Arguably the most beautiful region of Italy and certainly one of its most cultural, here are just a few highlights and points of reference when navigating across the rolling Tuscan Hills in search of some hidden cultural wonders.
I Giardino Dei Tarocchi by Niki de Saint Phalle
Something of a Bohemian Rhapsody, De Saint Phalle’s Giardino dei Tarocchi can be found in all its whimsical glory, a stone throw from the mediaeval town of Capalbio. With a nod to the likes of greats such as Gaudi or Pollock, I Giardino dei Tarocchi, was somewhat a labour of love for De Saint Phalle, which she privately funded and opened in 1998. The sculpture garden set in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, is made up of 22 elaborate houses, each based on a card taken from a deck of Tarot cards. Each house is comprised of a kitchen, a living room and a meditation space. “Life is a game of cards whose rules we do not know” is the central message that De Saint Phalle ascribed to her eccentric sculptures, that receive hundreds of visitors every year.
If you are looking to savour some of the finest wine whilst being surrounded by the most beautiful works of art, produced by the esteemed contemporary artist Sandro Chia, then look no further than spending a day in the enchanting fortress of Montalcino. The somewhat imposing 12-century fortress and surrounding estate boasts 11 hectares of bountiful vineyard. Acquired by the great artist in 1984, Chia has since lovingly restored the estate to its former glory, which is now a showcase for his many masterpieces as well as hosting some of the most amazing selection of wines, grappa and olive oil. The winery has been producing wine for the past 20 years which is nothing short of exceptional, already receiving many accolades worldwide. Most recently Chia has established an impressive 3000 square meter cantina located within the castle. An ode both to the wine which it produces but of course the fine art which can be found there, the marriage of the two creates a stunning and most fascinating setting which is truly unique not to mention enriching for all the senses. Chia famously says that the wine produced is meant to embody the owner’s dedication and strive to artistic perfection. Castello di Romitorio’s wines include: Brunello di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Romito del Romitorio, Rosso di Montalcino, Ghiaccio Forte, Morellino di Scansano, Chianti Colli Senesi, and their white wine Costanza.
Tenuta la Parrina is one of the oldest historic farms that lies between the low hills of the Tuscan Maremma in a spectacular landscape with olive trees, wine yards and fields of grain. This Agriturismo is beautifully kept and not only offers guests a place to stay with 12 rooms and 4 apartments, but also a chance to visit the vineyard, dairy and nursery, as well as offering cooking lessons or indeed savouring the local produce in their Farm shop or Restaurant. There is little you can't do here, even if it's just to come away with a pot of honey, to savour the warmth and hospitality that can be felt at this renowned establishment, hence the reason that many flock here throughout the year.
Immersed in the green woodland and perched up high in the hills of Monte Argentario, is the Convento degli Passionisti, a truly serene and inspiring spot for those who love nature, history or indeed good food - there is so much to be discovered in this secluded peaceful spot. Following the road which links Orbetello with Porto Santo Stefano one can find the route leading up to the Passionisti. Constructed in 1737 by S. Paolo della Croce, after a miraculous vision, in which the Virgin Mary indicated the exact parameter in which the Convent should be constructed. A beautiful building not to mention the splendid panoramic views of Orbetello and the Laguna in the far distance. I originally was taken here by family friends who have had a villa on the west coast of Monte Argentario for many years. In fact it was just after a Polo Match one late summer evening that we were all left rather ravenous, having undergone the strenuous task of sipping some potent sangria and watching the match unravel, languidly in the sun. It was decided that I Passionisti was the place to go to satisfy our empty stomachs. We reached the winding road up to the Monastery which opened out onto a main square. It was there that we were taken to a rather unassuming self service restaurant run by the monastery. With the initial mild disdain we filled up our paper plates with porcini crostini, polenta and wild boar, and sat down to the most delicious and wholesome meal, that I still remember to this day! A truly off the beaten track gem of a place, which is rustic, charming and the perfect way to spend an easygoing summer's evening amongst foodie friends!
Forte Stella is a handsome watchtower built just above Porto Ercole by the Spanish, amid the 16th century. Whilst there were many towers erected at this time there are few that are open to visitors and as spectacular as this. The fort is made up of two interlocking towers which give the impressive building its name "Forte Stella" The inner fort is star shaped with towering walls and a sentry walk that protect a large open terrace below. To give one an idea of its history, the main entrance was once guarded by a wooden drawbridge and is instead today crowned by an archway with two large crests. Forte Stella is open to the public to explore throughout the year. The interiors are handsome and alone worth the visit, but really the views are what will leave you bewitched.
Also worth noting down, are the many exhibits and myriad of events and garden parties that pop up throughout the summer months.