We had had a pretty difficult 12 months as a family, that’s for sure. One of those years in which God bowls you ceaseless googlies possibly to test the hypothesis that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We’d got through it OK but, rather than stronger, we were feeling bruised and desperately tired. What we needed was a holiday that would provide plenty of rest in a beautiful spot, but also somewhere that would keep the picky kids happy while allowing their parents to recharge batteries. To be honest, what I dreamt of was a place that would both soothe and stimulate, somewhere with plenty to see but where you could also just gaze at the horizon. In short, a little piece of heaven which would restore our faith that, bumps in the road notwithstanding, life is good. View PDF article Italy was the obvious choice. Those Italians have really got this living business sussed, haven’t they? I noticed that Greve in Chianti had been voted “the most idyllic place to live” in the world. It was a good start. The small town is located on the Via Chiantigiana, which stretches from Florence to Siena, winding its way through some of the most heart-stopping scenery Tuscany has to offer. Another consideration was that, while Himself and our 18-year-old son, Tom, don’t like the heat, Evie, 22, and I are sun-worshippers. We needed the Goldilocks option: not too hot, not too cold, just right. Tricky, maybe impossible. And then, by some miracle, we found Villa Caprolo. Perched high in the hills above Greve, the villa comes equipped with its own private small chapel where you can give thanks for the stupendous panorama, and Antonella, the quintessential Italian mamma, who made us an incredible supper on our first evening. Like all Edens, Villa Caprolo lies at the end of a long and winding road, although it’s only the winding that makes it feel long; in truth, it’s no more than a 10-minute drive to the town (dodging the baby wild boar), and health-conscious guests hoping to get their 10,000 steps in before breakfast could walk it in the early morning, before the sun is high and fierce. Portions of the villa date back centuries, but the Florentine owner has restored it meticulously and stocked it with high-end contemporary comforts. You feel like you have walked into the pages of The World of Interiors, but not in an intimidating way. There is underfloor cooling, a gentler and less noisy answer to the dry and chilly gust of air-conditioning. The kitchen is armed to the teeth, with a large central island that was piled high with the food I had been able to order in advance. Everyone mocked me for the sheer quantity, but do you suppose there was a crumb left on our final day? Mummy 1, Rest of the Family Nil. In the enchanting rose-hued room next to the kitchen stands a vast circular dinner table which, though flat, is apparently built from wine barrels; this is Chianti, after all, where the green slopes are striped with vines, and everything around you seems to be steeped in wine. Summer guests, like us, will be more likely to eat outside, where a magical dining area, pergola-shaded, is temptingly designed for lengthy lunches and even longer feasts in the gathering dusk. Villa Caprolo The villa can accommodate up to 20 guests, with an airy, chic annexe where you could park nocturnal teenagers or the more demanding sort of relative. We invited along our friends Tim and Sue and their son, Dan, who is Tom’s best mate, and Lottie, who has known Evie since school. Everyone had a playmate, which meant we didn’t have to worry when some of the group wanted to stay behind and enjoy the villa while others fancied an outing to Siena. Facilities in the grounds include a boule court and a table-tennis table. During our visit, this proved especially popular in the very early hours of the morning, long after creaky adults had gone to bed. There is also a gym, although I’d be lying if I said it got used. We were a bit tied up eating sublime pasta or lazing by the pool, which commands sumptuous views of the valley beyond, where Sting has his rock-star estate. We could almost hear him singing Fields of Gold. Basically, for anyone who turns up grey with overwork or other cares, and seized by a craving to do almost nothing at all, here is the oasis you seek. With zero effort and no more than a pinch of guilt, you can quite easily spend a week sprawled in the sun, lounging in the shade, eating, boozing, and leafing through those papery things called books that you may have forgotten even existed. Mercifully, our family’s heat incompatibility problem was solved by the fact that we were so high up there was always a gentle breeze. Goldilocks would have approved. There is only one problem with Villa Caprolo: you can’t leave. At the holiday’s end, of course, you will have to go, dragging yourself up the cypress-lined avenue, through the iron gates, and back into the mortal world. Even mid-stay, however, the place somehow holds you in its embrace, as if to ask: where else would you want to be right now? The kids, whom I assumed would be bored and want to seek nightclubs, point blank refused to go anywhere. It was as if the Tuscan spell John Mortimer described in his novel, Summer’s Lease, had them in its power. Both boys, frazzled after exams, ditched their phones and made music on a keyboard, impressively provided by Tuscany Now & More (your wish is their command!). One midnight, when Tom and Dan were sitting above the pool watching the lights of Florence, like a diamond tiara in the distance, there was a “whoosh!” as scores of sprinklers sprang into action. They were drenched and exhilarated; one of myriad memories from an unforgettable week. If you want excursions, you don’t need to travel far. It was easy for us to drive to Florence or Siena for the day, sate our appetite for artistic and architectural marvels, and still return in time for that all-important post-cultural drink at twilight. One Florentine find deserves to be passed on, not least because so many visitors miss it entirely: the Church of the Ognissanti, and particularly, on the far side of a tranquil cloister, The Last Supper. Not THE Last Supper, which lures hordes of Leonardo lovers to Milan, but a transfixing fresco of 1480 by Ghirlandaio. Every detail on the dinner table is exact, right down to the eggs and cherries, at once spiritually symbolic and perfectly edible. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by a huge gallery, and the boiling city, it was such a pleasure to see one Renaissance marvel and then hasten home to our refuge on the hill. Closer to the villa, Greve has charming shops – beware opening times – and Sue and I loved picking out mozzarella and ripe peaches in rusty Italian before having a well-earned espresso in a café on the main square where we could admire the waiter, who looked like he had been sculpted to order by Michelangelo. The local produce is so good you could eat at home every night, but it would be a shame not to try the restaurants. The pizza at La Cantina is worth waiting for, and, if you’re getting it to take away, the wait may be eased with free prosecco from the munificently bearded owner. The two best meals we had, beyond the bounds of the property, were just a picturesque drive away. On the opposite flank of the valley lies the Villa Bordoni, which was once the fiefdom of a tiny tweed-clad widow who lived there with no heirs, 20 tortoises and a stuffed alligator. Nowadays, it is a hotel, an estate that produces its own wine and olive oil, and a restaurant where we ate in the beautiful garden under the trees. The Chitarra spaghetti with thyme-scented rabbit ragù (like all Italian recipes, it sounds tastier in the original language) was voted, by those with the good sense to order it, the most desirable dish of the holiday, although supporters of the ricotta and spinach gnudi with truffle and pecorino were equally fervent, even if they never really grasped what gnudi were. Further away, but still less than half an hour from Greve, in a lofty village, is the Ristoro di Lamole which is definitely a strong contender for the world’s best Meal With a View. It’s worth the crazy, switchback ascent, not just for the simple splendours of the menu, and the warmth of the welcome, but for the peaceful breadth of a landscape unchanged since Roman times. Yet the most satisfying food was served – you guessed it – back at the homestead. The concierge team who run the villa can arrange for a chef to create and serve dinner in situ; your sole responsibility, ahead of time, is to choose the dishes. All dietary requirements of our vegetarian, non-dairy daughter were skilfully accommodated. (The cost per head is not extortionate, given the quality, and it would be the perfect way to cater for a large group on a special occasion.) Even better was the afternoon we spent being taught the art of Tuscan cooking in the capable and companionable hands of Filippo and his assistant Guia, who inducted all eight of us into the mysteries of the perfect gnocchi and other local recipes, and did so, remarkably, with unflagging humour. Not a single guest was banished to the pantry for being incompetent. Later, as evening descended, we ate outside, consuming what we had been inspired to make, and washing it down with a stream of delicious different wines – coached in this fine art by Valentina, the kindest and least forbidding of sommeliers. On such a night, it was easy to understand why, to judge by the visitors’ book, so many guests choose Villa Caprolo for weddings and landmark birthdays, and may enter the small chapel and pray to return. Who could say no to the prospect of paradise regained? Essentials Tuscany Now & More (020 7684 8884; tuscanynowandmore.com) offers a week at Villa Caprolo for £5,557 for a family of 12 (maximum capacity 20), self-catering, based on travel in October-November 2018. It has a range of properties throughout Italy and can provide private chefs, excursions and other services upon request. British Airways (ba.com) flies direct from London to Florence with return fares in October and November from £83.