Villa La Massa review: truffle-hunting at a Tuscan haven
A Medici-era villa tucked away in the countryside
Time spent in Tuscany is time spent noting how every bit of produce, from tomatoes to truffles to cheese and wine, just seems perfect. It is time spent thinking about how dreamy the hills, smattered with lightly crumbling villas, look. And it is time spent wondering how so much history and culture could have been crammed into a few square kilometers.
If you are looking to do all of that in style, look no further than the five-star Villa La Massa.
Built in 1525 as a country home for the aristocratic Landini family, the mansion is tucked away on the banks of the meandering Arno river. It is now run by the Villa d’Este group (known for its eponymous hotel in Lake Como), and has been a luxury hotel since 1948. During that period, Villa La Massa has hosted the likes of Gregory Peck, Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – not to mention the wedding of David Bowie.
The 51-room hotel totals five buildings, styled in subtly different ways but all adhering to a strict Tuscan theme. Even the fabrics used in the custom-made bedding are locally made, using traditional techniques. The scattered set-up means groups of any size can find the right configuration for their stay, whether that means renting a full house for the extended family, renting an apartment, or taking separate rooms.
In the original villa, the décor is most historical, but in any room you will feel like a renaissance royal. The marble bathrooms, for example, are ridiculously vast.
The grounds are being expanded this winter in order for a larger pool to be fitted – a pool currently sits unobtrusively in the middle of the grounds, with lounge chairs and lunch tables overlooking the river dotted around it. A ten-minute walk will get you around the grounds of Villa La Massa, which include an olive grove, a chef’s garden and a unique iris garden, though the latter is not in bloom year-round.
Il Verrocchio, the hotel’s restaurant, is outstanding; luscious pasta, exquisite steak tartare, and, of course, truffles on absolutely everything – including vanilla ice-cream. The resturant also specialises in the softest and most flavourful lobster imaginable. It is unmissable. The menu is also choc-full of Florentine specialties, like gnudi – ricotta and spinach dumplings – and cantuccini, the local equivalent of biscotti. Guests are even offered the opportunity to come for cooking workshops with the chef, who will proudly tell you all about Tuscany’s cuisine.
If it is local specialties you are after, in the Autumn, Villa La Massa also offers one extra special treat, truffle-hunting with real-life princesses. The hotel can arrange for you to spend the afternoon being led around the historic Cusona estate (beloved holiday spot of Tony and Cherie Blair), by the descendants of one of Florence’s oldest noble families (and also, according to them, the Mona Lisa), the princesses Natalia and Irina Strozzi.
Having just a few years ago discovered a treasure-trove of truffles on their grounds, the princesses take you on a stroll with professional truffle-hunting dogs, and, if you’re lucky, you can watch hundreds of pounds worth of truffles get dug up right in front of your nose. Afterwards, you can sample your haul with some of the family’s own wine.
Back at the hotel, you can relax with a massage in the gorgeously quiet Arno spa. Or, if you’re feeling like burning some calories off, you can take to the gym. You can, in about an hour and a half, even walk to Florence, but the hotel also offers a shuttle service. The 20 minute drive really makes it feel like the city is just on your doorstep.
The Villa feels just as it was intended to feel in 1525 – a country getaway that is in such easy reach of the bustling city that you can choose each day whether you want to take in the serenity of rural Tuscany or head to Florence for some sight-seeing. Villa La Massa manages to preserve the atmosphere of its Medici-era origins, while shunning oppressive stuffiness.
And, from the morning spent at the enormous breakfast buffet, to the turn-down service, you’ll feel so looked after you might just find yourself with the urge to lock yourself in your suite and never leave.
Stay at Villa La Massa from €490 (approx. £430) per room per night, based on two people sharing on a bed and breakfast basis. Price also includes use of the Arno SPA facilities (including gym, sauna, Turkish baths). Price includes VAT and service. City tax excluded. See villalamassa.com