Tucked away in the hills outside Siena, Villa Cignano is an idyllic and secret retreat in the heart of Chianti just made for leisurely and indulgent down time
Words Libby Norman
Tuscany is one of the most romantic place on the planet, so we’ve been shopping for the perfect bolthole on Tuscany Now & More’s website. We just know when we find ‘the one’. Rustic and authentic, Villa Cignano ticks all our boxes. It has views to die for and a gorgeous infinity pool in the garden. There’s a choice of barbecues (my companion’s clincher) and plenty of space to spread out and live the rustic Tuscan dream for one short week.
The pictures don’t lie. If anything they undersell – even though we have a difficult journey and arrive later than scheduled during an unseasonal May rainstorm. Stepping through the door we are greeted by a mellow living and dining room. Cool stone floors and simple but comfortable furnishings are the first impression. There’s a huge table, cosy sofa and chairs with bright cushions. There’s also a useful stack of local guidebooks on the antique dresser.
Having forgotten to pre-order shopping supplies and missed the supermarket after our flight delay, we are delighted to find not only breakfast supplies, but also a supper of homemade pasta bake ready to warm in the oven, and with plenty of delicious local crusty bread and a bottle of wine. As we feast at our huge table on this most welcome meal, we can’t get over how thoughtful our hosts Gianni and Rossana have been. It turns out to be the first of many wonderfully hospitable touches during our stay at Villa Cignano.
Waking early the next morning, nothing quite prepares us for the view from the terrace. The villa sits at the top of a hill in one of the most unspoilt and rural parts of Chianti. From the shaded terrace, we look out over a vista dotted with olive groves. Traditional stone houses are tucked away in neighbouring hills and through the trees to the right of the house we can even glimpse the outskirts of Siena, some ten miles away. Breakfast outside on the shaded terrace is a lazy start of strong coffee and the remains of that lovely loaf. Fortified, we set out to explore our manor. We have a choice of places to lounge – there’s a shaded loggia by the infinity pool and a third lounging area offering views to the vineyard next door.
“From our shaded terrace we look out over a vista dotted with olive groves and vineyards, and with distant views towards beautiful Siena”
The villa has been lovingly restored, maintaining its authentic thick stone walls and traditional shuttered windows. This makes it cool in the day and cosy at night. We love the well-equipped kitchen and homely touches. The one golden rule here is to always shut the gates at the top of the drive – while wild nature is most welcome, wild boar are not. The boar’s head high on the wall of the living room is a daily reminder that they have rather large tusks. And they can ruin a garden in no time in their foraging for choice plants to eat.
While we never do spot one of the beasties (although I’m rather keen to see one from a safe distance), there’s plenty of more welcome wildlife in the garden. I am entranced by the cuckoo that sits in the same tree outside the villa every morning – I can’t think of the last time I heard one back home and this fellow is in full voice. We also love the little lizards that sunbathe on the old stone walls and dart into the bushes when we pass by.
Our days are spent mostly doing very little. We’ve stocked up on supplies from the picturesque local village Vagliagli as well as making a foray to the exceptionally well-stocked supermarket on the outskirts of Siena. I enjoy throwing together simple salads from divine local produce while my companion flexes his barbecue muscles. Gianni and Rossana are on hand with excellent advice on everything from the best local butcher (Mr Cesare) to the finest wineries. They even say we are welcome to pick the rosemary and fennel that scent the garden if we want extra local flavours for our barbecues.
Sightseeing is a leisurely affair. We head off in our rental car, usually with no particular plan or schedule – part of the fun of exploring is getting a little lost and this is the place to do it as it’s jam-packed with beautiful surprises. Siena is a gorgeous spot to while away an afternoon or longer. Castellina in Chianti turns out to be a highlight, with delightful shops as well as lots of small cafés to stop and enjoy a leisurely coffee.
Tuscany Now & More has helpfully supplied a guide to 43 towns and villages we really should see, but we find the peace of our terrace way too alluring and conclude we’ll have to tick more places off the list on future visits. As anyone who has explored this part of the world knows, each visit just makes you plan a return.
On one evening, Tuscany Now & More supply an in-villa chef. We have a fantastic meal of panzanella salad, Pici all’aglione (rustic tomato and garlic sauce with hand-rolled pici pasta from Siena), perfect fried chicken with courgette pies and generous portions of exquisite homemade ice cream. Like all the meals you eat in this part of the world, our special dinner relies on a few simple but exceptional ingredients (tomatoes here are something else) lovingly prepared.
“We are so attuned to Chianti time by the end of our week that we really don’t want to return to normality”
Another highlight is our wine tasting, also booked through Tuscany Now & More and an opportunity to work our way through some of the treasures from regional wineries. Having been to wine tastings before, I’m not sure if I’m going to take much in but our Master of Wine Valentina Mazzetti is a brilliant communicator and she teaches us more in three hours than I thought possible. We spend the rest of the holiday practising the techniques we’ve learned. Assessing the ‘legs’ of wine is a most pleasant way to spend an evening on a balmy terrace looking out over the ancient hills of Chianti.
We are so attuned to Tuscan slow living by the end of our week that we really don’t want to return to normality so our final day is spent plotting when we might come back to Villa Cignano. It has to be one of the most peaceful and dreamily romantic spots for down time. Living the Tuscan life for a week in our own private villa is a proper holiday – simple food, local wine and the pleasure that comes from being together and doing nothing much at all.
Tuscany Now & More offers Villa Cignano from £1,514 for seven days. The villa is one of a wide range of properties it offers across the region. It can also provide services such as private chefs and excursions. tuscanynowandmore.com
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