Florence’s most famous son – Leonardo da Vinci– didn’t actually die in the Tuscan city, but rather in the Loire Valley, where he was holed up with his patron, King Francois I, but that’s no reason for his home town not to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his death. Having passed away on 2 May 1519, 500 years on Florence is, in fact, in full-on celebratory mode – with exhibitions and events staged for the months ahead.
Just outside the city, in the glorious Chianti countryside, you can take respite from the hustle and bustle of the 10.2 million tourists who visit Florence each year – (no doubt this number will increase in 2019) – by staying at Villa di Bagnolo. The seven-bedroom manor house is one of the properties belonging to Tuscany and More’s authentic regional portfolio, and is found in a private wine estate, Colombaia, which dates back to 1700.
Sat in 54 acres of olive groves and vineyards, the restored villa blends a period feel with plenty of luxury touches. As a nod to its history, it is filled with antique furniture, including a gleaming 19thcentury pianoforte. Rooms are lit by vintage Venetian chandeliers and the original stone fireplaces are large enough to stand in. There are also plenty of modern-day luxuries, too. Most rooms have en suite marble bathrooms with power showers or jacuzzi-baths, linens are beautifully made on regal-style beds and the games room is stocked with so much to entertain you, that even your teenager will put down his phone.
Large enough for an extended family or a group of friends, the house is vast in size – so there’s no chance of getting on top of each other – with three separate lounge areas, a dining room, reading corners and a sunny breakfast room. Best of all is its setting. This is a place to come for the ultimate Tuscan summer. Sit on one of the terraces and soak up the scent of rosemary, lemon thyme and bergamot from the herb garden. Come sunset, head to the villa’s ‘secret’ tower, an aperol spritz in hand, and on the rooftop, watch the golden rays glint off Florence’s Duomo. There’s a swimming pool to cool off in, tennis courts where you can hit a few balls and an al fresco pizza oven for relaxed Italian-style dining.
Tuscany & More’s USP is its concierge service, offering unique local experiences – so you can build in family cookery classes and wine tasting, for example, or have a chef cook a bespoke menu for you with local produce. In fact, Villa di Bagnolo has its own wine cellars where you can try out the estate’s own Sangiovese, Colorino and Chianti wines as well as the artisan olive oils (made from four different varieties of olive).
As part of its offering this year, it, too, is marking the Leonardo anniversary with a ‘Follow in the Footsteps’ tour of Florence and beyond. It kicks off in the most obvious starting point at the Uffizi, with a personal tour of Leonardo’s works – including the Baptism of Christ(finished in 1475), a painting that was a collaboration between Leonardo and his teacher Andrea del Verrocchio,and the Adoration of the Magi, which has been in the Ufffizi since 1670, and was recently restored.
You will also take in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio, the city’s town hall – which is, it has to be said, more spectacular than most municipal offices. Here, you can seethe ‘lost’ fresco of Battaglia di Anghiari.
Taking you out of the city, you can visit the Museo Leonardiano in Vinci, which has a special exhibition exploring the impact of the local landscape on his work (until June 2019). Three miles away, in, Anchiano, you can also see the farmhouse where Leonardo was born. There’s also an option to trek up Monte Ceceri, near Fiesole, where Leonardo and his assistant Tommaso Masini tested his flying machines in 1506. 500 years on, it is still inspiring.
Stay at Villa di Bagnolo, with Tuscany Now & More (www.tuscanynowandmore.com, 020 7684 8888) from £4,452 for seven days for eight people (maximum capacity of 14 people). Includes a maid, a cook and access to tennis courts. Tuscany Now & More features a range of properties across the region and Italy and can provide private chefs, excursions and other services upon request.
*This article was also published with The Jewish Chronicle on 18 June 2019