Villa Albizi: An enchanting Tuscan mansion in Italy’s rolling hills


Not long ago, if someone suggested a half-term holiday with two other families, I would have insisted on plan B – without even knowing what plan B was; I’d rather eat broken glass than do that again. I learned the perils of holidaying with other couples and their children the hard way. A day at the beach ended with upturned tables, smashed plates, thrown food, DEFCON 1-level tantrums, and an unholy row on a pedalo with our friends vowing to divorce each other as soon as they got home.

The idea of doing it again, albeit with different couples and their children, filled me with dread. That was my state of mind as our flight from London touched down at Pisa airport on the Italian peninsula.

Ahead of us were four days of villa life and exploration of the Tuscan countryside, which, all going to plan, would involve a vineyard excursion, or two, to sample some of the region’s renowned Chianti. As well as myself and my partner, Jane, our 12-year-old son, Charlie, and his pal Edward, there were old friends Dawn and Peter with their two girls, Hannah, 17, and 10-year-old Megan; and new friends Jacob and his partner Renate, both ex-pats living in Barcelona.

Villa Albizi tuscany

From the off, it was obvious that this was going to be a very different experience to our last attempt at shared holidaymaking. Everyone was much more laidback, and crucially, there was no evidence of impending marital Armageddon. The kids were fun and active, taking a genuine interest in the plans we put together.

If a house can have a life, then few have older bones than the Villa Albizi. It’s part of a small cluster of buildings in the Tuscan hills dating back almost 1,000 years. Once a remote staging post on an ancient Roman road, the hamlet of the Borgo Montefienali was all but abandoned in the 13th century. Over hundreds of years, it was lost to the encroaching forest, deleted from existing maps, its history all but forgotten. But at the turn of the millennium, enthusiastic walker Alessandro Polvani, director of local building contractor Germana Construction, stumbled across the remains of the hamlet, and instantly saw the potential.

Villa Albizi

Since 2000, Alessandro, along with his son Thomas and daughter-in-law Ilaria Pianigiani, has painstakingly restored the hamlet and its main house, the Villa Albizi Montefienali. “The last occupant of these buildings was a shepherd, and he fled 40 years ago,” says Thomas. “In the four decades since, nature took its toll. All that was left of the buildings were the outer stone walls, the window openings like black eyes. The original plants and cultivation were gone, lost to a thick green mantle of weeds. All that remained of the ancient landscaping was a single cypress tree, marking the entrance to the ruins of a church dedicated to San Domenico.”

With time, money and exquisite taste, the hamlet has been brought back to life; the crowning achievement being the 500 sqm villa. Along with a pool and hot tub, there is a small workout room and a sauna. Ilaria and Thomas greeted us as if we were old friends. While the kids played in the pool, the couple gave us the 50-pence tour of the villa and grounds.

The stonework reminds you of the Cotswolds. There is a slight honey-toned colour to it. But it’s more than that, it’s the craftsmanship. Every piece is different and slotted perfectly into its neighbour, like a giant vertical jigsaw puzzle. There is a natural fit with the surrounding environment, too, the restoration taking inspiration from the steep hills and vast oak forests of the Chianti region.

“We wanted to rebuild the hamlet and the villa in the old ways,” says Thomas. “We used local stone and methods. These old houses are becoming so rare now. They are so expensive to renovate but we felt like we needed to save this place.”

The villa’s interior also got the gold-star treatment. Here, Ilaria is firmly at the helm. Her choice of decor and colour again reflect the region. Her love of folk art and local crafts is evidenced in every room; from the padded armchairs, with hand-painted patterns, to the custom-made beds, to the exquisite carpets. Every room – and there are a lot of rooms – shows this connection to the villa’s past and traditions of Tuscany. It has so many comfortable small snugs, perfect if you want to read in isolation.

The villa is a 45-minute drive from the medieval city of Siena, said to be founded by Senius and Aschius, two sons of Remus and thus nephews of Romulas, Rome’s two namesakes. Although the city can get crowded, it’s so heart-breakingly beautiful that it’s worth the effort. The architecture is something out of a Botticelli painting, so tactile and warm.

Villa Albizi

Time was passing quickly, as it always does when everything is going well. On day three, while Peter, Jacob and Renate opted for a lazy morning with the kids, Jane, Dawn and I decided on a vineyard tour. Less than an hour away by car is the La Tenuta, a 1,000-hectare estate of rolling hills, lush green forests and ancient cypress trees. The estate is divided into blocks, each growing different grapes for its six wonderful varieties of wine (the Chianti Classico Riserva the best in my opinion). Sadly, the end was in sight. We had one more evening in the villa, one more meal, a few more bottles of Chianti.

What to do when time is limited in such surroundings? We decided to introduce the kids to Monty Python’s Life of Brian on the large-screen television, then play a raucous game of Sardines. It was time to go. Jacob and Renate headed to Florence while the rest of us made our way to Pisa, stopping for lunch in San Gimignano, with its medieval skyscrapers. In a few short hours we would be home, our Tuscan experience drifting into happy memory.

If nothing else, the trip proved to me that shared holidays are doable, they just need the right combination of people, location and attitude. Villa Albizi provided the location, which in turn helped with the attitude. As for the people? I’m pleased to report that everyone remains happily married.

Tuscany Now & More offers seven nights at Villa Albizi from £10,193 per week based on 16 people sharing on a self-catering basis. Visit

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