Last Updated on December 4, 2023 by Laura Teso
Villa Valmarana ai Nani in Vicenza is a beautiful Venetian style villa. Located on the slopes of a hill, it is only 5 minutes by car from the city center.
The main building (Palazzetto) was built around 1670. Later a barchessa (barn), a guesthouse and other annexes were added. The architect was Francesco Muttoni, a scholar of Palladio’s work. The Valmaranas acquired it in 1720.
So, the name Valmarana refers to the noble family who owns the villa and they still live inside the villa. While the nickname ai Nani, meaning at the Dwarves, relates to the 17 sculptures of dwarves, once scattered inside the park and now adorning the boundary walls.
The dwarves legend
According to a legend, Layana, the daughter of the villa lord, was a midget. He didn’t want her to grow up feeling different from others. So he hired only dwarf servants so that the girl would never notice her peculiarity. One day, a beautiful prince ended up in the villa gardens, while Layana was looking out of the tower window. They saw each other and instantly fell in love. So he climbed over the walls to reach her. But when he got in the room, the two had a bad surprise. Layana became aware of her condition and she took her own life, throwing herself from the tower. All the servants, who were really fond of Layana, turned to stone because of the great grief.
The Tiepolos frescoes
The highlight of this villa is the extraordinary fresco cycle by Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, father and son. This is particularly interesting because you can tell the difference in style between the two. They’re both amazing in my opinion.
The Palazzina (villa)
Inside the villa, you can admire frescoes inspired by classical and mythological themes: Iliad, Aeneid, Orlando Furioso, and Gerusalemme Liberata. The scenes are more or less dedicated to heroic or amorous episodes. And the purpose is to show how it is necessary to overcome passion to reach maturity and virtue.
In April 1944 some bombs hit the villa, destroying part of the ceiling of the hall dedicated to the Aeneid. Some experts had to remove the frescoes to keep them safe elsewhere. And then they reapplied them to the walls after the war. If you join a guided tour, the guide will surely explain the technique.
The guest house
In the guest house, the style is more modern, with references to Illuminism and daily life scenes: the Venetian countryside, the aristocrats dressed for Venice Carnival, etc.
But there’s also a room dedicated to China, as a representation of something far away and exotic. So much so that many of the scenes are not realistic, but only based on the painters’ fantasy. Think that it is somehow futuristic: one of the figures reminded me very much of princess Padme of Star Wars.
Another plus here is to observe the landscape from the windows of the corridor.
Past the entrance, there’s a first garden, made of flower beds and roses bushes. On the west side of the villa, you can admire the Italian style garden, with flower beds, box hedges, and gravel paths. The highlight is the view of Monte Berico Sanctuary. Past this garden, there’s a rectangular area, with a low wall. It was once a scenery flat for exhibitions and poems declamations. At the back of the villa, there are two hornbeams tunnels, which offer shadow to the visitors. At the end of the tunnels, you’ll find a niche with the statue of a Triton.
Celebrities who visited the villa
Several illustrious figures came to visit the villa during the past centuries: Goethe, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Margareth, the royals of Belgium, Holland, Sweden and Denmark, Truman Capote, Peggy Guggenheim, Salvador Dalì, Frank Sinatra, Federico Fellini. While the writer Antonio Fogazzaro lived in the villa for several years because he married a member of the Valmarana family.
Portrait of Palladio
In the hall where you purchase the tickets, you can see a painting portraying the architect Andrea Palladio. It’s very important because it’s one of the few reliable representations of Palladio. By the way, it was stolen in 2014 and retrieved by the police the next year. This villa was not built by him, but Palladio built other villas or palaces belonging to the Valmarana family.
In the old kitchen of the Guesthouse, there’s a Café where you can have something to eat or drink. During the warm season, you can sit outside in the lovely terrace. The Cafè is open also for people just passing by. You can also reserve it for private events.
Opening hours of the café: March 2nd – November 10th, 2019: Monday to Friday – from 11 am to 2 pm and 4 pm to 6 pm. Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 7 p.m
Bookshop and Immersive Experience
There’s also a small Bookshop, selling stationery products, publications, but also several items (mugs, pendants) with depictions of the villa frescoes. But you can also find some interesting products of the Vicenza area, such as grappa Nardini, Bassano del Grappa ceramics or Palladiobags, fabric products dedicated to the architect Palladio.
Past the bookshop, you can also find the Immersive Experience Room, where you can watch a 360° video about the history of the villa. It requires an extra fee.
Private events and accommodations
The villa can be rented for weddings, meetings, photo shootings, and private events. Moreover, you can also stay there. You can choose one of the two Suites, Achille and Ifigenia, located on the top floor of the Villa, to live in an original 18th century Venetian villa. The suites are both equipped with original 18th and 19th-century furniture, but the kitchen and the bathroom are modern.
How to reach the villa
The Villa is located along via dei Nani 8. You can reach it by car but the parking is very tiny, you’re warned. From Vicenza train station you can take a bus (according to Google n. 1, 2, 5 and 7): they will lead you to the villa in about 20 minutes. From the Basilica Palladiana, you can take bus number 8 (also 20 minutes). But you can also walk (about 30 minutes) from Vicenza center.
Very close to Villa Valmarana ai Nani you can visit Villa Capra La Rotonda by Palladio, which is located at a stone’s throw.
Villa Valmarana Ai Nani
Via Dei Nani, 8 – 36100 Vicenza
From March 2nd to November 3rd 2019: Every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
(Closed on September 14)
From November 2019: Every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Guided tours upon reservation or every Sunday morning (Italian only) at 10.30 am (additional €3 per person)