Villa Pia Flowers Retreat May 2019
This short report gives you the flavour of our 2019 flowers retreat at Villa Pia led by garden expert Rosie Yeomans. The week includes walking in the stunning countryside to look at wild flowers and planning new borders for your gardens. It also boasts some fascinating plant focused visits in the lovely surrounds of this location on the Umbrian, Tuscan border.
We stayed in the grand rooms of the Palazzo Regina and enjoyed stunning views and quiet surroundings. Villa Pia is a few minutes walk down some steps where the buzz of other holiday makers keeps things lively. The swimming pool, tennis court and the endless stream of coffee, tea, cake (and of course the help yourself bar) makes a welcome venue to gather and relax and to enjoy communal mealtimes. The food cooked by local staff is legendary.
The pergola at Villa Pia: ready for our guests
On Day 1 we were met by our English speaking local guide Giovanni who took us on a morning walk up through the village. We identified the wild flowers, including several orchids on the verges and in the meadows. Giovanni has great local knowledge of the landscape and cultural history of the area. In the afternoon we started our workshops on ideas for planting schemes for the garden.
A breathtaking meadow of Lady orchids Orchis purpurea in the village.
A view of the landscape looking back to Lippiano
On Day 2 we spent the morning at the Archeologia Arborea. The brilliant Isabella Dalla Ragione showed us her families’ lifetime project of collecting and conserving local fruit varieties. Isabella is an academic and her research has taken her all over the world tracking through genetics, the origins then social history associated with these plants. Her enthusiasm is infectious, the orchard is charming and beneath the trees is a carpet of wild flowers.
Isabella and Giovanni at the Archeologia Arborea
In the afternoon we went up to Marzano to walk high above Lippiano. The views are spectacular and we found orchids, a deserted village, and even fresh wolf prints.
Giovanni explains the local history of Marzano.
On Day 3 we went to the atmospheric monastery and landscape of La Verna UNESCO world heritage site. It was here that Saint Francis of Assisi retreated and is believed to have received the miracle of the stigmata in 1224. We explored the monastery with Giovanni who showed us the caves where Saint Francis slept and the chapel at the site of the miracle.
Sited on Monte Penna we were able to walk out from the monastery on the path he walked. Along the Camino di Francesco, we could see a mixture of woodland flora, orchids and flowers in the meadows with spectacular views of the Tuscan Apennines.
A view of the monastery terrace as we set off for our walk.
The woodland trail from the monastery.
Meadows of orchids on the Camino di Francesco.
The orchid Ophrys bertolonii and the flowers of the pretty woodland Saxifrage, Saxifraga rotundifolia.
On Day 4 we had the fun of visiting a large and innovative company called Aboca that researches and grows herbs to produce herbal products. We started off by making some hand cream to take with us, and then went into the fields to see the herbs grown and talk about how they are used. One of the research scientists joined us to explain what the company does. Finally we drove down to the historic town of Sansepolcro to visit the companies’ Apothecary Museum, with displays showing the preparation and use of herbal medicines and products back to the 13th century. Fascinating.
A bit of hand cream chemistry at Aboca HQ.
Our guide at the Apothecary museum took us through the history and explained traditional processes.
The afternoon was spent back at Villa Pia where we continued with some garden planning workshops.
We set off early on Day 5 to get the train into Florence for a packed days itinerary. Our guide met us at the station and took us through the city, calling in on a few buildings of interest. She guided us through the frescos and artwork depicting local flora and fauna in the Palazzo Vecchio. It was an unusual and wonderfully inspiring tour. Our guide had booked us a table at a modest, traditional restaurant for lunch.
Next she led us out and up through the Rose Garden above the city then across the Piazzale Michelangelo to the Giardino dell’Iris, a botanical garden devoted to Iris where a month long Iris festival takes place from Mid April until Mid May.
Finally we walked via a great Gelateria (ice cream) to the recently renovated Bardini garden, a classic Italian garden with brilliant views of the city.
We ate an early supper in the city before heading back on the train.
The Rose garden
The Iris Garden
The plan on Day 6 was to be relaxed. We went to the local historic town of Anghiari. Here we enjoyed the views, walked down through the old town to an unusual textile mill in the town. We were shown the old looms working in the cellars under the showroom in the Palazzo Morgalanti. They make high quality, often floral patterned jacquard and other upholstery fabrics. There was opportunity for a bit of shopping before we headed back to Villa Pia for lunch and a chilled afternoon of relaxation and workshops.
It was a great week. The mixture of flowers, border design, walking, and local culture past and present made for a uniquely enjoyable trip and a wonderful insight to this very beautiful area of Italy.
Book for next year: If you’d like to book a place on the flowers retreat with a similar itinerary for 2020, the dates are Saturday 25th April – 2nd May. For enquiries and bookings, please contact us via the Villa Pia booking page. You’ll find the full trip itinerary here: Wild Flowers and Garden Design Retreat