|the visitors' book of the Villa Massei on the occasion of the visit of HM Queen Sonja of Norway|
There is, as most will readily recognize, a fine but nonetheless distinct line to be drawn between a house in the country and a country house. The Villa Massei, the home of dear friends Gil Cohen and Paul Gervais de Bédée, falls without doubt into the latter category.
|the drive approach to the Villa Massei as viewed from the balcony beyond the hall door|
|a corner of the entrance hall of the Villa Massei - the main door reflected in the looking glass|
|the fireplace of the principal drawing room at the Villa Massei as seen in summer|
|the bedroom as occupied by Jane and Lance Hattatt during their recent stay at the Villa Massei|
Magnificently situated surrounded by its own olive groves and bosky woodlands, this Renaissance former hunting lodge is today set in the most splendid of formal gardens created over the past thirty or so years by its artistic and very talented owners, Gil and Paul.
|the view from one of the many garden terraces towards the surrounding Tuscan hills|
|lemon trees in terracotta pots and grown in the local traditional manner side a gravel square|
|the rose pergola, constructed of handmade bricks, which forms a principal axis in the garden|
|the pool and fountain garden with two of four 'Alice in Wonderland' miniature chairs|
And what joy it has been this past week to be entertained in true country house style to all the delights of the Villa Massei. For we have been treated to the most delicious of luncheons and dinners, to the enjoyment of the gardens and grounds in the coolness of the evening, to idling away time in the shade of the loggia, to the brilliance of the poolside and, should this have been not enough, to the meeting with friends on a Tuscan hillside for a salmon supper served 'alfresco' in the gloaming as well as to the delights of a tour of that most romantic of cities, Lucca, by horse drawn carriage.
|evening shadows draw across the lawn - our bedroom windows white shuttered in the sun|
|contemplating the passing of time - Lance Hattatt seated in the shade of the Loggia|
|the swimming pool of the Villa Massei, the scene of a poolside luncheon with friends|
|the tree lined ramparts of Lucca which surround the city viewed from our horse drawn carriage|
The day of our departure, following on so closely a Puccini concert in the Baptistery and Church of Santissimi Giovanni e Reparata the night before, found us by invitation at the grandiose Villa Reale. Once the property of Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, the grounds contain a green theatre dating from 1652, a Grotto of Pan, the near ruined Villa del Vescovo as well as water gardens, lemon parterre, and the most delightful, if somewhat startling, swimming pool complex of the 1920s now, alas, sadly neglected.
|a detail on the splendid west front of the Cathedral Church of San Martino dating from 1204|
|the portico front of the Villa Reale once the home of the regal Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi|
|the now sadly near ruined Villa del Vescovo situated in the grounds of the Villa Reale|
|built in the 1920s, the swimming pool complex of the Villa Reale remains a fantasy of fun|
The highlight of our time at the Villa Massei must be the private visit of HM Queen Sonja of Norway to luncheon and a personal tour of the gardens.
What excitement in the early morning as the Carabinieri descended in force to make their final check and then, some few hours later, to watch from the vantage point of the balcony overlooking the drive as the escort cars, lights flashing, wound their way up the twisting roads of the valley. And then, generously included by our hosts, Gil and Paul, to join with them to greet the Royal party, we descended to the entrance court.
|entrance court of the Villa Massei where we assembled to greet HM Queen Sonja of Norway|
Such fun it all was. For the Queen was knowledgeable, gracious and charming. Her 'faux' Ladies in Waiting, for the real ones had been imprisoned, so to speak, on the Royal Yacht, were equally delightful and so, in the manner of such an occasion, we progressed in Royal but relaxed fashion through each of the garden rooms.
|the sixteenth century Grotto of the Villa Massei where pre luncheon drinks were served|
|a simple but inspirational table decoration in readiness for luncheon taken in the Loggia|
Pre luncheon drinks served in the Grotto and then the most delicious buffet taken in the Loggia where the conversation, never stilted nor silent, was constantly punctuated with the sound of mirth and merriment.
|a most regal chair, one of a pair, to be found in the drawing room of the Villa Massei|
And now, our sojourn over, we are once more returned to Budapest but where the laughter, life and love of the Villa Massei continues to resound in our ears, as indeed it will do so for many, many years to come.