Staying on a restored Tuscan estate provides the perfect way to experience this bountiful region. – By Micaela Myers
Think of Tuscany, and you’re likely to conjure postcard images of rolling hills filled with bright poppies or thriving vineyards and dotted with picturesque villas complete with sun-drenched tile roofs. The beauty of Tuscany is that these postcard images are exactly what you get everywhere you turn, thanks in large part to development that includes restoring historic structures rather than tearing them down.
One example of this restoration work is the new five-star Castello di Casole, A Signature Development of Timbers Resorts. The 4,200-acre historic property was originally owned by the Bargagli family, an ancient and noble family of Siena, and account books on the estate date as far back as 1680. The Castello eventually became the home to movie stars and Italian nobility in the 1960s; most notably Luchino Visconti, a renowned Italian filmmaker. He lived in the Castello with his brother and Austrian actor Helmut Berger, of “Godfather III.” Following strict Italian renovation standards and using Tuscan materials, the 28 spacious farmhouses and the castle have been completely restored with tasteful décor and modern amenities—all while blending in perfectly with the countryside. Imagine drinking wine and savoring olive oil grown on the estate, while overlooking your private infinity pool with nothing in the distance but vibrant green hills, forests and vineyards.
Located 20 minutes west of Siena and 45 minutes southwest of Florence, the 19th century farmhouses were restored for fractional and whole-ownership, while the 10th century castle is just opening as a 41-suite boutique luxury hotel featuring a world-class spa and wellness center, swimming pool, pizzeria, stylish bar and visionary fine-dining restaurant. Many of the hotel’s suites offer large private gardens and terraces with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking acres of vineyards and lemon and olive trees.
A stay in a restored villa, farmhouse or castle allows visitors to experience idyllic life in the Tuscan countryside, with easy access to all the cities and sites in the region.
Siena and Florence
UNESCO estimates that Tuscany has 10 percent of the world’s most important cultural heritage sites, with six Tuscan localities designated official World Heritage Sites, including the historic city centers of Florence and Siena. Siena is everything you’d hope for in a Tuscan town—old charming buildings, windy cobblestone streets, beautiful churches and a rolling cobblestone town square. In that town square, the famous Palio horse race is held each summer. The bareback, highly dangerous (for horse and rider) race, features 10 horses and riders representing 10 of the city wards. The flags for those wards are proudly displayed year-round as you walk the city, making it clear which neighborhood you’re in as you shop the many boutiques and savor tasty gelato.
For dinner in Siena, Osteria Le Logge is a favorite among locals and visitors. The classic trattoria is located in a 19th-century former grocer’s shop. Local celebrity and owner Gianni Brunelli’s contemporary art collection adorns the walls. Signature dishes include seared tuna with soya and wasabi, and traditional Tuscan favorites like the restaurant’s trademark primo, malfatti all’Osteria (spinach and ricotta gnocchi served in tomato sauce).
For a bigger city experience, head to Florence. Even if you’ve been to Florence before, chances are you probably haven’t had the opportunity to take a private guided tour of the Vasari Corridor. The corridor starts in the Uffizi Gallery and ends up at the Boboli Gardens. It was one of many corridors used to keep the Medici family safe as they travelled the city. Only open to the public via a private tour, which can be arranged through the savvy concierge, the corridor is lined with one-of-a-kind works of art. It travels over the Ponte Vecchio, where you can look through windows widened at Hitler’s request to see panoramic views of the Arno.
At the end of this tour, spending due time in the Boboli Gardens is a must. The large park is located behind the Pitti Palace and in addition to stunning landscaping features a collection of sculptures from the 16th through 18th centuries. Get lunch or a snack to go, and wander the beautiful gardens at leisure.
If shopping is more your style, the concierge can arrange a personal shopper who will guide you to the boutiques of lesser known but stunning Italian designers or to all the big names. Dining options abound, but Ora D’Aria provides a modern atmosphere and stunning cuisine by co-owner and Executive Chef Marco Stabile, a veteran of celebrated Michelin-starred restaurants. The menu features Old and New World cuisine complemented by the artwork of Galleria Bagnal adorning the walls.
Laguna’s Culinary Connection
If your favorite part of Tuscany is the cuisine, then you may want to consider joining Laguna Culinary Arts on a future trip to the region.
“My favorite thing to do in Tuscany is sit at a café on a square in one of the many medieval hilltop towns, sip a glass of chilled white Tuscan wine, and watch the people. Makes me feel like a local,” comments Nancy Milby, executive director of Laguna Culinary Arts.
Laguna Culinary Arts often organizes small group trips abroad, including Tuscany and other cuisine-rich areas, such at the Loire Valley.
Whenever Nancy plans a trip to Tuscany, the group stays at Agriturismo San Gallo in the heart of wine country. “It’s a great place, and I am selling the wine and olive oil from their estate here at Laguna Culinary Arts,” Nancy says.
Like Castello di Casole, the property has been lovingly restored. Smaller in scale, it features a large country house with separate apartments for guests. The 44.5 acres are cultivated with fruit trees, olive groves and vineyards, as well as a protected natural park. The property is located within easy driving distance to the medieval villages of Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino, Cortona and Siena, as well as the thermal spas of Chianciano Terme.
Wine, Dine and Relax
Of course, the cities are only one option among many in Tuscany. Wine tasting in the famous Chianti region is another major activity for visitors. One winery not to miss is the winery Principe Corsini in Greve. The Corsini family is one of the oldest and most prodigious Tuscan families, with a pope and a saint to their name. Part of Prince Corsini’s property since 1427, the original winery dates back to the end of the 16th century and offers visitors a fine-dining restaurant, pizzeria and a wine bar.
For those staying at resorts like Castello di Casole, not going anywhere at all is an inviting option as well. Each casale, or villa, has a dedicated governante who prepares traditional Tuscan meals with the freshest ingredients. Guests can also opt for a personal chef or cooking classes. Instruction in the Italian language, ceramics, wine making and more are also offered, along with wine and olive oil tasting. The property features ample space for hiking, mountain biking and other outdoor pursuits. Owners can even participate in vineyard cultivation and learn the art of winemaking, as the estate is home to 88 acres of vineyards overseen by renowned winemaker, Paolo Caciorgna. Grapes grown include sangiovese, merlot, cabernet and petit verdot. Thirteen acres of olive trees also allow Castello di Casole to produce its own private-label extra virgin olive oil, which is provided in each kitchen.
Tuscany is truly a feast for the senses—a place you can return to again and again to partake in new sights, sounds and flavors. Lovers of the old and new, the countryside and city, will find much to explore in this beatific section of Italy. Luckily for visitors, the history and feel of Tuscany is being preserved for future generations to experience the magic. LBM