It’s already early evening when the gravel of the short driveway to Villa Barberina crackles under the car tires. A quick introduction and when the first Prosecco cork pops, the ice is broken and the conversation with Annalisa Franco, the villa’s owner and my gracious host, flows naturally. Mrs. Franco has something of a silvery vibrancy that is also reflected in the beautiful and welcoming Palladian villa she purchased with her husband more than a decade ago. In “Tinker Bell fashion,” Mrs. Franco flies around the house and with a gentle touch of her magic wand, makes the house function and suddenly come to life with a multitude of stories.
To be fair, part of the harmonic ensemble belongs to the villa itself. Palladian-style villas are much more than a mere architectural style. They are the expression of a way of life centered about being together in a joyful way. For the most part, they were summer escapes for the Venetian aristocracy and the wealthy. Here they took their families and friends during the hot summer months to live and entertain while at the same time managing their business affairs, including those of land ownership and agricultural production.
Inspired by the classics and enlightened by visionary innovation, Palladio created a style that supported these requirements, while at the same time blending harmoniously with the land. There is an intrinsic feng shui in Palladian architecture that makes these homes very livable and very lovable. It is not by accident that the style became so popular and spread so successfully in the Veneto and elsewhere. In the US, it is sufficient to look at buildings such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, the Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York City or, quite simply, the White House itself.
The sitting room is warm and cozy, and the Prosecco bubbles are light and lively as they spiral up towards the surface of the glass. Prosecco is native here; in fact, Villa Barberina is in Valdobbiadene, in the foothills of the Alps, right where Prosecco was born. Its creation was an act of genius on the part of Carpene’ Malvolti who developed the process for making this delightful, bubbly wine. Mrs. Franco tells me all about the fine art of Prosecco-making since they own the prestigious Nino Franco Winery. Started in 1919, they are now in the 4th generation and their Prosecco is considered among the very best.
We decide to postpone the villa visit to the next morning, shifting our attention to the beautiful kitchen where we “conspire” in creating an excellent tray of lasagne with asparagus for dinner. As a side dish, a simple – yet delectable – tomato salad, given that the tomatoes are the “one and only” Cuore di Bue variety (it means “Bull’s Heart”). Perfectly ripe, meaty and virtually seedless, we serve them after the tasty lasagne with only a sprinkle of salt and a delicate, golden string of local extra virgin olive oil on top. They melt in our mouth, releasing the taste of that perfect marriage between the sun’s rays and the fertile soil. Ah! … there’s nothing like the complex perfection of simplicity!
It’s time to sleep and I welcome the large, comfortable bed with its Frette sheets and – I can’t help noticing – the rarity of a wool mattress. Forget about those overpriced, oil-made memory foams! This is the real thing, welcoming like no other. I glide into dreams with memories of my grandmother’s bed and the comfy sleepovers at her place.
The next day, the air is clean and crisp, after a night rain. The morning light that streams through the windows is filtered through floating curtains and seems to summon the villa to reveal all of its charms. The wood floors scattered with Oriental rugs and the pastel-colored walls set a tone of elegance that is further enhanced by the antique furniture, bookshelves full of volumes, collections of ceramics and the original oil paintings.
The bathrooms are state-of-the-art with their contemporary faucets, showers and sinks. The bathtubs, however, are the original ones, preserved by an attentive renovation. All over, there are collections of objects of interest: newspapers from the early 20th-century, table boxes of various materials, fantastic but unassuming light switches in every room. As ever, “the devil is in the details”…
As I walk through bedrooms and hallways, bathrooms and sitting rooms, I can’t help but envision bringing friends here for a few days, or organizing a family reunion. What a perfect solution to stay all together in such a home, respectful of space and privacy, yet communal and convivial. And the area is so rich in potential — it offers visits to celebrated art cities (Venice, Verona, Vicenza, Padua to name a few), as well as exciting food and wine itineraries (the Prosecco Road and the area’s many spectacular restaurants and cooking schools). Bikers and hikers will find paradise in both the plains and the pre-Alpine climbs, while savvy shoppers will soon find out how close they are to the factories of famous brands like Geox shoes and Belstaff jackets, to name just two.
A discreet, yet warm, sense of hospitality permeates the region and this beautiful home. For those of you who hear the message and catch the wavelength: Villa Barberina and Nino Franco wines are names to cherish.