The Ultimate Tuscan Treat: L’Arancera Di Villa Grabau in Lucca
History, Tuscan charm and comfort... it all comes together at Villa Grabau and its daughter estate L’Arancera. Now that Italy is open for tourists again, the family estate’s youngest representative, Ludovica Amodeo Grabau, tells us all about this elegant retreat situated in the heart of Tuscany.
Not since the days of Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo, streets of Italy had been empty as it was during the lockdown. The whole world was cut off from visiting a very characteristic, and joyful destination. Yet Italy’s soul remains blooming, as one of Europe’s most adored historical and cultural destinations. Italy is a country epitomising romance, not only as the country of Romeo and Juliet but also with its stunning landscapes, not to mention heavenly food.
Now, a series of experiences reflect a new kind of Italian Renaissance (after easing of lockdowns around the world), and Villa Grabau along with its daughter estate L’Arancera are one of them.
Photo by Alessandro Moggi ©
The Villa Grabau dates to the 16th century and Ludovica Amodeo Grabau’s family, originally from Germany, has owned it since 1868. The estate is famous for its 9-hectares Botanical Park, dotted with centuries-old trees and rare plants from all over the world, including the 17th century Limonaia (lemon conservatory), among the largest and most spectacular of the region. The family still stores all their citrus fruits collection there. Nearby is the Box Hedge Theatre, which works as an open-air church for beautiful ceremonies.
Photo by Lumos Produzioni ©
Being in the Tuscan countryside certainly represents a special holiday with fond memories. As the desire to find authentic locations and gain an immersion into local life is stronger than ever, there couldn’t have been a better name than Grabau. How the villa came to meet with guests is also as authentic as it can be. The villa was always considered as a summer house in the countryside by the Grabau family until “my mother started to organize weddings in our Lemon house around twenty years ago,” says Ludovica Amodeo Grabau, youngest representative of this historic family estate. “At first it was probably more like a game and then it became a real business.” A wedding in a lemon house in the Tuscan countryside? An Italian dream.
Following the years, the family renovated all the farmhouses that were on the property and, lastly the old farmhouse right outside the main gate, which became Arancera, the daughter estate of Villa Grabau. “That is my main job: It is a beautiful horse-shoe shaped Villa also dating back to the 16th century, and we have transformed it into a Bed & Breakfast right before Covid. Now it is also a rental villa.
Ludovica Amodeo Grabau
The 30-year-old Ludovica was born and raised in Tuscany and comes from a family with quite a heritage. Young entrepreneur admits she grew up with pure adoration for these places, the houses, and its nature. “It also feels like I am working for the future generations to preserve everything as much as possible. And I like this feeling!” Nowadays she is responsible for everything at Grabau, from marketing to accounting, logistics and wedding planning, which means her daily life can be quite hectic especially during summer months.
Photo by Rhiannon Taylor ©
Photos by Rhiannon Taylor ©
Yet the hard work always pays off. The overall concept is that of a quintessentially Tuscan villa. The Grabau family have dreamt about this concept for over a decade, so they have collected several antique pieces, paintings, chairs, objects from many places in Italy and the world. “The result is an eclectic mix of antiques and contemporary designs that infuses new life in a classical setting like a Tuscan villa. The overall concept revolves around citrus fruits, given our big lemon collection at the main villa and the amazing venue that is the Limonaia, I wanted to create something along the same thread.” Arancera in Italian means orange conservatory, and they elaborated a concept around this with the colour of the house, especially while designing the garden. Oranges, lemons, clementines, grapefruits, kumquats, caviar citrus and some rarer species that they found looking through botanics: it is a garden of Eden for citrus lovers.
Guests of Grabau and Arancera have access to inspirational local experiences, with private visits all around Lucca and the region. “We come from here and it’s such a plus to be guided by locals who know exactly what to do, with whom and when. We also organize cooking classes which are so much fun!” Not to mention yoga sessions, wine and olive oil tastings, homemade ice cream workshops, bike excursions, guided tours. There is something for everyone that will capture their heart.
They are a family business, and this reflects on how the villa is managed. “You meet me, and then my mother or father, and we always invite guests to have a private guided tour of the Villa followed by a welcome Aperitivo.” There is nothing from the corporate world here, it is all the Grabau family, a cosy atmosphere that can be appreciated by guests. “During the first wave of the pandemic, it was such a pleasant surprise to receive messages from guests who had been here only once. You can tell that we share an affectionate bond after they stayed with us once. On top of that, we are 100 per cent Tuscan lovers, so we try to involve only local suppliers who love our land like us. This is something we are immensely proud of and want to represent in the world.”
Arancera is a one-of-a-kind place. Ludovica tells that guests arriving there admit the place looks even better than the photos. Everything is thought through with such an attention to detail. Villa Grabau is also in an incredibly special area surrounded by other beautiful historical villas in Lucca: Villa Reale, Villa Oliva to name a few on walking distance.
Photo by Marco Barsanti ©
Life in Arancera is easy, living in Tuscany is a bliss, an epitome of the Mediterranean Lifestyle. Everything from art to food, to the amazing seaside and islands in the summer or the mountains for skiing and trekking in the winter. People are nice and you have such a healthier lifestyle here in comparison to big cities in Italy. “My friends were a bit concerned when I told them I was going back to Tuscany to live and work, but now everyone is either jealous or relocating here as I did,” says Ludovica.
Tuscany has always been a dream location for holidays and lately also for weddings. The landscapes are breath-taking, the culture is so powerful, people have always been drawn to this region for several reasons. “In my opinion, the selling point of Tuscany lies here, in this immense diversity. I was born and raised here, yet there are still so many places that I have not seen. It is like living in a house and everyday discovering something new and exciting, it never gets ordinary and always keeps you craving for more.” Certainly, another aspect is the strong connection with nature. Ludovica says she feels much more suited here and life follows its natural rhythm much more easily: the seasons, the sun, the trees, and flowers, all the amazing vegetable and fruit produce. “It is very raw and very deep, like a feeling that really touches a primitive string in your soul, that’s why everyone wants to come back.”
Suites at the villa vary depending on their size, but they all boast either a garden or a pool view, antique furniture, en-suite bathrooms with hand-painted tiles. These then meet everyday comforts like Wi-Fi and air conditioning. “We tried to only use local suppliers and brands so guests will find a majority of Tuscan artisanal pieces.”
Photo by Marco Barsanti ©
When we ask Ludovica about the gastronomic diversity of Italy she says Italian gastronomy is a full encyclopaedia on its own. Who does not love Italian food whenever and wherever? One can walk down a street and find a local trattoria with remarkable food. The beauty of Italian cuisine lays not only in the way it is cooked probably, but the quality of the produce used in the dishes. Fresh, local cheese, aromatic tomatoes, the smell of fresh basil leaves, and a beautiful dough. Every part of Italy chooses to use each ingredient in their own way. “It is incredible to see, in a distance as far as 100 km, the number of different recipes and different products: like a never-ending adventure in food. Even myself I keep discovering new dishes and local traditions, it is so interesting and fun. In the future I would love to be more involved in gastronomy and I have several projects going on for our post-Covid world.”
Sadly, like anybody else in the hospitality industry L’Arancera di Villa Grabau had to close because of the pandemic. However, they decided to still rent out the house with no added services. It went very well, so right now they take bookings for apartments or for the entire Villa in exclusive use. Ludovica says Covid has taught her many lessons, the most important of which is flexibility and adaptability. “We sanitize everything and respect all rules for the safety of our guests, and we hope that combined with vaccines, we will be out of this soon. Italy has already reopened a lot, also to foreigners, but we are still waiting for the final guidelines for the summer.”
The Grabau Family Estate, Villa Grabau
Once the world is out of this pandemic and goes back to a normal tourism schedule, Ludovica hopes we will all cherish the lessons we have learned. “Prefer less crowded cities, quality over quantity, a healthier and slower pace also in travel. I like to think that we will travel for longer but in fewer places, to really dive into a culture and to help its economy, rather than just ticking off destinations without a logic of care and thought.”
The Grabau family’s motto is “peu à peu” which means, in French, “step by step”, and this is what they are doing in Lucca. Turning a marvellous place into something unique yet with a familiar cosy vibe.
Terracotta coloured stone house under the Tuscan sun