It’s 3.30pm on a Friday afternoon and today I’m not in ScotRail carriage, travelling home after what will have been an excruciatingly busy week, with a body that is craving sleep and a nodding head that has just switched itself back on upon hearing the crack of a G & T can two seats down.
Today I’m sitting in a restaurant terrace overlooking the river Arno, watching the calm waters running slowly towards the rolling Chianti Rufina hills, a glass of Prosecco in hand, the golden, mellow mid-Autumn sun shining down on my ‘end of week’ face. My mind is slowly hypnotised watching the wood smoke from a nearby house drift downstream in the still air against a backdrop of endless vineyards, olive groves and Cypress trees rising towards the cloudless blue skies. It feels like one of life’s perfect moments, one you’d like to press the pause button on by sitting completely still; my eyes are drinking in my surroundings with every mouthful of chilled bubbles that pass my lips. I want to screengrab this moment.
I am without a doubt, in adult fairytale land. You’d be hard pushed to find a Scotrail carriage with that description; it could well be that I just get on at the wrong time of course…
I’m staying at Villa La Massa for the weekend, a 16th century Medici villa, home to Tuscan aristocracy for hundreds of years, which was turned into a luxury hotel in 1953. The hotel was bought by the Villa d’Este Group in 1998 (Villa d’Este in Lake Como is its sister hotel) – both are in the Leading Hotels of the World collection.
Sitting majestically in 20 acres of lush gardens, just five miles downstream from Florence at the gateway to the Chianti region, the hotel is perfectly placed for a tranquil escape with easy access to Florence and a variety of cultural and gastronomical experiences on your terracotta doorstep.
The hotel has 51 rooms, each one with a unique style, layout and interior, spread throughout its five Tuscan-style properties. The architecture in Villa La Massa is in complete harmony with its surroundings, the golden ochre of the hotel’s main building, Noble Villa; the soft amber of The Villino, a seven bedroom private villa overlooking the Arno on one side and the estate’s lemon and olive groves on the other, the rich terracotta exterior of The Mill, the soft, neutral tone of Casa Colonica, an ancient farmhouse with four suites and a charming, rustic courtyard for eating and the recently renewed and relaunched Limonaia, a soft grey two storey stucco building, once home of the lemon trees in winter, now my home for two days in October.
I have a spacious Prestige Double room with a private terrace overlooking the river beyond the dove grey floor to ceiling shutters. The room has a colour palette that reflects the hotel’s Renaissance splendour with hues of ochre, burnt sienna, aquamarine and emerald green; the rich, vibrant colours of jewels translated into sumptuous velvets, silks and damasks, including a hand-made silk cream rug that sits on top of the rich durmast oak flooring.
The feel is luxurious and contemporary with a nod to authentic Tuscan style; a warm, charming embrace of colour and personality with a refreshing airiness which is carried through to the vast marble bathroom with its magnificent bathtub, enormous double sinks, separate wc and walk in shower room.
A large basket of luxury toiletries and grooming accoutrements sits between the two sinks, two giant white fluffy robes folded in their own little grooved compartments underneath. A sprawling bed sits in the middle of the room, covered in perfectly creased 100% linen white sheets with pillows the size of clouds. My ‘end of week’ self could be forgiven for just going to bed for 48 hours…
The level of luxury and the craftmanship in the interiors (the furniture and interior details such as the lamps and pictures have all been masterfully designed by local craftsmen) is one of the many reasons why Villa La Massa is one of the Leading Hotels of the World. My inner and outer surroundings are magnificent.
Eating is a huge part of my experience here, as you would expect. It’s Autumn, so I enjoy a special truffle themed menu prepared by Chef Simone Paredi who joined the hotel from Villa D’Este. I start with a risotto prepared with Alba white truffle followed by beef fillet with mashed sweet potatoes, Porcini mushrooms and white truffle flakes and Madagascan vanilla ice cream with white truffle for dessert. I’m treated to the most incredible selection of friandises to follow, accompanied by the beautiful honey, vanilla and apricot sweetness of a Vin Santo Serelle Chianti 2015 dessert wine.
Restaurant Il Verrocchio is an elegant, refined but entirely comfortable and relaxed dining experience, made so by the charmingly attentive and genial host, Restaurant Manager, Paulo Micheli and his team who deliver the most seamless, unobtrusive, impeccable service. The menu offers a choice of both national and regional dishes. Try the grilled octopus on Tuscan breaded cream with herbs to start, the pappardelle pasta with wild boar ragout and pecorino cheese for first course and the grilled lobster with wild rice and artichokes in a bisque for your main. The food at Villa La Massa is exquisite. Breakfast is a buffet of fresh juices, fresh fruit, local meats and cheeses, cereals, breads, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and of course Prosecco – is there a better way to start the day?
During your stay, take a dip in the heated pool, lounge on the lawns, wander around the Iris gardens or accompany Chef around the Chef’s Garden, where he grows a range of aromatic herbs and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Take tranquillity to another level with a trip to the Arno Spa in the cellars of the hotel; it has a Turkish bath, sauna, Roman bath with hydromassage and sensorial showers along with a range of treatments. I had an hour-long massage which was quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. The spa uses products prepared by Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, meaning you’re literally covered in high end luxury from head to toe.
The hotel’s shuttle bus will have you at the famous Ponte Vecchio in Florence within 20 mins where you can begin your exploration of culture, Renaissance art, architecture and of course some high-end shopping.
Visit Caffe Gilli, the oldest café in Florence and the city’s ‘sitting room’ for over 270 years, grab a gelato, people watch in Piazza della Repubblica and wind your way through the tourist filled streets towards the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
Take a trip away from the bustle of the city into the luscious, rolling green hills of the Chianti region to visit Badia A Passignano, home of an ancient Benedictine Chapel and Ristoro L’Antica Scuderia. Warm, welcoming and relaxed, this restaurant offers one of the best, authentic dining experiences in the region with breath-taking views of the Tuscan landscape. Go for the guinea fowl stuffed with Chanterelle mushrooms, roasted potatoes and seared chicory – it’s one of the restaurant’s signature dishes.
Visit the Cusona Estate spread over 530 hectares near the medieval town of San Gimignano, home to the Guicciardini Strozzi family, an ancient noble Florentine family who have owned the estate for over 1000 years. Book a truffle hunting experience with Princess Irina, truffle master Andrea and the Princess’ dogs Bozia and Macchia.
This was an absolute highlight of the trip for me, strolling through the estate watching the dogs sniff out the White Truffles in the golden late afternoon sunshine before taking a tour of the winery and enjoying the afternoon’s spoils grated over a selection of foods, all washed down with some of the finest wines from the estate.
Villa La Massa offers an experience that can’t be matched. There is no property like this in the world. It offers the best of entirely everything – the warmest of welcomes, impeccable service, luxurious, characterful and authentic interiors, the highest level of comfort and refined ambience in the most serenely majestic surroundings. The hotel has cultivated an environment where you can’t help but slow down and enjoy a full appreciation of the finer things in life, the surrounding countryside, the beautiful accommodation, the history of the property, the gastronomy and warmth of the hospitality around you.
I still marvel at the fact that I can be standing on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon and tucked up in bed by 11pm, at my desk at 8am the next day. It’s never been easier to get about so quickly and more possible to be somewhere reasonably far away but still home for bedtime. Sometimes at the weekend I won’t venture further than M & S Food. This weekend I went to Tuscany and had the experience of my life; the most sublime, enchanting episode, a fairytale to which I very much hope to return.
Villa La Massa
Rates start from €590 (approx. £530) per room per night, based on double occupancy including breakfast
Via Della Massa 24, Candeli, Frienze
Tel +39 055 626 11