When we think of Italy urban centres like Florence, Rome and Milan probably spring to mind. But leave the hustle and bustle behind, slow down and soak up life and the beauty and tranquility of Italian village life.
Located 15 minutes from the medieval city of Siena, there’s a property ideal for travellers looking to experience authentic Italian living.
Nestled in the hills of Tuscany, the Montestigliano Estate is a fully functional agritourisim farm that has three thousand olive trees, fig trees and other seasonal crops. The beautiful 18th-century, renovated farm home Villa Pipistrelli has multiple rooms, each with its own washroom and a separate annex, linking it to other bedrooms, a kitchen and a sitting area. Of course, there is wi-fi. The view of the Sienese countryside is breathtaking. In the morning, you can enjoy an espresso while looking at the mist rising from the hills.
A short 10-minute walk and you can see the rest of the estate and its restored farm houses of different sizes that are also available for rent. Near the main courtyard, there is a kitchen and hall large enough to hold everyone staying in the properties. Proprietors, the Donati family, host dinners here complete with music and dancing.
Take a guided tour of the farm and see the olive orchard from which the family makes the most delicious olive oil. See how the olives are picked and saved before being pressed to make the “Montestigliano” brand of olive oil — which is on the table at every meal. Massimo Donati, the farmer in the family, offers olive oil tastings. Somewhat like a wine tasting, savour the different flavours and complexities that high-quality olive oil possesses.
The property is so beautiful, you could spend the whole time exploring its 2500 acres. However, there are nearby towns to visit and experience.
One such village is Stigliano. Here you can meet with local farmers and producers who are happy to share the history of farming in the area. Farmers markets have been struggling here for a long time but recent regional government support is giving them new hope.
Make sure to stop at La Bottega di Stigliano which sells only local products. From jams, marmalades to honey, cured meats and different breads, this market/store may be small in size but it has plenty of variety. The restaurant upstairs serves only local products and makes its pasta. In fact, you can watch being made.
Meat lovers will enjoy the variety of cured meats while listening to staff explain the unique process of how each cut is made. One of the local suppliers, Spannocchia, raises the Cinta Senese pig which is native to this region and is famous for its tenderness.
Siena is only a short drive away and is perfect for a day trip. Quaint, with lots of gelato shops, cobblestone roads, vespas and large piazzas, it is also steeped in history much like the rest of Italy.
Siena-based author, Dario Castagno, offers tours that explain the history of the town, which dates back to the year 900 BC and the different “contrada” or neighbourhoods that make up the city.
Siena has 17 of them. Each is named after an animal or symbol and each has its own crest, chapel, trade and history. The contrada are more like large families. Members take part in weekly dinners, pitching in to set up, cook, serve and clean.
The contrada are individually represented in the Palio, a famous horse race which happens once in July and again in August of each year. The 17 contrada take turns competing in the race. The horses and jockies race around the Piazza del Campo three times and the winning contrada takes home a hand-made banner and bragging rights until the next race.
To experience the peace and authenticity of Renaissance Italy, plan a stay at Palazzo Donati in the small town of Mercatello sul Metauro, located in neighbouring Le Marche region, the land of white truffles. The home housed nobility in the 1600s. The kitchen in the basement is a highlight. It’s big and beautiful with an open fire pit for cooking and keeping food warm. Remarkably, it’s authentic to the Renaissance time. Proprietor, Luisa Donati is happy to share the history of the small town and her house which is situated on the main square.
The town is small but includes many hidden gems including beautiful chapels and women making tombolo (a kind of lace) as well as the little butcher shop (there is only one). It is a short drive to nearby towns where friends of Luisa are eager to share their businesses and stories with you.
In Carpegna, Emanuel Francioni and his grandfather run Antica Stamperia, an ancient fabric stencil and print-making operation. They carve out stencils and make the print paste themselves before stamping it onto different fabrics for tablecloths, runners, aprons, etc.
Back at Palazzo Donati, Lina, a local expert, can show you how she makes tagliatelle pasta by hand. Every year there is a pasta-making competition in the main square, and every year, Lina wins (even the one year, British chef Jamie Oliver competed).
Luisa Donati offers all-inclusive “Discover Artisan and Foods Traditions of Italy” vacations. You can sign up on your own or organize your own group of 6 to 8. Guest learn to shop for their ingredients in ‘Italian Express’ and then cook it up. Wine tasting and museum visits are also incuded in the program.
Slow down and soak up rural Italian life at the Montestigliano then indulge yourself in a foodies dream vacation by visiting Palazzo Donati. Enjoy superb cuisine, outstanding quality of life — an authentic Italian experience.