Mon. of month; palace closed to public.

Villa La Petraia. The gardens of Villa La Petraia sit high above the Arno. The villa was built around a medieval tower and reconstructed after it was purchased by the Medici sometime after 1530. Allow 60 minutes to explore the park and gardens, plus 30 minutes for the guided tour of the villa interior.

To get here by car, follow directions to Villa di Castello, but take the right off Via Reginaldo Giuliani, following the sign for Villa La Petraia. You can walk from Villa di Castello to Villa La Petraia in about 15 minutes; turn left beyond the gate of Villa di Castello and continue straight along Via di Castello and the imposing Villa Corsini; take Via della Petraia uphill to the entrance. Via della Petraia 40, Castello, Tuscany, 50100. 055/451208. Free. Nov.–Feb., daily 8:15--4:30; Mar.–May, Sept. and Oct., daily 8:15–6:30; June–Aug., daily 8:15–7:30. Closed 2nd and 3rd Mon. of month. Closed 2nd and 3rd Mon. of month.

Villa Gamberaia. Villa Gamberaia was the 15th-century country home of Matteo di Domenico Gamberelli, the father of Renaissance sculptors Bernardo, Antonio, and Matteo Rossellino. This excursion takes about 1½ hours.

To get here by car, head east on Via Aretina, an extension of Via Gioberti, which is picked up at Piazza Beccaria; follow the sign to the turnoff to the north to Villa Gamberaia, about 8 km (5 miles) from the center. To go by bus, take Bus 10 to Settignano. From Settignano's main Piazza Tommaseo, walk east on Via di San Romano; the second lane on the right is Via del Rossellino, which leads southeast to the entrance of Villa Gamberaia. The walk from the piazza takes about 10 minutes. Though booking is not essential, it would be prudent to do so. Via del Rossellino 72, near Settignano, Fiesole, Tuscany, 50100. 055/697205; €20. Garden: daily 9–6.

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