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PREMIUM

Decanter’s Dream Destination: Villa La Massa, Tuscany, Italy

Every month, Decanter selects a must-visit destination for wine travellers. This month, Julie Sheppard recommends a boutique hotel in Tuscany, where guests can unwind in luxury, sample gourmet Italian food and explore nearby Chianti wineries.

Tuscany is top of the travel wish-list for many wine lovers. From the romance of its rolling hills covered with sun-kissed vines, to the art and history of its ancient cities, Tuscany embodies the Italian idyll. And a visit to Villa La Massa will live up to every expectation.

Dating back to the 13th century, the villa became the summer residence of Florentine aristocrat Santi Landini in the 16th century. Later owned by a Catholic cardinal and Russian aristocracy, it first opened its doors as a hotel in 1953. Famous guests have included Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; while David Bowie and Iman celebrated their wedding here in 1992, in the estate’s tiny chapel.

Luxury living

Hotel suite sitting room

Today part of Villa d’Este Hotels, the property offers the kind of accommodation and service that would make Florentine aristocrats feel right at home. Nestled on the banks of the Arno River, just 20 minutes outside Florence, the estate includes a 10ha park and beautifully kept gardens, as well as an outdoor swimming pool and spa.

Its 54 elegantly appointed rooms and suites are spread across six buildings, including the original main house; guests can also hire one of the two private villas for a secluded break. The style throughout is classically Tuscan; think warm terracotta, wood, stone and relaxing earthy tones, but with an artful contemporary twist.

Stylish and restful, the generous rooms and suites are individually decorated – some with private balconies or terraces. Expect tall shuttered windows framed by luxurious drapes, plush velvet throws and cushions, and blissfully comfortable four poster or canopy beds with downy pillows and soft white linens.

A taste of Italy

A fish dish with herbs and edible flowers

You may never want to leave your room, but it’s worth venturing to Villa La Massa’s two restaurants, where culinary delights await. With its terrace overlooking the Arno, Il Verrocchio offers a seasonal fine-dining menu created by charming chef Stefano Ballarino. Dishes make use of fresh produce from the hotel’s kitchen garden and estate-produced extra-virgin olive oil.

The contemporary Italian menu may include juicy seared scallops with zucchini, black olives and puffed rice, followed by an indulgent primi of smoked butter spaghetti with shrimps and caper leaves or Parmigiana ravioli with prawns, oregano and smoked scamorza cheese. While secondi choices might range from swordfish saltimbocca to roasted guinea fowl with linseeds, black salsify and stuffed olives.

L’Oliveto Bistro, with its pretty poolside terrace, offers more casual fare. Top-quality Italian ingredients shine in simply prepared dishes bursting with flavour. Think panzanella Toscana, burrata with tomatoes and basil or beef carpaccio with Mugello black truffle; followed by spaghetti vongole, grilled sea bass with caponata or a thin crispy-based pizza.

Wines and vineyards

The cellar at Villa La Massa

To accompany the food, Villa La Massa’s wine list champions Italian bottles – particularly those of producers from the local Chianti Rufina region. The 15th century wine cellar boasts an impressive selection of vintage Tuscan bottles and private tastings can be booked.

But if you’d rather visit the vines in person, bespoke winery tours can also be arranged by the hotel. The striking Antinori nel Chianto Classico winery is just a 30-minute drive away. But I ventured further into Radda-in-Chianti, to visit the boutique organic winery Colle Bereto.

With its 20ha of vines, the winery produces Chianti Classicos and two Super-Tuscans –  Il Tócco and Il Cénno – alongside Colle B spumante, Colle E rosé and Albo Bianco. Enjoy a relaxed tasting of the whole range on the winery’s picturesque terrace, with views of the medieval town of Radda, accompanied by platters of local cheese and salumi.

Things to do

Bag and towel next to swimming pool

The hotel will arrange transfers and winery tours, but there are plenty more activities on offer. Foodies can go truffle-hunting in season or learn how to make fresh pasta, focaccia or pizza from scratch in one of Chef Ballarino’s fun cooking classes. Practise your mixology skills at glamorous Bar Mediceo. Or borrow one of the estate’s red Ferraris for an unforgettable drive through the winding streets of nearby picture-postcard villages.

To enjoy a more leisurely pace follow one of the scenic walking trails around the estate or linger in the beautiful Iris Gardens that celebrate the floral symbol of Florence. Villa La Massa is a member of the Grandi Giardini Italiani association, so horticulturists can also take advantage of private visits to other stunning gardens in the region – including Villa Marlia, which is usually closed to visitors.

Meanwhile the sights of Florence are just a 15-minute drive away; Villa La Massa operates a free shuttle service with hourly departures and pick-ups from Piazza di Santa Maria Soprarno. Spend an afternoon exploring the Uffizi Gallery, then return to the hotel for aperitivo on the terrace, Aperol Spritz in hand as the sun sets over the Tuscan hills. You’ll truly feel that you’re living la dolce vita.

Rates from: €550 (£473) for a Double Deluxe Room per night, including breakfast.


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