Yesterday, on our way back from taking visitors to Venice airport to catch their plane home, Victor and I stopped off for a pizza in Montebelluna then went for a coffee (macchiato for me and corretto con grappa for his nibs) followed by a walk around our beloved Asolo. We took pictures of Dame Freya Stark’s old villa, which is now owned by the local Comune and used for official functions. We’ve decided to visit the gardens when the weather gets a bit warmer.
Freya Stark was a British explorer and travel writer, born in 1893, and a great friend of the late Queen Mother, who visited her in Asolo. Dame Freya was inspired by the copy of One Thousand and One Nights she received at the age of nine. She became passionate about the Middle East and was one of the first Western women to travel in the Arabian Desert.
During her childhood, Freya was a regular visitor to Asolo, where her father’s friend, Pen Browning (son of Robert Browning), had three houses. Her parents separated when she was a child and her mother Flora lived with the landscape artist Herbert Young in the house Freya was to buy for herself after WWII. These photos are displayed on the outside wall of the villa and show the young Freya with her sister, Vera, and a tea party with her mother (and dolls) in the garden (under which have been discovered the remains of a Roman amphitheatre).
It’s a beautiful old villa, dating from the end of the Eighteenth Century, built along the pre-existing medieval town wall. Dame Freya lived here until 1966, when she moved into the country house my stepfather built for her. I remember meeting this fascinating woman. She invited my little sister and me for afternoon tea and a swim in her pool. (She approved of the fact that we were avid readers.) When the house became too much for her she sold it and bought a flat in Asolo, near the Hotel Cipriani where she had lunch every day. Dame Freya died in Asolo on 9th May 1993, a few months after her hundredth birthday. She is buried in the Sant’Anna Cemetery.