Girl in Transit:
It Takes a Villa. Belpaese. Beautiful Country. Tuscany.
By Barbara Barton Sloane
Haven’t we all, at one time or another, dreamed of staying in an Italian villa? Midway through our dream, however, reality usually sets in and the actual prospect of finding the perfect villa and arranging a stay all seem daunting. Where to start?
A good starting place is Doorways Villa Vacations based in Bryn Mawr, PA. Kit Burns, the president of Doorways, is intimately acquainted with Italy and represents many of its villas, estates and homes. She and her staff match their clients to the property. They will work with you to choose the perfect location and residence – and if you wish, even create an itinerary personalized for your particular needs.
I had the chance in Spring to experience one of Kit’s Italian villas on the Buonvisi Estate near Lucca. With it’s over 500 year’s history, Villa Buonvisi is something extraordinary. Whether you’re looking for the perfect little personal “hotel” or want to rent the whole place for an event, look no further. The Villa’s present owners are the Swedish Mattsson family, who stumbled upon the estate on a vacation through Italy – a place always close to their hearts.
Driving up to Villa Buonvisi, high atop a Tuscan hillside, we wound our way through olive groves bursting with fragrant blossoms and vineyards just beginning to mature, gearing up for the September harvest. Finally we reached our destination. Set back from great manicured lawns, the walkway was lined with gigantic terra cotta planters and before us – the Villa! It didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was even more splendid than in the photos we’d seen. Fully restored to its original façade as dictated by the Italian government, the Villa was a lovely pink beige color bearing a Juliet” balcony and a fresco from the 16th Century over the doorway that was discovered whilst the façade was being restored.
After an affable welcome with a glass of the estate’s fruity Chardonnay, we sat around the pool, trying to take in the vista, the gardens, the long grape arbor, and the mountains behind us. After a tour of the Villa, I settled into my room. High ceilings, original ancient tile floors, and a picture-perfect view – myriad church steeples, chestnut, olive and orange groves, iconic Tuscan cypress trees dotting the hills, and the town below, all under an iconic Tuscan sun. Someone pinch me, quick!
The wonderful thing here is whether you want to do nothing but chill out or get active and explore the area, it’s your call. If you feel particularly adventurous, try hiking the mountain behind the Villa. However, a word of caution: this hike is for the seriously hearty. One climbs through some really rough terrain, winding through fields of pink, yellow, white and scarlet wild flowers and dense vegetation. Guaranteed, you’re going to get a few scratches, and at some point, you’ll ask: “Why did I start this?” But it’s too late to turn back so you forge on. After almost two hours, I arrived tired but terribly proud of myself as I turned, looked down and saw what I’d accomplished. I’d just climbed a mountain! Oh, and there was a delicious reward at the end of my climb. Perched on the very top of the mountain, a cozy country restaurant, Quatri Venti, where the owner herself served us at a long communal table set under a grove of chestnut trees. Try the hearty Ribolita, a typical thick Tuscan soup with vegetables, beans and bread, drizzled with olive oil – a delicious primi piatti and a nice, midday rewad for the morning’s efforts.
One day, plan to visit Lucca. In this small yet cosmopolitan, walled town, you’ll find charming trattorias, upscale clothing and jewelry boutiques, and music. Lots of music. Let’s not forget that this is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini. The town offers hosts of concerts and operas, and in July, the famous Puccini festival takes place in nearby Torre del Lago. About an hour from the villa, the Ligurian coastal jewels of Cinque Terre, five unique fishing villages, is known as Italy’s “flower-Riviera.” As you walk between the villages, you’ll have breathtaking views of the emerald blue Mediterranean Sea, vineyards, lemon trees and pine forests. Sit at an outdoor café overlooking the sea and participate in one of my favorite pastimes: people-watching. No better way to spend a lazy afternoon.
Now an event I’ve been waiting for all day: A sumptuous Italian dinner! I visited a local restaurant, All’Olivo, and lingered over a traditional Tuscan repast. And, this experience is not to be rushed! Dinners in Italy are long, food is discussed, tasted, appreciated, and the wine flows.
As my departure from Villa Buonvisi drew near, I thought back over the week – the warm hospitality, the unique and special experiences each day brought – the tranquility of soft Tuscan evenings, playing fetch with the resident canine, and the sheer delight of living like a Tuscan! The Matatsson family, the Villa’s owners, tells us “the passion for food, the wine and the culture led us to Tuscany and Lucca was love at first sight. The 15th century estate became the foundation of our dreams and now we wish Villa Buonvisi to be a place where you can share our passion.” Ok, you’ve got your invitation. Now go – and create your very own Villa memories for a lifetime.
If You Go: Villa Buonvisi, www.villabuonvisi.se/en/
Doorways, Ltd., www.villavacations.com
Barbara Barton Sloane is a Pelham-based Travel Editor/Columnist who writes for a number of both national and international publications. She delights in sharing her global travel experiences with our readers.