Have you ever wished you had more time to be able to enjoy a book? There is a place in Italy where time is perceived differently, and reading is the main goal of your stay.
La Macchina Fissa is home to Reading Retreats in Rural Italy, founded by Clark Lawrence, who arrived in Italy 25 years ago from the United States with a project in his mind: to form a cultural association where literature, art, and gardening are part of everyday life.
Photography courtesy of
La Macchina Fissa.
Above: The retreat is is located in Borgo Virgilio, just outside of Mantua. One of the richest towns in Italy during the Renaissance, it was ruled by the Gonzaga family and is now famous for the art and cultural traditions they fostered during their rule. The centuries-old building near the Mincio river that is now home to Reading Retreats used to be a pump house. In 2015, thanks to an extensive renovation, the building transformed into the cultural retreat Clark envisioned, with 10 guest rooms. Above: The interiors include large common spaces with fireplaces, sofas, armchairs, and three pianos, as well as a small cinema and two kitchens where guests help prepare dinner while discussing anything from the last book they read to an unforgettable artwork. Reading Retreats offers cultural events year-round—classical or jazz concerts, art exhibitions, book presentations, themed dinners—and maintains a permanent art collection owned by the founder that includes over 30 works by the London-based painter David Hollington. Above: Then there is the garden, an ever-changing, ever-evolving piece of art, patiently and passionately curated by Clark, who defines himself a “mezzo giardiniere” which in Italian slang means half-gardener—“half” because his knowledge of horticulture is self-taught. His gardening know-how comes from decades of experience propagating and growing any plant that sparked his interest. Nearly everything in his garden, from annuals to trees, is grown from seeds or cuttings. Above: The garden is the perfect expression of the founder’s gentle approach: very little is pruned or forced. It feels like plants grow with exuberance, freedom, and harmony, and you don’t immediately notice there is a plan behind its composition. Above: La Macchina Fissa is an ideal place to share stories and replenish the soul through contact with nature and naturalistic gardens. It’s a cultural melting pot, tucked away from the speed and noise of the world, an elegant but friendly farmhouse where the simple pleasures of reading, cooking, and gardening are all enhanced by the rural surroundings. Above: The founder’s favorite plants are often members of the Cucurbitaceae family; pumpkins, bittergourds, luffa, ornamental cucumbers, and squash of all sizes, textures, and colors. They grow all over the ground but with the help of their tendrils also cover fences, trellises, arches, and tunnels, hanging like lanterns. Above: La Macchina Fissa is in Borgo Virgilio, birthplace of Virgil, and a 20 -minute drive south of Mantua. For more information, go to La Macchina Fissa.
For more on Italy’s gardens, see: