Best of TUSCANY: Villas, B&Bs, Food, Wine & La Dolce Vita

Fashion blogger and veteran Italophile, Stacey Lamble of ChicFinds, shares some of her chicest travel finds in Tuscany.

Florence from Il Salviatino

View from Il Salviatino

There are few places as beautiful as Italy. Every region, every city and province is unique in terms of beauty, history and landscape. It can take your breath away to be amongst the most extraordinary mixture of architecture, art and culture. Tuscany is one of the most sublime, sexy and sensual places to discover. It has an all-encompassing beauty starting with the morning to dusk light; a kaleidoscope of earthy and warm tones creating a foggy misty light that is so dewy you feel like you could touch its softness.

Don’t miss out on the major cities like Florence, Sienna and Pisa while visiting this region, but it is the little towns and hamlets that are the most charming and characteristic. First on the list is the hot springs that are scattered all over the region. Some of the best are around Montecatini and there are the famous springs of Saturnia (in Italian they are called Terme). Get a map and a flashlight and visit them at night so you can get naked and enjoy the sensual adventure. Immersing yourself in these hot pools of water with the fresh cool air under the stars is an experience not to be missed. The sulphur in the water is also very therapeutic. Terme di Saturnia – a luxury spa and golf resort – will place you in pole position to enjoy the famous hot springs and a few rounds of golf as well.

Hot springs at Saturnia Terme di Saturnia

In Florence, enjoy the city during the day but try to get out of town for your overnight accommodation. Many of the hotels in the centre of Italian cities are not ideal. The standard is poor with small rooms, few services and lots of noise. Florence is beautiful but frantic and there are always hordes of tourists.  Villa San Michele is one of the most romantic hotels in the world. This former monastery, nestled on a hilltop amid lush trees and terraced gardens, enjoys unparalleled views of Florence. Dating from the 15th century, the Villa’s facade is attributed to Michelangelo. Step inside and you can experience the ethereal beauty and solitude of a Renaissance building that is as much a part of Italy’s culture as the country’s greatest cathedrals and galleries. Here, each visitor is a privileged guest, invited to stroll in the Italian gardens, brimming with lemon trees and fragrant roses, and to savor superb Tuscan cuisine on the alfresco loggia as if in a private home.

Il Salviatino is another special place – a completely renovated Renaissance villa that offers breathtaking views of Florence from afar. The hotel also offers a Cookery School including private lessons with Chef Carmine Calo, voted “Best Young Chef” in Central Italy (2008-2009) and a veteran of several Michelin-starred Italian restaurants. Classes guide students through local gastronomic traditions and techniques and are held in the hotel’s own kitchen with trips and tours of Florence’s local open-air market (Mercato Centrale) to source the best ingredients.

Don’t miss the city of Lucca and its surrounding hills where it is so beautiful you should plan an overnight stay in one of the delightful B&B’s in the area. The Chianti region is lovely to drive around in and it is great fun discovering the little towns where there are some fantastic family run Trattoria restaurants. Outside of Florence, Prato and Fiesole are wonderful culinary areas, so indulge! It is also the area where you will find all the famous fashion outlets like Prada, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and others. Fill your shopping bags and then make your way down to the region around Sienna, which is so picturesque you won’t ever want to leave.

La Cappella is outside the walled city of Lucca up in the rolling hills. It is an ancient convent that has been restored and turned into a sweet B&B. It has a very unique position with a view over the whole region and gorgeous gardens, including a pool to use during the summer. There is also a little chapel so one could even think of having an intimate wedding here as there is also a private villa for rent that sleeps over 10 people. La Cappella is a very special treat, so enjoy!

Near to Grosetto, another wonderful place to stay is the Castello di Monte Antico. Don’t be put off by the unsophisticated web site because this place is worth a night’s stay. The castle is surrounded by the typical Tuscan hills that you would expect to see and the road trips you can make around Monte Antico are very scenic and worthwhile. Must little towns to visit are Montepulciano and Montalcino where you should take time to try all the meats, cheeses and wines on offer. Pure delight.

For wine and gourmet tours of Tuscany, check out Fufluns (named after the Etruscan God of wine). They can arrange private visits to distinguished wineries and special events, including cooking classes and stays at wine resorts, boutique hotels and private villas.

If you’re taking your time then the best idea is to stay a week in one place (or more if you can). Hire a villa and enjoy getting to know the nearby villages and allow yourself to become immersed in the local culture and community. There is no better way to enjoy “la dolce vita.” Italians are very hospitable and even more so when they see you more than once. Be careful though as you may fall in love and leaving might just break your heart.

Where to Stay

Hotel Borgo San Felice – located at the centre of the Italian boot, this Relais & Chateaux hotel is made up of an entire medieval hamlet including its old chapel, large pool, cellars and the Chianti vineyards surrounding it.

Castello di Casole – just 20km outside of Siena also recently opened and offers a similar experience on a once-abandoned 4,200-acre estate that has been sensitively transformed into five-star boutique hotel.

Villas Monteverdi – this run-down medieval hamlet of Castiglioncello del Trinoro has also been revived using traditional methods and local artisans to revamp the ruined houses into chic villas for rent while the village pensione will open this summer as a nine-room hotel.

Il Borro – located in Valdarno, this is where the designer Salvatore Ferregamo has put his magical touch on his own private estate that offers luxury accommodation in villas and farmhouses to guests.

Villamonte – is a former farmhouse that has been lovingly restored. It’s situated on an estate of olive trees and overlooking the scenic 13th Century village of Volpaia and Radda in Chianti.

ChicFinds is the creation of Stacey Lamble who is an Australian who lived in Italy for ten years. With an international background in fashion, beauty, travel, magazines and homewares, her blog is about sharing the chicest finds from around the world. It can be a product, experience, meal or an idea, but always aspirational and motivating. ChicFinds has a poetic and artistic difference with posts each week about getaways and the latest fashions worn by stylish girls from all the major cities.

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