A unique stay in an historic Tuscan manor house is elevated with an immersive take on one of Italy’s most famous sons. I go in search of my muse.
From the rooftop terrace you can see the sunlight glinting off the Duomo – Florence’s jewel in its crown – and all around are the undulating hills and endless fields of Tuscany: their tones of green, amber and gold the basis for many an artist’s inspiration.
Found in the Chianti countryside, Villa di Bagnolo provides its own unique form of inspiration. Not your average home-from-home, it is instead a historic and regal manor house, full of antiques and cosy corners, and which is available to hire for glorious summers under the Tuscan sun. Thanks to its idyllic setting, in the Colombaia Wine and Olive Oil Estate, which dates back to 1700, it also captures the best Tuscan scenes any artist has laid down on canvas.
Laden lemon trees line the avenue to the house, while rosemary, thyme and basil scent the air. Set in 54 acres of olive groves and vineyards, you throw open your shutters at sunrise to take in the views and you can spend hours wandering around the manicured gardens and fragrant estate. As well as a swimming pool, there are tennis courts, table tennis and a range of outdoor games to keep all ages happy. With nine bedrooms, many with their own luxury en suites (the master has an ornate pink marble jacuzzi, which adds a maximalist tone) – it is the perfect place for groups of friends and extended family holidays. Thankfully – it is also rambling enough so there’s enough space for everyone. The sunny breakfast room is where freshly baked breads, home-made cakes and coffee are served for you each morning, while in the dining room, guests can arrange formal wine tasting sessions with local sommelier Valentina Mazzetti or have a typical Italian supper, courtesy of a private chef who will create a bespoke meal. Local Lisa Banchieri, for instance, is one of the culinary wizards used for private dining and she offers a choice of menus – each with fresh pasta at their heart (pop into the kitchen to see how it is expertly done).
Whether it is sundowners on one of the terraces or evenings playing card games en famille in the games room, the villa is full of little extras which make it easy to stay put. But the villa is one of the properties belonging to Tuscany Now & More, a company which prides itself on offering more than mere holiday rentals in pretty locations. Guests are therefore able to access local experiences, culinary classes, wine tasting and customised tours to get to know this slice of Italy even better.
Tuscany is, of course, the birthplace of one of the world’s most famous artists – Leonardo da Vinci – and this year the region is marking the 500th anniversary of his death with a range of exhibitions and events on throughout the area. With Florence a short 20 minute drive away, it’s not difficult to explore yourself, but offering an in-depth look at the life of the artist is the ‘Follow In The Footsteps of Leonardo da Vinci’ which guests can exclusively book and which takes you on a seamless trace of his life.
You begin where the artist began – with a trip to Anchiano, and to the farmhouse where da Vinci was born in 1452. As well as reproductions of some of his drawings, there is a rather bizarre life-sized hologram who narrates his life story. Nearby is Vinci, where you can see more about the artist’s roots in mechanics with the ‘Leonardo’s Machines’ exhibit at the Museo Leonardiano. Then it’s on to Florence where the artist spent his early life and some of his later years. Included is an in-depth tour of the Uffizi Gallery, where some of his famous works are kept – such as the Baptism of Christ, The Annunciation,and the Adoration of the Magi. Meanwhile at Florence’s town hall, The Palazzo Vecchio, you can see the lost fresco of the Battaglia di Anghiari.
Finishing off, the tour continues in the rolling Montalbano Hills, where Leonardo took inspiration for many of his works. You can also trek up Monte Ceceri, where he tested his flying machines, and where he is commemorated on Piazzale Leonardo, a panoramic terrace, named after the artist due to his experiment with human flightthat took place here.
After a day exploring, you’ll head back to Villa di Bagnolo, making a pitstop for gelato in the nearby town on Impruneta (Cappelletti Paola serves a mean stracciatella). The manor house’s stone floors, twinkling Venetian chandeliers and elegant rooms give a cooling welcome – as do Barbara and Stefano Beltrami, the sister and brother team whose family have long owned the estate. There’s a chance that you’ll be beckoned into the original subterranean cellar for an impromptu tasting by Stefano, who looks after the artisan wine-making. With itsown Sangiovese, Colorino and Chianti wines, which are seriously good, you’ll no doubt find your own muse.
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 is also published in the July issue of Canary Wharf Magazine.