Monday, February 27, 2012

Villa San Girolamo

Last week we had the good fortune of getting to tour Villa San Girolamo, the villa right above ours on Via Vecchia Fiesolana.  I had been curious about the uninhabited villa for ages, occasionally seeing the gates open and wanting to sneak in √† la James Bond, but alas, I bided my time until we got an actual invitation, and saved my spy gear for another occasion.

Built in the 14th century, the villa has been inhabited by various religious orders, has been visited by two popes, and has a beautiful private chapel with works by Michelozzo and Nigetti, which would more appropriately be called a church due to its grand size.

Its most recent claim to fame was its being used as the setting for the Oscar-winning film The English Patient.  It is told that Charles Strong, original owner of Villa Le Balze, stayed at S. Girolamo in 1911, and taken by the wonderful views of the location, decided to buy the land just below it and build Villa Le Balze.

From the garden, we could look below and see a section of our own villa, including the Secret Garden, and the arches of the east terrace.  You're welcome to visit our website if you'd like more information about Villa Le Balze's history, including its fascinating involvement in World War II, with before and after photos of the bombings.


Back to S. Girolamo, I must say its sad to see such a beautiful Renaissance villa empty.  Visiting it, one could feel it longed to be filled with grand dinners and laughter, and I longed to be in attendance!  Since the departure of the most recent order of nuns, the villa has fallen into disrepair and the owners into financial instability.  So, if anyone is in the market for a multi-million dollar villa in the hills of Tuscany, I know a guy who knows a guy.


  1. I stayed here in 1993 with my best friend after we had finished our A'Levels. Both our Dad's trained to be priests at the English College in Rome - obviously neither of them completed!
    The Villa was run by fabulous Irish Nuns from the Order - Piccola Compagnia de Maria (Little Company of Mary). We spent a magical two weeks in Fiesole, it was beautiful watching the sunset over Florence. Am so sad to hear that it is closed.

  2. I stayed in the Villa S. Girolamo in the 1995 while visiting Florence. It was a beautiful villa overlooking the old part of Florence. It was run by an Irish nun who had great character. The meals were delicious and they gave me extra helpings because the nuns did not eat much. Sorry to see it in disrepair. Hope someone buys it and brings it back to life.

  3. My wife and I also stayed there in the 1990s. We'd booked in for two nights - and ended staying for six, so enchanting was the place. The nuns were brilliant and when they found out I'd written a book about the disappearance of the Irish racehorse, Shergar, I received a lot of fuss. So sad to read this lovely place is in neglect. It was truly wonderful to sit in the enchanting gardens, looking out across the domes of Florence. Dinner was a communal affair amid like-minded travellers and part of the fuss they made of us was when an extra bottle of wine mysteriously appeared at our table.

  4. My boyfriend and I stayed at San Girolamo in July 1995. It was a magical and enchanting time, being lovers who visited Florence for the first time and who loved the serenity, beauty, seclusion of Fiesole, so close to the historicity and beauty of Florence. There were pathways, an orchard, and such stunning views of Florence. The nuns were kind and helpful, and the cost of staying there was quite inexpensive. John and I loved staying at San Girolamo and I am saddened that it is no longer operational. That place will forever remain in my memory as a personification of the beauty, history, and enchantment of Florence and Italy, as a whole, and a memory of an enchanting time in my life.

  5. I'm so sad to see that the Villa is closed. My wife and I stayed there in September 1992. We had twin beds, and a nun sat at a desk outside in the hallway! It was kind of an austere retreat. Tea was served in the afternoon. A priest came to say mass on Sunday. The garden was a peaceful place to rest or read, with a stunning view of the Arno valley. The nuns had lived there many years and could recount stories of the German occupation of the Villa during WWII. It was a magical place, run by lovely people.

  6. My twin brother and I were sent to Rome from the Milwaukee Archdiocese to reside at the Pontifical North American College and to complete our Theological studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1961. We were to study for 4 years and also to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests.

    At that time San Girolamo was a "rest home" run by Irish nuns. Daily cost was $5.00 per day. The Irish nuns were fantastic. When students became sick, they were sent there to recuperate.

    My twin brother got sick and spent about 2 months there in our first year and about the same time in our second year, after which he had to return to Milwaukee. I spent several days there each year to visit him.

    I also spent several weeks there recovering from an appendectomy. Further, after I was ordained, my mother, some friends and myself spent Christmastime at Fiesole I celebrated Christmas Midnight Mass for religious nuns in a church in Fiesole, followed by a daytime Mass at the Villa with the Queen of Greece in attendance.

    The Irish nuns were just wonderful human beings. That is why I retain such fond memories of the Villa.

    I too am saddened by the present state of the Villa.

    Thomas R Marlier
    Shawano Wi USA

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  8. Villa San Girolamo is a part of my family history... we moved to Italy in 1964 when my mother was getting away from a nasty divorce with 4 small children (me being the smallest at age 3). After several months settling in Rome she left us with her mother for a week and went to recharge batteries at Villa San Girolamo, which was charming, welcoming and very cheap (needless to say we were broke). There she met some lovely nuns and a few priests from the Rome North American College who were guests, who triggered a bit of a spiritual awakening that eventually called her back to the Catholic church, and in successive stays we met people who were to become part of our life and family (including my future stepfather). I remember an amazing Christmas there being spoiled by "Sister Maggie" (Magdalene) and Father Prospero Grech

  9. I remember that big piece of furniture, the sideboard. It was in the room where tea was served. This was 1992, and the nun who served tea seemed to be in her late 80’s or early 90’s. She described that she had been there during WWII when the place was occupied by the Nazis. The view from the garden was amazing, the Arno Valley. I think it was a stretch to say they they were running a luxury hotel. It was more a humble but clean guest house, and there were elderly there in the care of the nuns too. They needed the income to support the place. I’m sad it’s empty, it is a beautiful and historic place.