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Lord of the Manor

Feb 17, 2016 Square mile
Villa di Bagnolo

Lured by images of countryside, chianti and carbohydrates, MARK HEDLEY travels to Tuscany for a ‘veramente’ Italian escape

PHOTOGRAPHS by Mark Hedley, shooting on a Canon 5D Mark III

ASSETS O ITALIAN MASTER: A sweeping lawn surrounds Villa di Bagnolo, leading to a large swimming pool with an infinity edge. There are more than 50 hectares to explore, but you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to sit back and let the best of the estate come to you – usually inside a wine glass.

ON SOME HOLIDAYS, you want to avoid the stereotypes: explore unknown worlds, and discover esoteric traditions. But on others, it’s essentially the opposite: you’ve seen the postcards, you’ve heard the stories – and now you want to live them for real. My first trip to rural Tuscany was just that: I wanted to gorge on obscene piles of pasta; quaff down barrels of chianti; and soak up the incredible scenery I’d seen so many times in glossy magazines just like this one. And that’s well the Villa di Bagnolo comes in – a large slice of Tuscany as traditional as it comes in the hills just south of Florence. Our initial sight of the property is a pair of imposing wrought iron gates. They open electrically, giving way to our first view of the grand villa – as yellow as the lemon trees that flank its driveway, it sits at the top of a hill. It has two turrets at either end of the roof – we later learn that a terrace adjoins these, providing one of many impressive spots to enjoy a sundowner accompanied by 360-degree views of the surrounding estate. And I don’t use the word estate lightly. The villa overlooks 54 hectares of private land including 14 vineyards and more than 5,000 olive trees. As a guest here these are all yours to explore. Indeed, if you’re there at the right time you can even help with the harvests. If that sounds a little too much like hard work (you’re right), then you can sit back and enjoy the fine results of other people’s labour. We didn’t take much encouragement to sign up for the vineyard and olive grove tour. The vines are set in dusty soil on undulating hills, dowsed in that iconic Tuscan mist every morning. Each one is bordered by tall pink rose plants. This isn’t to make the vineyards pretty for tourists (although, it doesn’t exactly hurt) but apparently the roses are the winemaking equivalent of a mine canary – they are the first to get hit by any disease or insects, providing a useful warning beacon. Some even say they can taste the roses in the wine, but only after about five or six glasses, I suspect. The tour finishes in the villa’s cellars. The original property, which has existed in one form or another since 1100AD, was all but destroyed in air raids during the second ➤

I wanted to gorge on obscene piles of pasta, quaff chianti and soak up the amazing scenery 101..