Who doesn’t love Italian food? Endless mouthfuls of bruschetta, bottomless bowls of pasta and pizzas the size of a Lamborghini’s spare wheel. Delicacies from cheese to truffles to arancini to wine. Oh, and the gelato! It’s a wonder Michaelangelo’s David was in such good shape. The only thing that makes these foods taste better? Authenticity.
Which is why we’re always keen to jet off to The Boot. If a chance to fly to Florence to sample the local coffee scene comes up, we’ll be there. If Rome’s calzones beckon, we don’t have to be told twice. And, when Villa Lena, and its singular brand of sustainable, delicious agro-tourism called, we already had our bags packed.
In the heart of Tuscany, Villa Lena is more than just a retreat. On site, there are beautiful grounds, extraordinary nature and some top class vintage Italian football tables to play in your spare time. The institution also hosts a non-profit art foundation programme in its 500 hectares of untouched woodland; encouraging distracted virtuosos to escape into the wilderness and let their creative juices flow.
But we’re interested in more meaty juices; something Villa Lena thankfully — and literally — also caters for. Its farm-to-table Tuscan food offerings are second-to-none in Italy and we even tracked the international truffle trail through its charming forest last year.
The food offerings are hands-on for guests, and approached with a contemporary, ‘slow food’ approach. The menu warps and wends depending on the produce grown on site, and the chefs who cook with the ingredients are as virtuosic as the artists who stay nearby.
Visiting chefs, like artists, are also encouraged to take up residencies at Villa Lena, and each new name in the kitchen makes their own fried, roasted, par-boiled or sautéed stamp using the 2,000 square metre organic vegetable garden.
The San Michele restaurant on-site also offers some of the finest local Tuscan wines, from both small, family-run wineries and internationally renowned Tuscan winemakers. But we’d recommend swinging by for breakfast, where Villa Lena’s delectable rosemary-infused beans are on the menu. Either that, or enjoy an aperitivo hour before dinner in front of the 19th century villa.
However you enjoy Villa Lena, it is a gastronomic paradise. From Tuesday’s pizza buffets to the specialist produce on offer — the estate cultivates 5,000 Frantoio olive trees — there is something for everyone, from sweet tooths to wine connoisseurs.
But the best experience? The ‘What’s that in the woods?’ foraging and cooking experience wherein you will join the Villa’s chef-in-residence on a hike in the woods to find the tastiest natural ingredients of the season.
You’ll explore, learn and then spend time cooking — learning a recipe you can take with you back home. It’s Italian food at its very best and, let’s face it, Italian food was pretty good already…
Worried you’re cooking your pasta wrong? We asked top chefs for their best tips…