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Posted on 03 May, 2017 by KerryA

We recently enjoyed 4 days in Tuscany – a short break that felt like weeks. This was a stay that we could not recommend more.

Having flown into Pisa we picked up our hire car and drove towards the Castello di Casole estate where we were staying for one night. Castello di Casole is a 4,200 acre estate perfectly located for visits to Siena, San Gimignano and Florence. En route we stopped at Volterra the beautiful Tuscan hillside town that you may recall provided the stunning amphitheatre setting for the meeting of vampires in one of the Twilight films.

Although still early April, the sun was shining and the skies were blue as we wandered through the delightful streets inside the city walls of Volterra.

Having  just arrived in Tuscany we naturally wanted authentic Italian food and were lucky enough to find it in the first restaurant we walked into. Lucca, the owner, had spent 8 years working in Yorkshire and was happy to recommend the best of local Tuscan cuisine.  His wife, the chef, made us divine chicken liver pate which we savoured with gusto.

Our starter was a sharing dish- a beautiful selection of local Tuscan salamis and prosciuttos served with pickled vegetables and home made bread which we dipped in local olive oil. This was washed down with local Chianti Classico and followed by delicious home made pastas. The spinach and ricotta ravioli in sage butter was a delicate dish with exquisite flavours and Stephen enjoyed home made tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms.

After our stop in Volterra we headed through the unspoilt countryside to Castello di Casole. This is an unspoilt 4,200 acre estate just half an hour from Siena. Part of the US Timbers group, this estate is truly one of a kind. There is a choice of hotel accommodation or if you prefer you can rent one of the beautiful farmhouses on the estate.

We meandered up the dirt track roads dividing the vineyards and olive groves up a long drive lined with Cypress trees to the stunning 5 star Timbers resort hotel which stood out on the hill top in its burnt sienna colours.

The Maitre d’ met us and whilst our bags were being collected from the car we were offered chilled Prosecco to sip by the large open fireplace. We were then whisked up to our beautiful room (which was really more of a suite than a room). Decorated in warm Italian colours with views of the courtyard on one side and the magnificent gardens and Tuscan landscape on the other we were in Heaven.

On our dressing table were wonderful local gifts from the management including local estate pressed olive oil, honey from the estate and Chianti Classico from the vineyeyards of Castello di Casoli.

We enjoyed views from the infinity pool overlooking the Tuscan hills and the hilltop town of  Casole d’Elsa in the distance and after a long soak in the expansive en suite bathroom we were ready for dinner.

Our choices were a casual supper in the stunning Visconti Bar which serves pastas and other local foods or the more formal Tosca restaurant. We opted for Ristorante Tosca. As foodies we were not disappointed. We thought we were ordering a 3 course meal but with all the complimentary taster courses before and in between we probably ate around 6 or 7 courses. Fortunately the ‘appetisers’ were small but each one was divine. A diffusion of flavours to ignite the taste buds. This was without doubt one of the best meals I have ever tasted and the staff achieved successfully that difficult balance between formality and cordiality. They could not have been better.

Our first ‘appetiser’ was a delicate dish of asparagus lightly battered in a vegetable sauce. This was followed by an assortment of Tuscan meats and cheeses served with locally made truffle honey.

Another complimentary appetizer followed. An abundance of flavours combined in a small bowl, this was something between a warm soup and a puree with spinach, chick peas and cannellini beans all simmered in a delicate flavoursome broth.

Our next dish I will remember forever. It was a tri-colore pasta dish with wild boar ragout. This was an unusual assortment of egg pasta, spinach pasta and chocolate pasta wrapped around a delicious ragout. The flavours were sensational and the chocolate pasta was a wonderful mix of dark chocolate flavours and textures without being sweet in the slightest.

Even though we declined dessert, a beautiful glass dish of miniature home-made macaroons, strawberry mille-feuille and chocolate profiteroles appeared and, of course, were devoured within minutes.

When we returned to our room the ‘turn down service’ lights had dimmed the lights and there was romantic music playing.  It was the perfect end to a perfect evening.

After breakfast the next morning we visited the spa - another culinary experience for the body and soul. Many of the products in the spa are made from local produce including olive oil, flowers, herbs and spices grown on the estate.

There is so much to do on this estate and sadly we did not have time to enjoy all the activities. There are safaris in the woods at dusk to view the deer, the wild boar and the huge hares. This is a unique family activity to be enjoyed by all. The trails are perfect for hiking, jogging or cycling and for those who enjoy food you may wish to partake in a cookery course in the display kitchen with friends, family and a local chef. If you like you can ‘rentamama’ who will take you around the local food markets and cook for you in your villa or farmhouse.  Kids can make their own pizzas in the Pazzia restaurant while parents laze by the pool or enjoy spa treatments only to enjoy the fruits of their children’s labour afterwards. Pazzia means ‘crazy’ and the name is a play on ‘crazy’ and ‘pizza’.

After a delicious cappuccino in the Bar Visconti which has historically been host to Sophia Lauren, Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon we reluctantly dragged ourselves away from Castello di Casole and within half an hour we were exploring the beautiful cobbled streets of Siena.

Siena is a town to behold with its magnificent outer walls and beautiful squares and churches where, before the Palio horse races, horses are welcomed into the churches to be blessed.

After a lazy afternoon in Siena we drove south towards Florence where our next stop was at Villa Massa, sister hotel of the internationally renowned Villa D’Este on Lake Como.

Entering the grand hallway of Villa Massa was like stepping back in time. This villa used to be owned by a prominent Italian family who used it as a retreat and a retreat it still is. Set on the banks of the River Arno it is hard to imagine a hotel that could be better located. With a hotel shuttle bus leaving every hour you can be in Florence in 15 minutes but return from the hustle and bustle of Florence to this haven of tranquillity. Service at this hotel is second to none. The waiters and waitresses just want to please and afternoon tea in the gardens by the river is a must.

Stefano the manager, is a charming, friendly gentleman who immediately made us feel welcome and in safe hands. He could not have been more helpful and kind during our stay. Gregory, who is responsible for sales and marketing at La Massa and Villa D’Este was also charming and great company. We could not have felt more at home or received a warmer welcome.

We dined with other guests at La Massa and were booked on a Ferrari experience for the following day. After a briefing at 9am we set off for an experience of a lifetime-this is definitely a ‘bucket list’  item.

What could be better than driving an Italian super car around the Chianti region of Tuscany? The car, the route, the entourage- it was like living a dream. The car was the new Ferrari 488 Spider which at the time of driving it we were told was not available in the UK.

The company who organised this driving event were exceptional. With a focus on safety, in the comfort of our tan leather upholstered Ferrari, we followed the pilot car in front of us who had mapped out the route. Driven by Lorenzo, the pilot car dictated a safe speed for us to  travel in the Ferrari on the winding Tuscan roads. Lorenzo thought nothing of putting his foot down ahead of us signalling that we could do the same and so we enjoyed the thrill of acceleration and the roar of this beautiful car as it purred around the beautiful Italian countryside. The memory of this experience will live with me forever. Instead of counting sheep at night I now remember the thrill of piloting this high spirited streamlined vehicle around the lanes that weave between the Chianti vineyards.

It was not just about the driving though. Our route was a circular one through the Chianti wine region and we stopped in some beautiful places.

First stop was a monastery where monks had lived for 800 years before being ordered off the land by French troops. The monastery was subsequently sold to an Italian banker, Joseph Givntini, whose family have owned it ever since.  Now host to small weddings with a few guest bedrooms to be rented, the main business of the monastery is the production of wine and olive oil.

We were shown the crypt where the monks had once been buried for centuries. When it was discovered that their bodies were so well preserved they were moved to a nearby cemetery to make way for the barrels of wine which also needed to be well preserved!

The wine is stored in either French oak or Austrian oak barrels which for 20 to 25 years will provide a distinctive flavour to the wine as it matures into the famous Chianti Classico which is now sold worldwide.

Not only did we drive a Ferrari around the Tuscan countryside but en route we learnt of the history, vineyards and the wine making process in this beautiful country.

After the tour of the Italian gardens and wine cellars in the monastery we enjoyed a light lunch at a restaurant on site and then drove on through this wonderful landscape to the Castillo de Brollo. This is a magnificent castle built in the 10th century which was bought in 1141 by the powerful Ricasole family who turned the castle into a fortress.

When, at the end of the 1500s the two cities of Siena and Florence stopped fighting Bettino Ricasole who was the 32nd generation of Ricasoles to live there built a private church on the site and also a new red brick building which is still home today to the Ricasole family when they visit. Bettino Ricasole was an incredible man. He was a talented artist, he was mayor and he was prime minister for 2 separate terms. He was a great supporter of unification in Italy. Bettino dedicated the last 20 years of his life to studying the Tuscan soils, land and climate that would produce the best wines. He even blended wines made from grapes from other parts of the region to improve his wines for sales world over. It is clear to see from everything he turned his hand to what a perfectionist this man was and what a legacy he left behind.

After an action packed, adrenaline filled day it was back to the sanctuary of Villa Massa and sadly we had to say goodbye to the car which had been our beloved companion for the day.

After yet another wonderful dinner in La Massa we set off the next day to explore the churches, galleries, shopping and gelaterias of Florence. Although we had visited Florence several times before we were not disappointed.

Our last day was spent cycling in and around the walls of Lucca which is just an hour away from Pisa airport. If you haven’t visited Lucca it is an absolute must. Lucca is a typical Italian walled town with magnificent views from the walkways and cycle paths over the hills of Tuscany. Within the walls itself are wonderful eateries, cafes, quaint boutique hotels, churches and shops.  We hired bicycles and cycled around the town in the sunshine stopping at a gorgeous restaurant on the city walls to enjoy antipasti and truffle pastas followed by Pecorino cheeses and home-made Italian bread and olive oil.

Just 4 nights away and we felt we had been away for weeks. Italy offers more than a destination, it offers a way of life. If you would like to enjoy a similar Tuscan experience, swhether with or without the Ferrari, contact us at or call us on 0845 017 6707. We will be happy to advise and to arrange a trip of a lifetime for you.

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