Pasolini Dall’Onda

View from La Novellina of olive groves, rolling hills and the Val di Pesa

View from La Novellina of olive groves, rolling hills and the Val di Pesa

July 2, 2015

When I think of Tuscany, I picture the wonderful food and wine of the region with a backdrop of a golden afternoon sun on beautiful vistas of vineyards, olive groves and green hills. Anticipating our trip there, I hoped to have an experience that this picture epitomized and from our first welcome to the day we said goodbye, my expectations were met, beginning with our stay at La Novellina, a luxury Tuscany villa near Fiano, about 20 miles from Florence.

La-Novellina-entrance

La Novellina: A simple Tuscan lifestyle

After a long day of travel from San Francisco to Florence, ivy-covered La Novellina villa was a welcoming sight.Luisa Castiglioni, who has owned the villa since 1980, greeted us at the door with a hearty welcome and introduced us to her son Nic and Monica, one of the “gifted women and men” that has shared her dream of preserving the authenticity and culture of the area and contributing to the land. Initially restoring the historic building and property as a place for her family to enjoy the simple Tuscan lifestyle, Luisa has been renting the villa for the past 25 years to others so they can experience the beauty and peacefulness of the setting while enjoying the wonderful food, wine, culture, and other highlights of Tuscany.

 

With Luisa Castiglioni on the dining terrace of La Novellina

With Luisa Castiglioni on the dining terrace of La Novellina

 

La Novellina’s historic location

Imagine the history that has unfolded in this serene setting of the Val di Pesa (Valley of the River Pesa) and rolling hills of Tuscany. As I took in the lovely scenery around me at La Novellina from my seat at breakfast our first morning in Tuscany, I tried to grasp the enormity of the past — the battles of the Romans with the Etruscans; the building of the Roman road, the main route connecting Rome to France and Spain and the centuries of travelers and pilgrimages; the fall of the Roman Empire; occupation by “barbarians” and the Dark Ages; and wars between Florence, Siena, and Pisa. The turbulence of many past times was a fascinating contrast and hard to imagine happening at the idyllic sights before me with the sounds of birds chirping on a fresh May morning.

 

Morning view of Tuscan hills and Val di Pesa from the terrace of La Novellina

Morning view of Tuscan hills and Val di Pesa from the terrace of La Novellina

Situated atop a hill with excellent vantage points of the area for many miles, La Novellina has a compelling history of its own. The renovated farmhouse includes a one-thousand-year-old restored tower which served as a vital watchtower for centuries with its panoramic views of the Via Francigena, the famous road from Florence to Rome in the Val di Pesa below.

La Novellina’s ancient tower in the center of the villa and the Val di Pesa

La Novellina’s ancient tower in the center of the villa
and the Val di Pesa

Rivalries during the 13th and 14th centuries between Siena (loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor) and Florence (ally of the Pope) resulted in numerous clashes in the area and castles and villages were repeatedly destroyed. The Castle of Santa Maria Novella, located on another hill behind the villa, was one of those continuously damaged and rebuilt until 1500.

All the fighting and conquests! Although those times are gone, the history, culture and traditions of the area are still part of what makes La Novellina special and give the location a dramatic allure.

The nature of La Novellina

On the estate’s 69 acres, there are 1500 olive trees (for making their own extra virgin olive oil), vegetable and herb gardens, and 4000 bees for honey. Traditions are reflected in the use of natural ingredients in meal preparation and using their own produce and both maximizing sustainability and minimizing environmental impact. Nic is the inspiration behind and caretaker of La Novellina’s commitment to organic and sustainable methods and staying true to Tuscan traditions in use of the land. Under Nic’s hands-on management, they aspire to the best organic techniques in the products they grow and sustainable practices preserving water and the earth.

Nic sampling fresh honey, steps to the garden, fresh flowers and organic products of La Novellina

Nic sampling fresh honey, steps to the garden, fresh flowers and organic products of La Novellina

 

Creating an authentic experience

Luisa believes in creating an authentic experience for La Novellina  guests that accentuates the traditions and distinct characteristics of the area. Surrounded by the beautiful Tuscany landscapes, guests can engage in activities such as cooking classes, visits to medieval villages, and wine tastings with local vintners to become more immersed in the culture. Or if they choose, guests can simply relax in style at the villa and appreciate the joys of life under the Tuscan sun.

View-from-La-Novellina

Traditional style of a Tuscany luxury villa

The villa’s ambiance is that of relaxed luxury with traditional Tuscan decor, a comfortable country style with antique furnishings that complement the natural surroundings.

La Novellina can accommodate 9 people in 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms — ideal for family gatherings (such as reunions, weddings, or anniversaries) which account for a large percentage of their bookings. Comfort, warmth, and charm is found in each of the rooms.

 

La Novellina master bedroom and bath

La Novellina master bedroom and bath

We stayed in the master bedroom located in the old tower section of the villa with a large window that provided views (and sounds) of the olive groves and the Val di Pesa. In the morning, I was surprised to hear the sound of a real cuckoo for the first time in my life! The bathroom that adjoined the master bedroom was large, comfortable and nicely appointed with a large  adjacent walk-in closet.

La-Novellina-roomsThe other bedrooms (2 of them shown above) were similarly charmingly decorated. One of the two living areas (shown bottom right above), was once a kitchen and key gathering place where farmhouse residents could talk and stay warm by the fire. Before going to bed each night and also before breakfast each day, we enjoyed spending a little time there to relax and catch up with online tasks. A porch outside the room provides a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the Tuscan scenery.

Side-view-of-villa

As is often the case in Italy, the kitchen is the heart of the traditional home. I quickly took to the morning ritual of coming downstairs and enjoying Monica’s cheerful greeting and the aroma of fresh-baked pastries she prepared for us each day. Breakfast included other light Italian breakfast items and was served on the terrace or at the cozy table in the kitchen.

Monica Bartarelli in the kitchen of La Novellina

Monica Bartarelli in the kitchen of La Novellina

A welcome dinner is offered to guests on their first night and can be requested for additional evenings, which I would highly recommend. During our stay, Monica prepared and served many tasty dishes, including scrumptious risotto, cannelloni, bruschetta, salads, and her amazing pastries — all using where possible La Novellina produce or locally grown foods. The Torta della Nonna, the traditional “Grandmother’s Cake” (bottom left), served for dessert on our first night was so delicious that we were eager to have a leftover slice with breakfast the next morning.

Delicious meals and pastries prepared by Monica Bartarelli at La Novellina

Delicious meals and pastries prepared by Monica Bartarelli at La Novellina

To get a taste of a local restaurant one evening, we had a hearty and simple pasta dinner at C’era una Volta, a cozy trattoria in the little village of Lucardo, about a 5 minute drive from the villa. We enjoyed the meal, atmosphere, and dining with the locals and would recommend it as a dinner option when staying at the villa.

Although the spring weather was warm, we didn’t have time in our busy schedule for pool activities. But I can imagine what a treat it would be to sun and swim in the pool adjacent to the villa while enjoying magnificent views similar to those from the La Novellina terrace.

La-Novellina-pool

A special afternoon with Susanna

Susanna Civeli is a private concierge and personal chef who welcomes guests to La Novellina and can also arrange and lead tours and cooking classes. Accompanied by Susanna, we spent an afternoon in her hometown, Barberino Val d’Elsa, a small medieval village about five miles from the villa. Culture and heritage are very important to the residents of Barberino Val d’Elsa and Susanna pointed out the places that are meaningful to her and other residents. The ancient walls and gates were the most prominent features as we entered the town. It was clear that Susanna loves this village as we strolled Via Francesco da Barberino (the main street) and passed by her home, a house down the street where she previously lived, the nearby house of her father, and the places where she spends time with friends.

 

Strolling Barberino Val d’Elsa with Susanna Civeli

Strolling Barberino Val d’Elsa with Susanna Civeli

This medieval village is on the boundary between the provinces of Florence and Siena has seen much of the turbulent history of the region. Fortified for protection, it was an important defense for the Florentine Republic in its battles with Siena. In recent years, the village has been undergoing new growth and renewed interest in traditions with local artisans creating traditional Tuscan food, wine, and other products.

A very popular shop in the village is Bojola Country, a boutique of leather and specialty fabric goods made exclusively in Tuscany using natural raw materials. The talented and creative owner and designer is Fiamma Lazzeri, who we had the pleasure of meeting while visiting the shop.

Francesco Bojola Boutique in Barberino Val d’Elsa with Susanna Civeli and Fiamma Lazzeri

Francesco Bojola Boutique in Barberino Val d’Elsa with Susanna Civeli and Fiamma Lazzeri

At Pasolini dall’Onda Borghese, we enjoyed the hospitality of Massimo Castagnozzi, as we toured the wine cellar and olive mill, and sampled their Chianti Classico and Vin Santo.

At Pasolini dall’Onda Borghese, we enjoyed the hospitality of Massimo Castagnozzi, as we toured the wine cellar and olive mill, and sampled their Chianti Classico and Vin Santo.

At Pasolini dall’Onda Borghese, we enjoyed the hospitality of Massimo Castagnozzi, as we toured the wine cellar and olive mill, and sampled their Chianti Classico and Vin Santo.

 The Pasolini family has been producing high quality wines for over 400 years. The wine cellars (which were once dungeons) that actually lie beneath the main street of the village include thousands of bottles of their vintages of Chianti, Chianti Classico, Vin Santo, a Tuscan Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend, and two white wines based on Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. The cellar also houses an impressive number of very old bottles from the family’s private collection which are kept as reminders of historically good years and not intended for drinking. Pasolini dall’Onda also produces olive oil using centuries old production techniques with modern mill equipment. On our tour of the olive mill we saw the grindstones and other devices that were used in centuries past.

 

Touring the olive mill and wine cellars with Massimo Castagnozzi at Pasolini dall’Onda

Touring the olive mill and wine cellars with Massimo Castagnozzi at Pasolini dall’Onda

On the rooftop of Pasolini dall’Onda, we got a wonderful view of Chianti’s vineyards and farms. From there Massimo pointed out the dividing line that separates the very special Chianti Classico subregion from the rest of the Chianti district.

Chianti1To end the afternoon, we joined locals on the patio at La Spinosa wine shop for a glass of their light and crisp Marugale white wine while we chatted with one of the owners, Gianfranco Ossola. La Spinosa strictly uses organic growing methods on its farm of 70 hectares of vineyards and olive trees and since 1994 has been certified as an organic grower by the CCPB (Consortium for the Control of Organically Grown Products of Bologna). In the shop they serve (and sell) their wines as well as local cheeses and other products and gifts.

La Spinosa wine shop

La Spinosa wine shop

Other nearby places of interest

You could spend a week or two at La Novellina, never leave the property, and have a gratifying Tuscan experience. However, its location offers access to almost any of the types of activities one would imagine in a trip to Tuscany. With Luisa’s and her staff’s help, we were able to experience a number of these.

We spent a wonderful day in the stunning Renaissance city of Florence which is only about 45 minutes away. We also enjoyed our visits to the Antinori wine estate in Bargino, the medieval towns of Certaldo and San Gimignano, a cheese-maker in San Casciano, and more places of interest which we’ll tell you about in future posts. So stay tuned for more about our excursions during our 4-night stay at La Novellina.

Arrivederci, La Novellina

Leaving La Novellina Tuscany!

Leaving La Novellina
Novellina Tuscany!

 

Imagine … a friendly kiss. What better way to end our stay at La Novellina in warm and authentic Tuscany!

Farewell kiss from Monica as we leave La Novellina

Farewell kiss from Monica as we leave La Novellina

 

Grazie to La Novellina for making our authentic Tuscany experience possible

Catherine Sweeney

Travelling with Sweeney

 

Highlights of a week in northern Tuscany

A week in Tuscany is not nearly enough time to gain anything but a preliminary knowledge of the region, even if just focusing on its northern part. However, it’s enough to feel the pull it has on the hearts of visitors and understand why residents are so proud of their home. It was also enough time for us to experience some wonderful activities that we can recommend for your own visits. In future posts, Mr. TWS and I will have more to share about the many reasons we loved Tuscany, but here are a few highlights of our Tuscan experience.

 

View of Val di Pesa from La Novellina in Tuscany

View of Val di Pesa from La Novellina in Tuscany

 

Seeing the famous sights

Florence and Pisa are well-known tourist-attraction venues, so be prepared for crowds of tourists but don’t miss their many must-see sights.

In Pisa, we took the climb to the top of the leaning tower which we thought was worth it for the views of the rooftops of the city and the surrounding area. Mr. TWS thought the tower leaned more than he’d expected, and I agree. I felt a little woozy because of the tower’s unevenness of the floor as we first entered the tower and started climbing. The tower itself actually seemed more beautiful to me than I’d seen in pictures. The subtle shades of the marble facade really stood out more than in photos. While waiting for your turn to tour the tower, have lunch or a coffee on one of the touristy, but still nice adjacent streets.

Famous attractions: Pisa — Leaning Tower of Pisa; Florence — Ponte Vecchio and Il Duomo di Firenze

Famous attractions: Pisa — Leaning Tower of Pisa; Florence — Ponte Vecchio and Il Duomo di Firenze

It’s no wonder that Florence is a top city for visitors to Italy. With its history, architecture, bridges, cathedrals, piazzas and museums, it’s an amazing place to visit. Even on this rainy day, for us Florence shined as a Renaissance treasure. While walking along both sides of the Arno River and from the bridges, we enjoyed views of the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). The majestic Duomo di Firenze (Florence Cathedral) mesmerizes with its size and beauty. We were focused on getting a good introduction to Florence during a short day trip so only admired its exterior, but we’ve put a longer tour of Florence and key sights on our must-do list for our next time in Tuscany.

Being surprised

Part of the fun of visiting places for the first time is learning about and doing things that are unexpected. These were just a few things that surprised us during our week in northern Tuscany.

The coastside city of Viareggio, quarries of the Apuan Alps, bicycling on the walls of Lucca, art in Pietrasanta, Santa Novella Pharmacy in Florence

The coastside city of Viareggio, quarries of the Apuan Alps, bicycling on the walls of Lucca, art in Pietrasanta, Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy in Florence

 

  • Tuscany is not just about vineyards, rolling hills, and quaint villages. The beach towns of Viareggio and Forte Dei Marmi attract summer vacationers to their resorts and villas along the Versilia coast of the Mediterranean.
  • I didn’t expect to see marble quarries on the hillsides of the Apuane Alps. These quarries extract the abundant high-quality marble there that has been used for centuries in great buildings and for creating the timeless art of sculptors such as Michelangelo.
  • Pietrasanta is a surprising artisic gem with its public art installations, galleries, and marble-carving studios. It is also home to master mosaic artist Piero Giannoni, whose creations are seen around the world.
  • In Florence, we admired the decor, artifacts, and product displays, while sampling fragrances at Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy which is said to be the oldest still-operating pharmacy in the world. Formulas of the monks who originally established the pharmacy in the 13th century are still being used. Imagine that!
  • I like bicycling (primarily on flat surfaces) and got a special treat riding bikes along the top of the ancient city walls of Lucca, an area designated for pedestrians and bicycles only. Not only did it provide an opportunity for fresh air and exercise, but it was great for getting an overhead view of the city while watching locals stroll the tree-lined path.

 

Walking and wandering

Each of the cities and towns, large and small, that we visited in northern Tuscany had its own charm and unique appeal, but all were a pleasure to explore on foot, even when getting a bit off track as we did one evening in Lucca. Our footsteps took us all around Florence, Certaldo Alto, San Gimignano, Barberino Val d’Elsa, Pietrasanta, and Lucca. On many occasions, we were aided by wonderful local guides who explained the importance, history, or uniqueness of the sights and introduced us to local shop owners.

Strolling the streets of Lucca, Certaldo Alto and Pietrasanta

Strolling the streets of Lucca, Certaldo Alto and Pietrasanta

Wining and dining

For me, quintessential Tuscan dining experiences are those enjoyed al fresco with views of serene countryside or bustling piazzas. Besides finding great traditional cuisine in the restaurants of Tuscany, we indulged in tasting the local fare at the villas where we stayed or visited, cheese makers, wineries, olive mills, specialty wine and food shops, and fresh markets. And let’s not forget the gelaterias!

Tasty specialties of Tuscany – cheese (Fattoria Corzano e Paterno), wine (Pasolini dell’Onda), ham (Enoteca e Convivio), gelato (Pappa Grappa),  and fresh produce (Frantoio Sociale)

Tasty specialties of Tuscany – cheese (Fattoria Corzano e Paterno), wine (Pasolini dall’Onda), ham (Enoteca e Convivio), gelato (Pappa Grappa), and fresh produce (Frantoio Sociale)

Dotting the hillsides and valleys of Chianti and other areas of Tuscany are vast expanses of olive groves and vineyards, many of which are small, family-owned operations that welcome visitors for tastings and tours. The large Antinori wine estate is visually impressive with its modern architecture in a pastoral setting in Bargino that offers public tours and tastings as well.

Driving

On our trip, we especially enjoyed our drives through the picturesque countryside and small villages. There were beautiful vistas at every turn and also some serendipitous finds. Renting a car as we did will give you spontaneity and flexibility in seeing Tuscany’s beauty. Driving a  Ferrari in Tuscany seems very popular (and we saw quite a few), but that didn’t fit our budget. Whatever you drive, make it a small car for maneuvering the narrow roads and tight parking spots in towns and villages. As much fun as it is to drive in the countryside, avoid taking the car into the city centers by using parking lots on the outskirts or traveling by train.

Our rental car, some of the beautiful scenery, and a not uncommon Ferrari

Our rental car, some of the beautiful scenery, and a not uncommon Ferrari

Staying in a villa

There are certainly many accommodation options in Tuscany, including hotels and B&Bs, but as we learned, villas offer unique ways to truly immerse in the Tuscan experience. And they can be particularly advantageous for family celebrations, reunions, weddings, and other special gatherings. Each villa that we visited or at which we stayed has its distinct characteristics and amenities appealing to different tastes and needs, accommodating a wide range of group sizes, and offering a great variety of services to make a stay special. During our tour of EsteVillas holiday rentals, we were guests of La Novellina in Fiano and Buonvisi in Lucca, and toured several others in northern Tuscany. We’ll share the details of these with you in future posts

Rolling out the red carpet for guests at Villa Buonvisi in Lucca

Rolling out the red carpet for guests at Villa Buonvisi in Lucca

But beyond all the beautiful vistas, historic towns and cities, and the wonderful food and wine, there were the friendly, helpful and generous people we met throughout our stay.

Have I piqued your interest? Would you like to hear more about our week in northern Tuscany? Do you wonder what it might be like to stay in a Tuscan villa? Stay tuned!

Posted by on june 1 2015
Travelling with Sweeney : A Touch of Tuscany
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Villas around Florence : Novellina, Egle, Borgorosa, Mattei
Villas in Lucca and Versilia Area : Santandrea , Buonvisi, Fattoria, Elisabetta

 

Wines  : Pasolini Dall’Onda     Barberino val d’Elsa (FI) tel  +39 055 8075019
Gelato:   Pappagrappa Capannori Lucca tel +39 0583 909 555
Cheese Producer:  Fattoria Corzano e Paterno San Casciano Firenze tel +39 055 8248 179
Marble Quarries Tour by Serena Giovannoni Estevillas Travel Consultant
Alice Dami villa host, cook and a concierge in Lucca, Tuscany
Susanna Civeli cook and a concierge at la Novellina, Tuscany
Wine Store: Vino e Convivio  Capannori, Lucca  tel+ 39 0583 403573