Villa Mangiacane: vines & roses

June 7, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (16)

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Entrancing Tuscan views from Villa Mangiacane

For lovers of the Tuscan countryside – a palazzo housing a country hotel  gloriously placed among its own vineyards and olive groves in the Chianti area. Rustic in feel, eclectic in style and opulent in decorative details Villa Mangiacane is an intimate hotel. And historic.  It was built for a Cardinal in the Machiavelli family and another Machiavelli, Nicolo,  wrote the Prince in a stone house on the opposite ridge.

His name  lives on in a restaurant on that ridge called Albergaccio Di Nicolò Machiavelli,  easily reached by a walk through the vineyards. And  the spirit of his times lives on in the original villa with its frescoes restored  and the rooms exquisitely furnished – a long labour of love by a South African who bought the then rundown villa as his own palace. Later turned into a hotel.

While the  suites and lounges in this building have kept a more Italian style, a newer wing by a South African architect is more eclectic in details, with African art and trendy modern touches.  

Africa runs out too into the Tuscan gardens – among the lawns, pools and roses, there are dozens of sculptures from Zimbabwe.  It can seem a little uncanny as if the owner’s other existence is ever present in his palace in Italy.

Signs of his personal life and tastes  – photo albums and books lie casually between frescoed walls, on the comfortably furnished verandahs of the original villa, and in the cosy lounges, one the scene of complimentary afternoon tea. And his imagination is also evident in the flamboyant Royal suite with its influences that seemed to be Thai, African and Moroccan along with perhaps some basic Italian.

Though not quite what you expect, Villa Mangiacane is a great place to chill. Just to linger. A sparkling swimming pool lies amid open lawns behind the main building – a pool bar opens later in the summer, and  a second pool lies in shadier position by the Machiavelli villa, adorned by sculptures invading from the African garden. The signature sculptures from long ago stand on the gateposts – two stone dogs – to illustrate the name Mangiacane (eat dog), trying to rise imposingly above lush growth.

Roses, lemon trees, herbs and of course encircling vineyards create a heart warming Tuscan ambience of colour and fragrance. Come good weather, which we did not have, you can dine in the garden. Actually we dined off property every night, generously provided with a free shuttle and booked by reception.

This is a boutique hotel with only 27 rooms, and you get very personal treatment by the GM Juan and his multinational staff, though I did not meet a single Italian among them.

Your life is their life it seems. Where will you eat tonight? What will you do tomorrow? Far from trying  to trap you at the hotel to spend money in their own gourmet restaurant, they are keen for you to have a really rich Tuscan experience. Whether hiring a car for you for the day to get to the architectural gem of Siena, or arranging a Chianti wine tour just for you (quite costly),  or booking you at the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s  David and on the complimentary shuttle to Florence. Or to nearby San Casciano.

The little town of San Casciano is a gem only 5km distant with narrow streets lined with small shops, eateries and fragrant rose bushes. And we were encouraged to try all the restaurants and trattorias there – they booked our tables and gave us free lifts back and forth to we could have that experience. Not just us – but many other guests took advantage of this opportunity.  I have never known such generosity in a hotel.

San Casciano turned out to be a great place to eat local food at very reasonable prices  – our favourites were Cinque de Vino and  Cantinetta del Nunno.  I would go back anytime.

Accommodation

In the newer building (also housing reception and dining room) there are a row of Superior rooms with private gardens, some with plunge pools. The category below that is the Classic rooms – not recommended to top luxury customers. Rising up into a tower was our room – a so called Junior suite. It did not feel at all Junior. Downstairs a lounge with easy chairs, sofa  and attractive items of furniture (no TV – that is upstairs). The sitting room opens into a huge bathroom with a big round bath and adjoining shower with opens sides, two basins and dressing tables, and more private toilet and bidet. Upstairs is a cosy bedroom with massive bed – very dreamily comfortable – luxury linen and pefect pillows. We loved our room, but in the unseasonable cold weather it took a while to warm up on entry. And when the rain turned into gentle sun we did envy the private garden next door where people were relaxing on sunbeds while their kids played in the plunge pool. Their plunge pool, looking a bit opaque when we arrived, was cleaned up and sparkled.

We also saw a Deluxe room, with generous bathroom but rather small bedroom. And another junior suite, this time with the bathroom upstairs.  Others we saw in the Machiavelli villa were the Royal Suite and a Terrace suite. Lounge and romantic bedroom. There is one two-bedroom suite on the upper terrace.

Weddings & cooking courses

The wine cellar is rented out for weddings along with the accommodation above it – the Royal suite. Their prices are very competitive with Florence. And like so many Tuscan country hotels, they offer Tuscan cooking courses in a dedicated kitchen. You dine what you cook at the adjoining table.

How to get to Villa Mangiacane

25 minutes by car from Florence International Airport. There is a free shuttle from Porto Roma – a circle just outside the Florence city walls. From the city centre a taxi ride to Porto Roma cost 6 euros.

In a nutshell

A place for a great Tuscan holiday with plenty of help to dine around taste wines and discover the charms of Tuscany. The mood is laid back, personal and friendly with every effort made to help you – but little misses do happen, and effectiveness is not always evident. Like the complementary afternoon tea. The girl at reception was not sure if it was at 3pm or 5pm. She then assured as 3pm – but it turned out to be around 330 pm that day. One of the staff ran back and forth carrying the tea things over the sculpture park from the kitchen to the Machieavelli villa till all was in place in the attractive sitting room. And then we had delicious freshly baked cake and tea with a choice of bags…we were the only two there among the albums and frescoes.