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Your Own Private Tuscany

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Among many, Massimo Ferragamo included, the Val d’Orcia is considered the most beautiful part of Tuscany. Not only is the region blessed with a particularly felicitous landscape and bathed in that celestiallike sunlight seemingly unique to Tuscany (and perhaps Provence) but there is also something else. This part of Tuscany, Ferragamo will tell you, has changed—or “been” changed—very little. By the hand of man. Or modern times. “Other parts of Tuscany,” says Ferragamo, a rare expression of disdain making its way across his face, followed by a gesture of both hands coming first together and then apart as if illustrating an explosion of some kind, “have been, well…” Changed forever? Abused? Overrun? Destroyed? Ferragamo stops midsentence. He is, after all, the perfect Florentine gentleman, not the sort to speak ill of his fellow Tuscans. Nor is he likely to voluntarily impugn the intentions of those hoteliers, winemakers, real estate agents, merchants, and hucksters who, if they had their way, would turn Tuscany into a theme park of holiday rentals, souvenir shops, and touristy trattorias.

Right now I’m with Ferragamo in his Audi S4 going at what seems to be, on these narrow antique roads, breakneck speed—“I’m not driving too fast for you, am I?” he asks, again, the most polite man on the face of the earth. “Chiara never lets me drive like this!” he says of his wife with a laugh and another blast down another hill. We’re en route to Castiglion del Bosco, the private membership club and estate just 60 miles from Florence and a short drive from the hill towns of Pienza and Montalcino. Ferragamo has been working round the clock for the last five years. He’s poured heart, soul, and millions into the property. No wonder he’s in a hurry to show it to me.

“Too fast? Not at all,” I lie, trying to sound like the second-most polite man in Tuscany. I grip the door handle. Ferragamo’s actually a very good driver—and a very careful one. Compared with other Italians I’ve driven with? Forget about it.

Views, albeit whizzing by, are amazing—perfectly proportioned undulating hills drenched in the colors of spring and looking as though they were painted by one of the old Renaissance masters in Siena, some 45 minutes from Castiglion. More twisting and turning and then...we’re here. Whew! I wipe my brow, step out of the car, and....

Now, this is perfection, feels like home. Ahh, would that it were. Ten hours before, I left a gray chilly New York and now seem to have stepped back in time—cypresses line the private main road of the property and there is, it appears, a small village. Later I learn this is the hotel part, called Il Borgo, 26 suites and guest rooms among the remains of an ancient castle ruin and a 13th-century church whose frescoes have undergone a one-year restoration. Below these post-Renaissance buildings is the first sign of modernity: an infinity pool that appears to stretch over the entire valley. As far as the eye can see, there are....But, wait. That comes later. I’m getting ahead of the story.

Five years ago Massimo Ferragamo decided to act on what friends had been telling him for years. “They kept saying, ‘Massimo, we would love to have a place in Tuscany but without the hassle of owning a place in Tuscany.’ I knew exactly what they meant.”

Of course he did. But then, Ferragamos always do. The name itself has become synonymous with Italian style, one of the most instantly recognizable in international fashion. Massimo was three when his father, Salvatore, died. He grew up in Florence and holidayed in Tuscany (though not this part); these days he splits his time between an apartment in Manhattan, a country house in Millbrook, New York, a 16th-century palazzo on the Arno in Florence, and Castiglion. On paper Massimo is the chairman of Ferragamo USA, a tireless businessman who oversees the entire Ferragamo operation in America. In person he’s a 51-year-old husband/father/weekend athlete and visionary whose passion is Tuscany. “I couldn’t imagine doing this anyplace else,” he says, “but then Tuscany somehow seems to be part of all of our interior landscapes. Without us even knowing it, and without having to be Italian, we some- how understand the beauty. It is a magical combination of magical elements that does not exist anywhere else in the world, if you really think about it.”

In 2003 Massimo and his business partner, Corky Severson, a developer from Newport Beach, California, bought Castiglion, an 800-year-old estate on 4,500 acres in the Val d’Orcia. Since then they’ve put together a group of investors—family and friends among them— committed to creating a membership-only club and, along the way, restoring and protecting an ancient landscape. “The remarkable thing,” says Massimo, “was that this particular tract of land had not, like so many of the properties in the region, been broken up and sold off in parcels.”

On the first of my two visits to Castiglion del Bosco, a year ago, elaborate irrigation systems were still being dug, scaffolding was everywhere, and the lush fields and hillsides were being plowed under and replanted. As the roads were being built, water connections, fiber optics, and electricity lines were installed underground, which allowed for the removal of more than 250 electrical posts that were scattered throughout the property and marred the landscape. Archaeological digs in the area have confirmed that Etruscans occupied the very same land as far back as 600 B.C. and prized its elevated position as a military lookout. Most important, though, it was a stop on the Via Francigena, the route traveled by those making the pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome. The original castello, now in glorious ruins but painstakingly restored and relandscaped, was built in A.D. 1100 in the style of the Middle Ages.

Castiglion del Bosco is a first for Italy: a top-of-the-line private club whose members have access to 20 original stone farmhouses, refreshed as rural villas. Its winery is the fifth largest for the Brunello di Montalcino denomination in Tuscany, producing some of the region’s finest Brunello. Membership includes equity in the vineyard, and at the winery itself a members-only vault has been designed as a beautiful rotunda where each member has a dedicated storage bin for keeping treasured bottles. Wild boar, partridge, and pheasant hunting is organized by the property’s game warden, Maurizio Bartoletti. Horseback riding, swimming, and cooking lessons at a school watched over by Chiara are also available. Work has already started on a Tom Weiskopf–designed golf course—a rarity in Tuscany—and a spa is being developed under the guidance of Anne Bramham, who did the same for the Montage hotels and resorts in Laguna Beach and Beverly Hills.

Not surprisingly, membership does not come cheap. Massimo will offer no more than 120 at two million euros each. So far he has sold 35.

“But we’re being very careful about how we pick our members and how we create a membership,” he says.

“Careful?” I ask. “Meaning what, exactly?”

He tells me that he wants to make sure that Castiglion del Bosco is a harmonious universe. He is, after all, creating his own handpicked second family and wants the right mix of personalities, professions, pedigrees—and nationalities. At a time when China, Russia, and India are churning out billionaires with the money to travel and buy, buy, buy like crazy, Massimo is playing it careful.

For two years nearly 200 people worked here round the clock: gardeners, stonecutters, contractors, painters, decorators, and architects. The list is endless. Even though this is, strictly speaking, a Massimo Ferragamo project in which the Ferra- gamo fashion clan is not di-rectly involved, he couldn’t help but bring aboard a few family members. Chiara, his smart, ineffably chic wife, and her friend, designer Teresa Bürgisser Sancristoforo, are doing the decorating throughout the property. Massimo’s brother-in-law, Marco Battaggia, is handling all the landscaping. (Battaggia, I should add, also created the dazzling gardens for Sting and his wife, Trudie, at their Tuscan home.)

And some of Massimo’s very best friends are the charter members—take hairstylist Frédéric Fekkai and his très chic wife, Shirin von Wulffen. Fekkai and Ferragamo met ten years ago playing soccer at Massimo’s weekend house in Millbrook. Fekkai knew immediately he wanted to be part of the club. “Because I am half French—well, I was thinking at first of getting a place in Provence, but Castiglion del Bosco is one of the rarest environments ever created by God or man. The food, the wines, it’s simply one of the most beautiful places on earth.”

So what did you expect?” asked a friend when I returned to a dull, wintry New York after five days under the Tuscan sun. “Massimo’s devoted the past five years to the place. As for Chiara? She has the best taste of anyone I know.” Like Massimo, Chiara was born in Florence, but she was raised in the north, in a city called Belluno, where her father, Count Giacomo Miari Fulcis, grew up. “Fast, sharp, and very independent” is how Massimo describes his wife. “Anything she does,” he adds, “she does perfectly.” You see that in how Chiara and Sancristoforo decorated and accessorized each of the very different 17th- and 18th-century stone houses on the estate. The list of artisanal craftsmen is staggering. There’s cut crystal from La Moleria Locchi, a 19th-century Florentine bottega; carpets handmade in Milan; door handles in the bathroom and bronze finishes throughout custom made by Il Bronzetto, a small atelier in Florence specializing in bronze. There are baskets by the weaving company Giotto Scaramelli, lampshades customized by Casa Wolf, and cutlery from the silver specialists at Valsodo. Curtains, linens, towels, and robes were made by Emanuele Castellini of Milan-based C&C. Everything leather was done by Maurizio Gheri, the kitchens by Riccardo Barthel, and all the antique wood–furniture restoration by artisan-restorer Gianfranco Tognaccini, also known as Chiara and Sancristoforo’s right-hand man. Even the luxurious little green velvet slippers left at bed-side every night were made especially for Castiglion.

In an age when very little is still crafted by hand and most everything comes in multiples of ten million from China and India, when handmade anything is vetoed as taking too much time, too much money, too much effort, the Ferragamos recognize and cherish such details. But the world of Castiglion, while deeply resonant with history and authenticity, traditional and artisanal ways, is not about living in the past. “I have no interest in walling off myself—or my guests—in some sort of cloistered world,” says Massimo, pointing out that the great advantage here is that one has access to so much—you can drive to Siena in about 45 minutes or have dinner at his favorite restaurant in Montalcino, less than half an hour away. “I don’t think luxury should mean hiding from the rest of the world or doing something that separates us from them,” he says. “Luxury is the chance to embrace everything that’s wonderful and worth experiencing.”


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