Last Updated on December 18, 2022
Relax in the heart of Tuscany at Villa Saletta
Imagine living in a private villa in the heart of Tuscany with an old winery (now totally modernized) while spending time with family and friends. Your dreams can come true at Villa Saletta, which is located between Florence and Pisa and sits on 1,760 hectares of land. On offer are three restored country farmhouses, “Fagnana”, “Valle” and “Casolare”, each with their own garden, terrace and pond.
I stayed in the 8 bedroom Villa Fagnana, a gorgeous 19th century hilltop residence with separate pavilions, and with panoramic views of the valley. The landscaped garden includes an outdoor swimming pool and shaded seating area, but as it was fall, the wood-burning stove in the large, well-furnished sitting room, was the bigger attraction, and a great way to catch up with friends eventually. today.
All three villas offer rustic luxury, with state-of-the-art kitchens and spacious living areas. Each is available for rent, and I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere that comes from being surrounded by hills, forested valleys, vineyards, and olive groves, in this large estate.
We ate like kings, as the chef was bought in every night, (except for one) to provide the best recipes, using local produce – and all accompanied by first class wines, most of which came from the vines visible from the window!
As is so often the case in Italy, it is clear that Villa Saletta is a place where the past meets the future. The first written records of winemaking here date back to AD 980. Besides these three modern farmhouses, there, looming above us, in the rolling Tuscan hills, and all parts of the estate in common is Borgo (a small village in Italy) with its cluster of old houses occupied by royalty and workers, with some workers remaining there until the 1960s. It’s a romantic spot, though it’s in need of restoration now.
Amazingly this estate was owned by only four families throughout its history. Gambacortas consolidated land in the 14th century before it came into the possession of Riccardis, the Medici banker, who converted the Villa Saletta into economically viable property during the 16th and 17th centuries. Then it was passed on to Castellis. The current owners Guy and Julia Hands took over 20 years ago when things were nearly falling apart. Fortunately, they saw the potential to rebuild the agriculturally diverse, sympathetically managed plantation tradition.
In common with most of the guests, I went to visit the winery, which is run by award-winning vintner David Landini. His enthusiasm is contagious and after a wine tasting in the winery’s new building, he outlines his plans for the future.
“Large investments have been made to renovate the old vines and plant new plots, according to a detailed understanding of the terroir. We are now adding 2-3 hectares per year and by blending traditional techniques and attitudes with modern agronomic tools, the viticulture at Villa Saletta is now among the most advanced in Italy ”.
Wines include Saletta Guila, Chianti and Rose – and all bottles carry a distinctive “lock” label on their bottle, echoing the emblem seen atop the main building in the old village. Some have been described as reminiscent of the best Bordeaux crus, but with a decidedly Italian flair – and I’m not knowledgeable enough on the subject to disagree.
One afternoon we were given an Italian cooking class by Erika Elia who runs a traveling school for the Tuscany region. It’s all a little scary, despite the professionalism, but fun at the same time. We make Italian dinners from scratch. The menu is Orecchiette pasta stuffed with local vegetables, Cacciatora Chicken with Roasted Potatoes Tuscan style, followed by the absolutely authentic Tiramisu.
My favorite experience is still food-related, but a little more active. Truffle hunting, I learned, is now practiced only by dogs, because pigs are too fond of the truffles themselves. White truffles are more valuable than black varieties, fortunately only in the right season, namely from September to December.
Our dog is named Giotto and I was amazed how quickly after a 15 minute walk into the woods he smelled the right spot and dug deep. Next, he happily steps aside while Andrea, the owner, who works with truffle specialist company Savini Tartufi, feeds him simple dog biscuits. Andrea can then use her special spade, to dig up the white truffles, which are now only visible on the surface. The whole process is quick and efficient, and we were told these truffles will retail for around €210 on the open market. As for Giotto, it turns out he’s a purebred Italian named Lagotta Romagnolo and not surprisingly, worth a lot of money.
We had an excellent three course truffle based lunch as part of this experience and really appreciated how much flavour, these once humble underground mushrooms were bought to eat and immediately understood why this is one of the most expensive meals in the world. . It is seasonal, rare, difficult to cultivate and has a shelf life of only 12 days.
Villa Saletta offers a great base for exploring Tuscany. Whether you are interested in wine, truffles, art or heritage or just want to relax in some of Italy’s prettiest countryside, these villas are highly recommended.
Villas start at €3,500 in low season for 7 nights and include wine and wine tasting, welcome basket, housekeeping and maintenance services, toiletries and accessories, and all bed linen and towels.
For more information on truffle hunting, check out our feature on the Alba white truffle show