Every year the municipalities of Tuscany participate in a “cultural marathon” with guided visits and special openings of historical and artistic sites normally inaccessible. “Spring Open Days” is sponsored by Fondo Ambiente Italiano, (the Italian equivalent of the National Trust), an organization that promotes and safeguards Italy’s historic patrimony. This year the Spring Open Days occur over the weekend of March 25 – 26.
Villa Montalvo (Campi Bisenzio).
Visit the country house of the Spanish Ramirez di Montalvo family to enjoy the gardens and villa with its frescoed ceilings. A favorite hunting destination of Florentine nobility, the villa has undergone significant additions and renovations through the centuries. Visitors can expect to see the gardens with the limonaia (lemon house) as well as the small chapel where the remains of Felice Matteucci, inventor of the internal combustion engine, still lie (Via di Limite, 15, Campo Bisenzio, FI, Saturday, Sunday 10 am to 5:30 pm. Tours last 45 minutes and leave every 15 minutes. No reservations required.)
Casino of Bagni di Lucca
Set in the foothills of the Serchio Valley, this spa town with its thermal hot springs attracted the elite of Europe in the 19th century. The town with its healing waters, called the “Switzerland of Tuscany” by the English hosted illustrious guests such as poets Shelley and Lord Byron and musicians Puccini, Strauss and Liszt as well as nobility and religious leaders. The visit includes a tour of the casino, the first in Europe, with its restored interior and walls of gilded lilies on a blue background. The Bernabo thermal baths can also be visited (Via Casino Municipale, 66, Bagni di Lucca, Saturday, Sunday 10 am.to 1 pm and 2 to 5:30 pm. Tours last 40 minutes leaving every 30 minutes. Reservations not required).
Siena Music School at Palazzo Chigi Saracini
Located in the historic center of Siena, the Palazzo is one of the oldest in the city. Hosting an important art collection, for the past 100 years it has housed the Accademia Musicale Chigiana and today the Accademia invites students from all over the world to study with great masters of the musical world.
In addition to priceless paintings, the various salons in the palace contain collections of sculptures, photographs and majolica ceramics. Sumptuous silk covered walls and elaborate chandeliers are beautifully preserved in the rooms and the usually private areas of the chapel and library will be available during FAI Open Days (Via di Citta, 89, Siena, SI., Saturday, Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours last 40 minutes. Reservations required).
The Tower of Burano (Capalbio Scalo)
52 km. (32 miles) SE of Grosseto, located on a sandy isthmus separating the sea from a large wetland, was built in the 16th century for defensive purposes in order to spot the arrival of Saracen pirates.
Now the tower, sand dunes and large lagoon function as a nature preserve managed by the World Wildlife Fund. The flora and fauna of the preserve provide an experience to visitors with the possibility of seeing turtles, porcupines, rabbits, fox and badgers. The birdlife consists of more than 100 variety of birds including flamingos, herons, ducks, cormorants, gulls and osprey. The Mediterranean plant life contains mastic, sea daffodils, heather, myrtle, cork and oak trees.
The nature trail beginning from the parking lot leads visitors for one kilometer along sandy ground arriving finally at the tower. The tower, rests on a slope, with walls between two and three meters thick. The entrance, about five meters off the ground, consists of a door accessed via a flight of steps and a small drawbridge. Visitors can climb to the top of the tower for an excellent view of the surrounding countryside (Saturday, Sunday 10:30 am to 3:30 pm. Tours leave every house and last for two hours with comfortable walking shoes advised. Reservations not required).
Open Days provides an opportunity to see less-visited treasures of Tuscany with guided visits and special openings of normally inaccessible artistic and historical sites. The public is invited to visit over 40 special sites and uncover the history, culture and traditions of Tuscany. Although admission is free, many of the sites suggest a donation to the foundation. In addition, some of the places require advance booking. For complete information on sites and visits, see the website: www.fondoambiente.it