hidden europe 55

Summer Retreats

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: View down from Fiesole towards Florence (photo © Roman Shyshak / dreamstime.com).


These gorgeous summer days are a chance for a change of pace. We look at the recuperative appeal of retreating to the lakes or the hills.

From Zürich one might head for the Rigi, while the Viennese are inclined to take the train up to Semmering. Every city has its summer retreats. The Romans head for Frascati, the Fiorentini for Fiesole, which the English poet Robert Browning described as being both sober and pleasant. For Friedrich Nietzsche, a simple villa at Sils Maria in the Swiss Engadine provided the answer. Nietzsche summered in Sils Maria for almost a decade, generally spending almost three months each year in the Swiss village.

There are some who thrive in the summer heat of the city, but many with the funds and opportunity seek respite in a more rural setting. Fiesole was Florence’s hill station, one which in the late 19th century was easily reached from the city by a pioneering electric tram. The chattering classes — nicely mocked by EM Forster in A Room with a View — had their villas on the hills around Fiesole, propelling the Florentine villa to prominence as both an architectural and ideological model for the wider world. And villas needed to be complemented by greenery so gardens were created to appeal to the sensibilities of educated Anglo- Saxons who sought peace and inspiration.

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