Have you ever booked a place to stay that turned out to be a bit weird, slightly spooky but kind of awesome?
In 2013 I went with a group of friends on a cycling trip to Tuscany. I took charge of booking the accommodation, and after much trawling the internet I came across Villa Andrea, about 14kms south east of Lucca in the village Sant Andrea di Compito.
It looked absolutely incredible. Built in the 17th Century, the stone building was nestled high among the Tuscan hills, surrounded by olive groves. It had a lovely pool (essential for a hot Tuscan Summer), and beautiful grounds, plus its own orangery. It ticked every box - I mean, an orangery is essential right? It’s really hard to enjoy a holiday without one. With enough bedrooms to fit our party of eight, I went ahead and booked it.
We had arranged to meet the estate agent in Lucca to pick up the key. She had suggested we meet at McDonalds of all places, and I arrived to find a few of the guys tucking into a cheeseburger. I was outraged. Your first meal in Tuscany can’t be a dirty meal from Maccas! They found that hilarious, I’m pretty sure a photo of those cheeseburgers are on Facebook somewhere, mocking me.
Apparently the villa was quite hard to find, so the agent asked us to follow her in our cars to the property. The area around Lucca is beautiful. It is different to the Chianti region that you so often see splashed over the front of Italian travel brochures. The landscape is not quite as open with the long rolly vistas you find in Chianti. Around Lucca it is very hilly and quite dry (we were there in July). The hills were speckled with olive groves and vineyards and tiny stone villages. It is quite magical, and feels very Italian.
Image credit: Google Maps
Image credit: Google Maps
We wound our way through the hills and finally found our villa nestled up a long driveway on the outskirts of a tiny commune. Our jaws dropped. Villa Andrea was incredible. It looked just like the pictures. It was four stories high, although we had apparently only rented the two lower levels. We found out later that two brothers had inherited the house, and after a falling out had divided it in two. One owned the lower half and one owned the upper. We didn’t see anyone in the upper half while we were staying there.
The long driveway was lined with pink and purple rhododendrons in bloom, and tall trees around the property provided shade from the hot Tuscan sun. A circular pool was on one side of the property, and the orangery was on the other.
The agent gave us the keys and left us to it.
Loaded up with bikes and bags we headed inside. The house felt like time had stilled around it. It reminded me of the castle from Beauty and the Beast, remaining unchanged for hundreds of years. I was waiting for a candlestick to start talking to me.
It was very dark with just a few dull lights peppered about the place. The stone walls were covered in tapestries that looked original and all the furniture looked like it had been sitting there for 200 years. On the second level was a big drawing room with a grand piano. The bedrooms had been slightly renovated and were quite comfortable, but the bathrooms could have done with a bit of work.
We’d just spent two weeks staying in lovely apartments in Lake Como and Bormio and I think Villa Andrea was not quite what we were expecting.
This house is probably not to everyone’s taste. If you are looking for a modern, squeaky clean house with strong wi-fi, this is not the house for you. The kitchen was pretty dated, but it had a big stove and once we figured out how to work all the older fittings it was fine.
However, once we opened up all the windows and let some light and air in it was just magnificent. I loved it! I’m a bit of a Jane Austen fan so I could happily imagine some sort of tragic romance occurring inside it’s walls.
The orangery turned out to be a great place to have dinner and drinks in the evening. Part of me just liked saying “Aperitifs in the Orangery at 5pm everyone”. But it actually was a great spot. It had a balcony with a large table that looked out over the olive groves. Watching the sun go down over the hills in the evening was just beautiful.
However once night fell it became evident how spooky the house was.
The low lighting and big open rooms made you wonder how many people had walked the halls over the last few hundred years. Two of the girls refused to go to the toilet at night. I must admit my imagination was going a bit wild too as I had visions of being woken up by the piano playing a discordant tune, no pianist to be seen.
In reality the only thing I was woken up by was a flock of sparrows that flew in our bedroom window in the early morning. I hid under the sheets as Phil chased them out (I was worried about being crapped on).
It turns out the sparrows roost in an alcove outside the kitchen. They have been coming back there to breed for years.
The beautiful location of the villa makes up for it’s spookiness. It is quite a trek over to Lucca, so a car or bike is necessary. Lucca itself is a lovely city with its cobblestone streets and grand piazzas. We cycled the medieval walls that surround the city, and did two or three longer rides in the area. It was hot, so we were getting out on the bike early and were back most days by 11am, which left lots of time for sightseeing and lolling by the pool with an aperol spritz. We’d just spent two weeks cycling around Lake Como and the Italian Alps, so we were happy to put up our feet and relax.
We cooked at the house most nights, however there were a few restaurants close by. Our favourite was in a small village about 5kms away, recommended by a local. Set in a vine shrouded garden it served traditional Italian fare - pizzas, pastas, steaks etc. We went back two or three times while we were there as it was such a lovely setting. Plus their marzipan and nutella dessert pizza was to die for!
After a few days the spooky house grew on us, and we came to appreciate how incredible it was to be staying in Tuscany in a 17th Century villa. I would definitely recommend staying in a house such as this - it’s an experience that you can’t replicate and one that will stick in your memories forever.
I’ve been searching for the house on the internet so I could post the link here for you all to see, but it seems to have disappeared. Maybe the brothers have decided to patch up their differences and sell it...or maybe it was a ghost house after all.