Tuscany: I Could Get Used To This

This guest post is by Sarah Elbert, Executive Editor of Delta Sky. Sarah writes on her recent visit to Castello di Casole in Tuscany. Before coming to Sky, Sarah was editorial director of magazines including Northwest WorldTraveler and Carlson Wagonlit Travel's Postcards. She has been a newspaper editor, a freelance writer and an Associated Press reporter, riding with the White House travel pool (back in the Clinton days) and covering everything from natural disasters to a cat kidney transplant. Sarah has written for The New York Times, the New York Post, the New York Sun—but not the NY Daily News.

A few weeks ago, after a long day of travel and not much sleep, I found myself looking out over the Tuscan hills on a beautiful afternoon, a glass of pinot grigio in hand and a plate of flatbread, melon and prosciutto before me. I felt like rubbing my eyes with my fists as a cartoon sound effect played in the background. It wasn't just the fact that I was in Italy on a rather last-minute jaunt, or the sun and warm air settling into my tired body, or the delicious but simple food, or the almost laughably postcard view from our table perched on the edge of a hill, on the patio of a luxuriously restored farmhouse where I was staying. It was all of it.

The 4,800-square-foot farmhouse, Pulcinello, is one of 14 that Timbers Resorts has so far lovingly restored and sold as fractional ownership vacation homes—i.e. for 465,000 euros, you can buy a one-twelfth fraction of one of the homes and you get it for a guaranteed three weeks, plus additional weeks if there are any not being used. Pulcinello and the other casali (farmhouses) sit on an estate anchored by the Castello di Casole, a circa 1680 castle being renovated as a 41-suite boutique hotel (along with several hotel villas) scheduled to open in April 2012. The castle was the hub of an estate originally owned by the Bargagli family, with sharecroppers growing sunflowers, olives, grapes and wheat on its 5,500 acres.

Now, with 4,200 of those acres owned by Timbers Resorts, it’s one of the largest private landholdings in Italy. You can stay in one farmhouse and not even see another, sort of a luxury nonresort, soon to include all the amenities of a more traditional resort just a short drive, walk or bike ride away (with a spa, restaurants and bar under construction at the hotel). The estate even grows its own grapes and olives and a local onsite winery, Le Macchie, bottles its own Sangiovese blend and olive oil for guests and owners. The resort will also deliver mountain bikes to your door, arrange for private Italian or pottery lessons and do your grocery shopping before you arrive. Um, can you tell I was a happy camper? (I’m looking forward to opening my mailbox to find the jar I painted with a pastoral scene of hills and cypress trees—it needed to be glazed before being sent to me in the States).

The farmhouses, of which there will be 28—most of them restored and a few built from scratch using local reclaimed materials—honor their Tuscan past while integrating many modern amenities: a soaking tub set into the floor before a giant picture window, infinity-edge pools, pizza ovens, luxe furnishings and, of course, Wi-Fi. No surprise then, that all of the finished casali have been snapped up by owners, though they are building more and there are a few you can buy outright, in addition to ownership opportunities at the hotel. However, owners do occasionally rent out the properties, and soon the hotel will be open for business—though the beautiful suites will also run on the pricey side.

We used Pulcinello as a home base to explore Tuscany, from an evening in the medieval town of Siena, about a half-hour away, to a wine tasting and tour in Chianti at Winery Principe Corsini, to a day spent exploring the Uffizi and high-end stores of Florence with a personal shopper. I had been to Florence about a decade before, but hadn’t yet made it to the Tuscan countryside, and I can tell you its reputation is certainly deserved. The people, the food, the scenery, the shopping, the art ... it simply doesn’t get much better. And whether you stay in the luxe surroundings of Castello di Casole or a more rustic locale, you’ll leave wondering when you can come back—and possibly planning a carb-free diet for the next month or so.

Cross posted over at Delta Sky Magazine on Delta.com and see Sarah's slideshow of her trip.