I’m a big fan of Dolce Vita and I was really happy when I was invited to Valdarno to experience it as a guest at Villa La Palagina in Figline Valdarno. And here what I like about this dolce experience in Valdarno!
Valdarno, Mona Lisa’s background
First off let’s talk about the area. Valdarno is the valley of Arno river and it’s enclosed in the provinces of Florence and Arezzo. It’s extremely close to Chianti and Casentino and offers great landscapes with vineyards, olive groves, green fields, grand canyons and woods.
It’s definitively an off-the-beaten path destination, even though it’s full of lovely towns, hamlets, farms and local artisans. According to scholars the Valdarno valley is the background pictured by Leonardo da Vinci in the famous Mona Lisa painting. In more recent times, the rock star Sting bought a large property here in Valdarno, where he produces wine, olive oil and finds his inner peace.
This is just to say, how underestimate this area is, and also to remark its hidden beauty.
From Cheese to Cashmere drinking Chianti wine
Just outside the city center of Figline Valdarno, one of the main towns in the valley, there is Podere Casa al Bosco. It’s a small farm run by two sisters, Ada and Sandra, who took over the family business few years ago, quitting their jobs and re-discovery the pleasure of life in the countryside.
Ada and Sandra have about 200 sheep, 5 goats, 3 cats and 2 dogs (and each one has a name!). Every day they prepare fresh ricotta cheese as well as different types of cheese. They take care of everything in their farm: grazing the animals, milking and feeding them, making their delicious products. Their products are 100% organic, fresh and delicious, as well as made with a secret ingredient: passion.
You can buy Ada and Sandra cheese directly at the farm of every Saturday morning at local market in Greve in Chianti. I suggest to taste the ricotta and the giuncata cheese, kind of cottage cheese wrapped in a large leaf of rushes, that is made following their grandma’s recipe.
From cheese to cashmere in about 20 minutes drive. From Valdarno to Chianti to discover the Cashmere Chianti made by Nara, a New Yorker who moved to Italy when she was an 18 years old art student. She felt in love with Tuscany, bought a derelict farm in the surroundings of Radda in Chianti and 2 goats to eat weeds around the property. Since then she got so passionate for goats that now she owns 230 goats!
Nora’s goats are special, because are cashmere goats and produce one of the best cashmere in the world. She was the very first to raise these peculiar animals in Europe and nowadays she is famous all around the world for her high quality product, as well as one of the maximum experts in the field. I should say that I can understand her love for goats: they have such funny faces that it’s impossible not to love them.
Chianti Cashmere company produces about 100 kilos of yarn per year that Nora uses to make exclusive handmade products such as scarves, shawls, blankets and other extremely soft items. Nora’s cashmere is probably the softest textile I ever touched in my life, as well as one of the finest sold in few chic boutiques all around the world. The farm and shop are open daily and I recommend you stop by, especially if you want to buy something really unique made in Tuscany.
Not far from Nara’s cashmere farm there is the Castle of Albola in the heart of Chianti Classico. Since the middle ages this castle has been property of important Tuscany families, such as Acciaioli and Pazzi. Since 1979 it’s been property of the Zonin family, who turned the property into a famous wine property with 160 hectares of vineyards.
Castle of Albola, that is completely surrounded by vineyards, produces renowned wines that won several awards over the years, such as Acciaiolo red wine produced in limited quantity and the Chianti Classico Riserva red wine perfect for a rich Tuscan meal. I loved also Albola vinsanto, that was the perfect end for a great tasting lunch. As a matter of fact inside the castle you can take a guided tour to the wine cellars, go for a wine tasting and shop for some great Chianti Classico wine.
La Dolce Vita at Villa La Palagina
Villa La Palagina is a 3 star hotel and resort, offering a luxury accommodation in Valdarno. It’s located on top of hill, surrounded by olive trees and vineyards, just outside the city center of Figline Valdarno (train station is about 6 minutes driving). In the neighborhood there is all also il Palagio, Sting’s wine estate.
The villa offers a cozy and elegant atmosphere, as well as high quality services. It has 27 rooms and each one is different. I had Michelangelo’s room with a small balcony overlooking the countryside, a comfortable canopy bed and a large black and white bathroom. The resort offers also three large country houses for rent located inside the large estate, that offers self-catering accommodation but also all hotel’s services.
Unfortunately the weather was still cold and I couldn’t enjoy the two panoramic pools, but it was extremely pleasant to have an aperitivo at sunset in the garden, as well as having an open air lunch. As a matter of fact La Palagina has a restaurant that offers great Tuscan food, prepared by chef Federico. He’s really passionate for his job and creates delicious meals according to traditional recipes but adding a contemporary touch in every plate.
Chef Federico is also a good teacher: I took a cooking class with him where I learned how to prepare one of my favorite recipes, pappa al pomodoro, as well as handmade pasta to make tortelli with fresh ricotta cheese. He also taught us how to make schiacciata and bread. Every thing was made with local products coming from the area and prepared using extra virgin olive oil, produced by La Palagina that is also part of Laudemio organization.
Last but not least, Eric, the hotel manager, is the secret ingredient to make this place quite unique. He really knows how to do his job and how to spoil every single guest. He has a smile and a good suggestion for every one. He runs this villa has a big family and this is what makes the atmosphere welcoming and relaxed. Eric turned La Palagina from a countryside hotel into a luxury resort, such a great place to get the taste of Tuscany Dolce Vita!
- Villa La Palagina, the perfect base to explore Tuscany – as I said at the beginning Valdarno is underestimated, since it’s extremely close to Florence city center, Chianti and offers beautiful views over the countryside. You reach Florence with a 30 minutes train ride, Arezzo in about 40 minutes, while you can drive to Radda in Chianti in about 20 minutes.
- Off-the-beaten path – Valdarno is pretty unknown, so if you’re looking for the real Tuscany, well this is a good place.
- Reasonable prices – it’s not a tourist destination, therefore prices for accommodations are much lower than Florence and Chiantishire. In addition if you could travel off-season you can have great deals.
- Shopping – in Valdarno, more precisely in Reggello there The Mall, the famous designers’ outlet where you can buy Gucci, Prada and other luxury brands at discounted prices.