A villa in Tuscany is still one of the world’s great travel fantasies. Margaret Barca delves into the best villas on offer, each one their own piece of paradise.
Where 10 kilometres from Florence.
What we like The villa’s luxury and aristocratic pedigree. Built by renowned Florentine architect Poggi in the 1700s, it sits serenely at the end of a one kilometre cypress-lined driveway, enveloped by an estate of formal gardens, ancient olive groves and woodland, just 15 minutes’ drive from Florence. Colour-washed and frescoed walls, baronial fireplaces, Murano glass chandeliers and heirloom furnishings, not to mention a steam room, games room, gym and divine infinity pool, offer a glimpse into patrician country lifestyle.
Don’t miss Live the life… arrange a private tour of the Uffizi Art Museum, a hot air balloon for floating over the Chianti countryside, or a private chef.
Who for Those seeking a luxurious hideaway with classic Florentine style.
The details Six bedrooms, six bathrooms, sleeps 12. From $26,240 per week in high season. Also available for eight guests. isolarossa.co.uk
Where Walking distance from the borgo of Settignano, four kilometres from Florence.
What we like The brilliant location – a quiet retreat where a 15 minutes away by bus lies Florence, with its Renaissance riches (plus markets, food, fashion). The stylish, design-savvy interiors of the converted farm building meld classic with just enough contemporary Italian pizzazz – feature wallpapers, edgy colours, fine Italian linens, a hip pool for chilling out and captivating views.
Don’t miss The fantastic Fiorentine owner, Claudia, can arrange exclusive tours of the remarkable Villa Medici Fiesole, and give the lowdown on how to shop, wine and dine like a local (invaluable).
Who for Art lovers, style mavens and those seeking refuge from Florence’s summer madness.
The details Three bedrooms and bathrooms, sleeps six. From $6248 per week in high season. settignanotuscanyhomes.com
Where 25 kilometres from Arezzo, 36 kilometres south of Florence.
What we like Relaxed country style meets Tuscan sophistication: spacious, sun-filled rooms, smart furnishings, MasterChef kitchen, tower room with 360-degree outlook (heavenly views, naturally), welcoming owner and five-star heritage credentials (once owned by the aristocratic Medicis). For fashionistas, designer outlets (Fendi, Armani et al) are a mere wallet’s toss away.
Don’t miss Arezzo (Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful was filmed here) for its Roman ruins, Renaissance architecture, Piero della Francesca’s masterly frescoes, and sprawling monthly antique market.
Who for Keen cooks, fashionistas, antique aficionados, extended families.
The details Six bedrooms, five bathrooms, sleeps 12. From $4121 to $4873 per week. villailcolto.it/
Where Walking distance to Impruneta, 16 kilometres from Florence.
What we like Location, location, location. Villa La Quercia is perfectly positioned between the Tuscan trinity of Florence, Siena and San Gimignano, on a small wine- and oil-producing estate. The villa’s comfortable summerhouse aesthetic features crisply white walls, pale sofas, clever lighting and book-lined shelves. The country-style cucina is well equipped and the pool is perfect for Campari at the end of the day.
Don’t miss In summer you’re superbly placed for Chianti’s many sagre (festivals) and markets, or perhaps a hit of golf (Ugolino’s course is less than two kilometres away). If you visit in autumn you’re at the heart of the vendemmia (grape harvest) and raccolta (olive harvest).
Who for Golfers, food and wine lovers, cultural tourists, families.
The details Five bedrooms, four bathrooms, sleeps nine. From $4689 to $7034 per week. villasofdistinction.com
Where Four kilometres from Casole d’Elsa, 20 kilometres from Siena, 58 kilometres from Florence in the Val’Elsa region.
What we like The whimsical style – the atypical palette of pale colours, limed beams and blonde wood, the grand spaces and eclectic décor – quirky chandeliers, weathered stone sculptures, a gold bedhead. There’s a separate pool guesthouse, and a flourishing garden of lavender, rosemary and herbs. Beyond are wine-producing vineyards. If you must tear yourself away from the infinity pool and its sublime views, the narrow streets of Casole d’Elsa are near, or head to Siena for some serious cultural overload.
Don’t miss The Lorenzetti frescoes in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico. Amazing.
Who for Those seeking a central spot for touring but a stylish abode to retreat to.
The details Five bedrooms, four bathrooms, sleeps 12. From $10,711 to $16,061 per week. casainitalia.ch
Where Eighteen kilometres from Siena, 70 kilometres from Florence in the Val’Elsa region.
What we like We love the privileged position, high on a hill in Chianti wine country – cross-hatched by vineyards and silvery olive groves, studded with pines. The 13th-century villa is spacious, airy, light and elegantly furnished with arched and shuttered windows, terraces and balconies opening onto sweeping vistas. Cooks will appreciate the well-planned kitchen, gardeners will admire the terracing and topiary, while sybarites can retreat to the pool with a chilled prosecco.
Don’t miss Walking in the pine forests and a picnic on the nearby river Arbia, away from the madding crowds.
Who for Cultural tourists, nature lovers, food and wine buffs.
The details Five bedrooms, four bathrooms, sleeps 10. From $6836 to $9834 per week. tuscanynow.com
Where Three kilometres from Castelfiorentino, 30 kilometres from Florence.
What we like Perched on a hill, in a sea of picture-perfect Tuscan scenery, this refined country villa began life as a castello in the 13th century. It still boasts a medieval tower and its own flower-draped chapel. Inside, the villa’s vaulted ceilings and cotto floors are a foil for swashbuckling family portraits, mounted hunting trophies and traditional furnishings. The overall effect meshes Italian country charm with noble heritage. Siena, Florence and the vineyards of Chianti are easily accessible.
Don’t miss Lucca, an hour’s drive away, for museums, cathedrals, cycling around the town’s Renaissance walls, boutiques (ultra-fashionable Via Fillungo), markets and more.
Who for History and architecture buffs, cyclists, families.
The details Six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, sleeps 12. From $12,498 per week high season. intuscany.net
Where One kilometre from Santa Cristina, 25 kilometres from Florence.
What we like OK, you have the kids in tow, you want something special but not too precious. You need space but why shouldn’t you have a fantastic view? You want to visit Florence but can’t be in the car for too long. Archipettoli may be just your villa. A centuries-old stone manor house, with carved beams and traditional cotto floors, comfortably furnished, with all mod cons, plus table tennis and badminton, a private pool and endless views of the lyrical Chianti countryside.
Don’t miss Enjoying the Italian rhythm of life with the family.
Who for Families and laidback friends.
The details Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, sleeps six adults, three children. From $2475 per week. merrioncharles.com
Where Twenty-three kilometres from Volterra, 45 kilometres from Florence in the Val d’Elsa.
What we like The textbook Tuscan conversion, farmhouse to villa: a fusion of rusticity and contemporary style, plus a touch of whimsy (amusing little trompe l’oeil paintings). And it’s eco-friendly, with geo-thermal heating. Plenty of space, cook’s kitchen, generous pool, herb-laden garden, characteristic Renaissance views with pencil pines and hills fading into the misty distance. The location is tranquil but offers easy access to Volterra, San Gimignano, Siena, Florence and Chianti for cultural, food and wine forays.
Don’t miss The lofty fortress town of Volterra, with its amazing Etruscan museum and ancient Roman amphitheatre.
Who for History and architecture buffs, families, friends.
The details Seven bedrooms, six bathrooms, sleeps 13. From $7499 per week. tuscanyaccommodations.org
Where Thirteen kilometres from Siena, 85 kilometres from Florence in the Val d’Elsa region.
What we like The vineyard-enveloped, off-the-well-trodden-track locale is a large part of this villa’s allure. Sophisticated Tuscan interiors with dark polished timbers, cotto floors and plump sofas convey the feeling of a much-loved private house. An independent wing and separate guesthouse mean there’s room to share with family and friends. And the owner/culinary expert can cater for you, or divulge the secrets of Tuscan cuisine in private classes.
Don’t miss Walking in the nearby woods and the quaint village of Sovicille. This is hunting country – sample the hearty wild boar dishes that star on local menus.
Who for Foodies, wine lovers, families, groups of friends.
The details Six bedrooms, six bathrooms, sleeps 12. From $1396 to $1908 per week. villasofdistinction.com
Where Five kilometres from San Gimignano, 65 kilometres from Florence. The steep one-and-a-half kilometre gravel driveway is a minor challenge.
What we like A clever transformation the former 18th-century former mill is now a spacious villa, with rustic vaulted ceilings, airy spaces and designer-style sofas. Above all, we love the privileged sense of tranquillity, the walled garden, lush valley and birdlife attracted by the villa’s bucolic surrounds. If you decide to leave, follow the winding local roads through undulating hills, past vineyards, olive groves and serried rows of pencil pines to San Gimignano or ancient hill town Certaldo.
Don’t miss Climbing the torre of San Gimignano’s Palazzo Comunale for a medieval perspective.
Who for Nature lovers, walkers, families.
The details Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, sleeps eight. From $2949 to $4974 per week. casainitalia.ch
Where In the Val d’Orcia region, 125 kilometres south of Florence.
What we like A swag of audacious designer touches are concealed behind the unassuming stone façade of this villa. We love the lime green wall washes, bold red bands, striped fabrics, deep-cushioned sofas and modern art. It’s not conventional but it’s eminently modern Italian. And the villa’s lofty location overlooks the serene Val d’Orcia landscape. The region is dotted with villages and hamlets – tiny Castiglioncello del Trinoro (two kilometres away), Pienza, Sarteano, Montalcino, Montepulciano, San Quirico d’Orcia, as well as vineyards, wineries and restaurants.
Don’t miss Pienza’s renowned sheep’s milk cheese, pecorino, lovely with the fragrant local honey.
Who for Style mavens, architecture and history lovers, food and wine buffs.
The details Five bedrooms, Five bathrooms, sleeps 11. From $5936 to $10,467 per week. merrioncharles.com
Where Monte Argentario peninsula, Tuscan coast, 10 minute drive from Porto San Stefano, around 185 kilometres from Florence.
What we like We love the cool white walls and East-meets-West-meets-Moroccan sensibility of the interiors – clever but never clichéd. There are breathtaking views, a rustic path reaching right to the pebble beach, endless little nooks and lavish seating (indoor and out), a sweeping terrace and fragrant Mediterranean garden. Add an infinity pool, tennis court, games room, even a modest soccer field (really!), plus a staff of five or so for a truly elite holiday.
Don’t miss The seriously chic Italians in vacanza in Porto San Stefano and Porto Ercole or the lively passegiata in Orbetello. The agent’s concierge can craft an itinerary to suit the most demanding.
Who for Those with deep pockets seeking an Italian beach vacation par excellence.
The details 8 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, sleeps 12 to14. Rates on application. homebaseabroad.com
Where In the Val d’Orcia, 125 kilometres south of Florence.
What we like This quintessential Tuscan farmhouse has been transformed by über-interior designer Ilaria Miani into an idiosyncratic and fabulous villa that reflects an unerring sense of 21st-century Italian country chic (we love the plum-hued sitting room). Gourmet kitchen, luxury linens, vast patio, hot tub for when you tire of the infinity pool, separate two-storey barn and peerless 360-degree views. A raft of cultural or sporting activities can be arranged.
Don’t miss Montalcino’s legendary Brunello and the vino nobile of Montepulciano, and check out the region’s myriad of thermal spas.
Who for Style mavens, oenophiles, keen cooks, culturati, outdoor enthusiasts, wedding groups.
The details Nine bedrooms, nine bathrooms, sleeps 18. From $9372 to $18,245 per week (includes daily buffet breakfast). merrioncharles.com
Where In the Val d’Orcia, 136 kilometres south of Florence.
What we like The owners of a distinctive contemporary art collection have transformed this 18th-century farmhouse into a supremely comfortable yet hip villa – all white walls, edgy artworks and urbane furnishings, with an infinity pool and breathtaking views. The surrounding World-Heritage-listed landscape of rolling hills (bleached in summer, emerald in spring, mist-shrouded in winter), fortress towns and castles is mesmerising in any season. Walk, cycle, tour or just indulge in some zen-like chill-out time.
Don’t miss Sambuco blends high art style with homely comforts – there’s a herb and vegetable garden, fruit trees and even chickens for fresh eggs. Locavore indeed!
Who for Art aficionados, foodies, cyclists, wedding parties.
The details Six bedrooms, six bathrooms, sleeps 12. From $15,175 per week. awayfromtheflock.it
Where Belforte, 45 kilometres from Siena, 77 kilometres from Florence in Val d’Orcia.
What we like The fact that you are literally on the wall-edge of the medieval hilltop hamlet of Belforte, but also ensconced in this three-level villa’s superbly stylish architect-designed conversion. Subtle colourings, restrained furnishings, gourmet kitchen, fabulous terrace and panoramic, soft-edged Tuscan views create a true oasis. And there’s an indoor spa-pool and trendy rain shower. Perfetto.
Don’t miss Speak with the Australian–Italian owners for a warm welcome and expert local advice. And you are within easy striking distance of Siena’s striped marble-clad cathedral and shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, site of the traditional Palio horse race.
Who for Art lovers, keen cooks, families.
The details Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, sleeps eight. From $3200 to $4000 per week. tuscanvacations.com.au
Where Five minutes drive from Cortona, 116 kilometres from Florence in Val di Chiana region.
What we like The villa’s movie-star credentials (Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed here before the 17th-century estate’s meticulous restoration) and idyllic location just outside the hilltown of Cortona. The consummately Tuscan interiors are all low-key sophistication with plenty of thoughtful touches. Fantastic kitchens (there are two), well-stocked cellar, organic kitchen garden, pool table, garden-rimmed swimming pool. And more.
Don’t miss Cooking classes, here or at Relais il Falconiere, a spa hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant nearby. Or perhaps history, art, cycling or wine tours? Just ask.
Who for Foodies, friends and families, wedding parties and celebrations.
The details Villa sleeps 10, farmhouse sleeps eight, limonaia sleeps two. From $15,996 per week. merrioncharles.com
Where One kilometre from Porto Santo Stefano, 190 kilometres from Florence on the southern Tuscan coast.
What we like The villa is lovely, but it’s all about the views – across the dazzling azzuro Mediterranean and the islands of Giglio, Giannutri, Elba and on a clear day, Corsica. Stunning. Inside, villa and guest quarters are classic, almost beachy, with ample creature comforts. A herb-filled ‘meditation’ garden, olive groves and acres of Mediterranean maquis cushion this wonderful retreat. You can laze by the pool, play boule, try a hand of table tennis. Golf, coastal walks, cycling, and mountain hiking are energetic options.
Don’t miss Porto Ercole, which exudes that chic Italian resort feel with its boutiques, bars and yacht-filled marina.
Who for Sunlovers, beachgoers, walkers, families, friends.
The details Six bedrooms, six bathrooms, sleeps 12. From $7435 to $17,181 per week. isolarossa.co.uk
If you don’t feel like renting an entire villa, or perhaps there are just two of you, why not consider a villa hotel?
Where Two-and-a-half kilometres from Greve in Chianti, 22 kilometres from Florence.
What we like Joining the cognoscenti. This 16th century villa, refurbished with brilliant colours and a certain hip flair, is Florentine shabby-chic at its best. Everything is bold, beautiful, bespoke – or sometimes just quirky. We also like the thoughtful service, the smart but not stuffy ristorante, its lovely position above Greve rimmed by Chianti’s olive groves and vineyards, hidden along an unmade road. The effortlessly chic Florentine guests will do dolce far niente, but for others there are walks, wine tours, tastings, the villa’s Chianti Cooking School, or just sunbaking by the pool.
Don’t miss Nearby Montefioralle, one of Italy’s most beautiful villages.
Who for Italians in-the-know, design aficionados, walkers, honeymooners, wine and food buffs.
The details Deluxe room for two, from $306 to $406 a night, including breakfast. villabordoni.com
Where Seventeen kilometres south of Florence, in Chianti.
What we like A hotel that exudes flawless Tuscan style – an ambience of aristocratic family tradition pervades the villa with its frescoes and tapestries. There’s a wellness centre (blissful treatments), and endless romantic vistas. You can take cooking lessons, or dine on the restaurant’s fresh-picked produce. Visit Florence for its myriad treasures (cultural, culinary, retail), or explore smaller towns, such as Greve, Gaiole, Castellina in Chianti. In autumn, join a truffle hunt.
Don’t miss A tour of the cellars below the ancient abbey and wine tasting at the legendary Antinori bottega to sip a true Chianti Classico.
Who for Wine lovers, honeymooners, couples.
The details A Country Superior room, sleeps two. Including breakfast, about $1249 per week in June. villailpoggiale.