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Travel in Leonardo Da Vinci's footsteps with an authentic stay at Villa di Bagnolo

May 14, 2019 Written by: Angelina Villa-Clarke for Forbes magazine
Bagnolo villa near Florence

Read all about the world of Leonardo Da Vinci where he grew up and the inspiration for his early works. 

This month marks 500 years since  Leonardo da Vinci  died. As well as his masterpieces, which sees him regarded as one of the world’s finest artists, da Vinci’s sketches, found in the thousands, across numerous notebooks, also reveal just how ahead of his time he was – with the works showing the first known concepts for bicycles, helicopters and aeroplanes, as well as advanced anatomical sketches and scientific studies. 

To mark the anniversary, this month, a rare portrait of the artist (one of only two surviving) – which was recently discovered among papers held in the Royal Collection Trust – will go on show for the first time.  Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing  (24 May-13 October 2019) , at the  Queen’s Gallery  at Buckingham Palace in London, will be the biggest exhibition of the artist’s work in more than 65 years and, as well as the portrait, will also include some 200 drawings from the  Royal Collection Trust. 

Elsewhere, other parts of the world are also commemorating the anniversary. At the Château du Clos Lucé in the Loire Valley in France, for instance, a tapestry based on his masterpiece The Last Supper, can be seen. It will be the first time the piece has been viewed outside the Vatican museum since the 16th century and it is particularly poignant since the artist spent his last years at the chateau with his patron King Francis I.

It goes without saying, that da Vinci’s home town of  Florence will also be commemorating the anniversary with numerous events and exhibitions taking place this year. For an all-encompassing look at the artist’s life,  Tuscany Now & More  is offering its villa guests a cultural tour of his birthplace, and surrounding places of inspiration, while staying in one of the company’s historic properties. From  I Giullari  – a restored farmhouse – to  Podere Nuccioli  – a glamorous Tuscan villa – the company’s portfolio of homes gives an authentically Tuscan base to stay, which is ideal  for discovering more about Leonardo’s life. 

Found in the Chianti countryside, in the hills surrounding Florence, Villa di Bagnolo  is  a seven-bedroom manor house found at the heart of the Colombaia  wine and olive-oil estate, dating back to 1700, and still run by the original Beltrami family. 

Guests can tap into the local way of life with wine and olive oil tastings in the original subterranean cellars, run by Stefano Beltrami, or a glass or two enjoyed on the roof of the villa, which you can access via a secret tower, and which gives views to Florence’s Duomo in the distance. Standing apart from usual villa-rental companies, Tuscany Now & More also offers a comprehensive concierge service, with guests being able to book hands-on cookery classes, such as learning to make pasta or regional breads, formal wine lessons with a sommelier, chefs on tap so that you can dine at home in style and tours of the local area.

Combining modern-day touches – think power showers, fine linens and cosy sofas – with period details – a huge stone fireplace dominates one living space, grand chandeliers light the rooms and antique furniture is dotted around – Villa di Bagnolo offers the best of both worlds.

Summer days are best spent outdoors – diving into the pool, taking walks through the olive groves, which stretch across 54 acres, or playing tennis on the courts. Lemon trees in oversized terracotta pots line the pathways, while the fresh herb garden adds notes of thyme and sage to the air. Modern rattan day beds and sofas give plenty of space to stretch out, while a table tennis table and football goals give younger guests plenty to do.

The day is started in the sunny breakfast room, which has views over the verdant landscape, while a formal dining area reveals an insight into the villa’s past grand life. Bedrooms – most with en suites – are found off a terrazzo tiled corridor. Antique dressers, oil paintings and carved wardrobes add a timeless feel. For sheer opulence, the master suite comes with a dressing room, super king bed and bathroom lined with vast swathes of pink marble. Best of all is throwing open the shutters as the sun rises, cappuccino in hand, to a morning chorus of birdsong and the scent of lemons on the breeze. Giving a reprieve from the sun-blasted days of the Tuscan heat, the villa also has cool corners to retreat to – such as a games room, with a marble-topped table, vintage pictures and cupboards stocked with board games and cards.

The villa is located close to the small town of Impruneta, while Florence is just a 30 minute drive away. And it is here where the ‘Follow in the Footsteps of Leonardo da Vinci’ tour begins. The artist spent his early life and some of his later years in Florence. Included is an in-depth tour of the Uffizi Gallery, where some of his famous works are kept – such as the Baptism of Christ, The Annunciation, and the Adoration of the Magi. Meanwhile, at Florence’s town hall, The Palazzo Vecchio, you can see the lost fresco of the Battaglia di Anghiari.

A trip to the village of Vinci – where Leonardo was born – is worthwhile, and here you can also visit the Museo Leonardiano. As well as a collection of machinery, which inspired the young artist, you can see also the artist’s first known drawing, Landscape 8P, which dates back to 5 August 1473. It is thought to be a combination of two settings – the Montalbano hills and the Valdinievole area in Tuscany – and will be on display until 26 May, after which it returns to the Uffizi Gallery.

Talking of which, the last point of the tour continues up the rolling Montalbano Hills, where Leonardo took inspiration for many of his works, and includes a trek on Monte Ceceri, where Leonardo tested his flying machines. Go at the end of the day, when the sun is setting, and the light is dappled. It's a place of inspiration.

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> Read online article in Forbes magazine

Angelina Villa-Clarke has been a travel journalist for the past 20 years, writing on new destinations, luxury hotels and travel trends. Read more on her blog at 

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