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Once you’ve spent some time in Florence, a day trip provides a nice break from the crowds of tourists and shoppers flooding the city.
Poggio a Caiano, a small town about 30-40 minutes northwest of Florence, is a great example of amazing Tuscan history integrated into a modern Italian town. The highlight of the town is the country villa of the Medici family, which you can visit for free!
The villa’s history
The Medici Villa in Poggio a Caiano was first built in the 15th century for Lorenzo the Magnificent, Grand Duke of Florence. It remained the summer residence of the Medici family for hundreds of years. The villa was where the Medicis’ foreign brides were received before being welcomed to Florence.
Francesco I and his famous mistress Bianca Cappello were found mysteriously dead here in 1589, most likely poisoned by the grand duke’s power-hungry brother. (The livers of both were discovered hidden in the church you can see upon the hill in the distance.)
During the first years of the unified Italian Monarchy in the 19th century, the villa was used as the royal residence. Later on, during the Second World War, residents of the town took shelter in the villa’s basement as protection from the bombing.
How to get there
Start by catching one of the large blue buses that stop at the end of Via Nazionale near the train station. You can buy tickets in the small ticket office on Largo Alinari. It is best to buy two one-way tickets (€2 each) so as to be prepared for the return journey. Buses leave every 15 to 30 minutes.
You can take a bus leaving for either Poggio a Caiano, Pistoia or Quarrata, all of which will stop in front of the Villa (however, ask the driver just to be sure). You will most likely need to request your stop. Although the Villa is a popular stop, make sure to press the “stop” button on the wall when you see that you are entering Poggio a Caiano and you can see the villa walls right next to the road. Don’t worry, they’re hard to miss!
Get off of the bus right in front of the villa gates. The public entrance is slightly to the left through a small gate. Entrance to both the garden and villa are free. You can enter the villa with the assistance of an employee, who opens the doors to visitors every half hour. However, the employees are not tour guides, so if you’re very interested in learning about the history, it is best to do some research before you visit.
What to look for
Highlights of the villa include the full-sized theater on the ground floor, the 19th-century décor left over from its days as a royal residence, the elegant ceramic motif and the sweeping iron-railed staircase.
Before or after you visit the interior, make sure to take a walk through the gardens. To the right of the villa you will find a pleasant “Italian-style” garden alongside the Limonaia (a greenhouse for lemon trees). Feel free to explore the gardens in the back as well. Though they have grown unkempt over the past years, it is fun to wander through and find the statues, small buildings and winding passageways from the villa’s heyday.
After winding away the afternoon in this pleasant spot, walk down the hill to the left. Here you’ll find a café which serves the ultimate Tuscan treat: the bombolone. At around 4 p.m. each day, this café bakes up fresh this Italian take on the doughnut, filled with rich cream and coated in sugar. Finish up with a hot espresso and get ready to head back into the Florence!
The Medici Villa
Piazza de Medici 14, 59016 Poggio a Caiano
Opening hours: 8:15 a.m.-6:30 p.m. (closing time varies depending on the season)