Tuscany has no shortage of lovely villas or gardens to visit, but aside from Boboli Gardens in Florence, not many are on a tourist’s “must-do” list, but the Villa Reale of Marlia shouldn’t be missed if you’re traveling near Lucca.
We love taking our kids to gardens all around Italy, but villas have been hit and miss for us due to risk of how “kid-friendly” a historic and valuable home can be. The Villa Reale di Marlia is totally kid friendly because the villa’s interior is currently ongoing renovation and not open to tour at all, so this villa visit is really a garden with a villa as a lovely backdrop. The owners who bought the property in 2015 first restored the gardens and building exteriors, creating a truly lovely place to explore. The restored exteriors help us imagine life for the royalty and aristocrats who once lived at Villa Reale, but a completely outdoor experience that allows our kids to move and play with little restrictions and hardly a “no touching” warning uttered. Villa Reale has a long history but it’s most famous resident was Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, sister to the famous Napoleon, who was the Princess of Lucca. Telling our girls we were going to visit a place that a princess used to live sure got them excited (and dressed were donned for the occasion too!)
Villa Reale di Marlia is located just north of the town of Lucca, another wonderfully kid-friendly place to visit, and would be a lovely companion visit to anybody staying in the area or even near Pisa. There’s ample parking located down a shady road that leads to the ticket office. For those of you without a car there are bus directions on their website. The villa grounds are open from March through October and it seems as if something new would be blooming each month. We arrived and were greeted warmly by a woman who spoke wonderful English and purchased our tickets (kids under 14 are free). Use the bathrooms here before wandering around because it was the only bathroom shown on our map. We were given an English map that had a suggested trail and description of each highlight. The girls were given a map to help them identify flowers and plants in the gardens, which they loved, and the back of their map had a painting and story about the Princess of Lucca. When we sat and took breaks we would read a bit more about the history of Villa Reale.
We spent about 1 hour and 45 minutes wandering the grounds, going at the pace of our youngest daughter who is almost 4 years old. The paths are nicely marked with signs and different trees and bushes along the route are labeled too. Each major point of interest also has a placard in multiple languages with more information that is in the map. We were very impressed with the amount of information available to us. As for mobility, I wouldn’t suggest bringing a stroller unless it handles well on gravel or small loose rocks, but if you have a versatile all terrain stroller the pathways themselves would be passable.
We went to Villa Reale on a beautiful summer day in early June and there was plenty of shade to cool us down, though during the high summer months I’d pack plenty of water and plan to take some breaks. Though there isn’t a cafe or bar to buy any snacks or drinks, the grounds are picnic friendly and even dog friendly. We didn’t know we could bring a picnic and wish we had! There is no shortage of perfect picnic spots all around the grounds. Despite it being such a lovely summer Saturday, we were not crowded at all. We saw a few other couples wandering around but it felt like a hidden garden, especially compared to the busyness of somewhere like Boboli Gardens in Florence. My favorite areas were down by the lake, where you get a view of the Villa on top of a sloping hill, and the Grotto of Pan, which had a lot of interesting rock mosaics and sculptures. If you ask my 6 year old she’d say the Green Theater where she eagerly got onto the grassy stage with the sculptures and performed her own show.
If you’re looking for a relaxing and interesting way to spend some time outdoors in Tuscany, put Villa Reale di Marlia on your itinerary.