It’s been unseasonably hot. The temperature’s soaring above 40C but we’re in the ideal place to enjoy it, sipping a cool welcome drink at Villa La Massa, taking in the views of the River Arno; the perfect summer’s day in Florence. Then, of course, it rains. Staff rush round to shelter us under the marquee as we stoically brave the downpour. It’s only rain and we’re in Italy; it will stop shortly. But then it doesn’t and we dash inside.
That’s when we really take in the grandeur of this 16th-century architectural Florentine home-cum-hotel. There’s a real Renaissance aura emanating from the frescoed ceilings, tapestries, drapery and brocades of this this 37-room retreat. Built in the Medici period, it was transformed into a hotel in 1948 and is just a 20-minute drive from Florence, set among olive groves, cypress trees and vineyards on the fringes of the Chianti Rufina wine region.
La Massa’s restaurant, Il Verrocchio, is headed up by resident chef Andrea Quagliarella. Located in one of the estate’s oldest structures, the Mulino, its Tuscan-inspired cuisine is delectable. Andrea runs cookery classes, too, using ingredients from his herb and vegetable gardens. A former pastry chef, he’s something of a master craftsman with pasta as well — the tortellini’s superb, complemented by Italian wine stored in the 15th-century cellar.
There’s also the Arno Spa and outdoor heated pool to try, bike rides to plan, and wine tastings and tours to book. And as for the best way describe the ‘vibe’ of the place? Effortless grace. If you were to order a beer or glass of fizz in the evening, firstly, the staff would know your names, spark up an easy conversation, and deliver a plate of canapes or snacks (happily restocked for our two children).
For a long weekend where you’re looking to explore a little and relax a lot, this is ideal, encompassing leisurely pool days and afternoon visits to Florence. (Oh, and it only rained that first day, too).
Why: An out-of-town Tuscan getaway with Florence on your doorstep. Take a 20-minute shuttle bus ride — one every hour — and you can saunter down the Ponte Vecchio or visit the Uffizi or Academia.
Suits: Ideally best for second-time visitors, as you’re not based in the centre of the city. Families with slightly older children (10 and above), who can appreciate fine dining and a ‘quietish’ pool experience.
Did it work: For burnt-out professionals like us with children, it really did work. It was our second visit to Florence so there was less pressure to sight-see. We took our time soaking in the atmosphere at our own pace, and dined in some wonderful restaurants.
The details: A three-night stay for the price of two costs from £3,930 per family (saving £950 per family), based on two adults and two children (under 12 years of age), staying in two adjoining Double Deluxe Rooms, including breakfast, economy flights from London City with British Airways, private transfers and UK lounge passes. Based on 30 March 2018 departure. elegantresorts.co.uk
Published in the 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family