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HIGH UPON A hill of tuff and sandstone, within the golden triangle of Tuscany’s medieval city-states of Florence, Siena, and Pisa, sits a coral and cantaloupe-pink villa. The surrounding grounds are lush in tones of green, sepia, and ochre, depending on the temperament of the seasons; the earth is abundant. It’s early spring, and the temperature has climbed into the high 60s. The villa, a nineteenth-century structure at the center of a 1,200-acre property, was reborn in the last decade as a meeting place for pleasureful respite and creative communion. Its chatelaine is Lena Evstafieva, and Villa Lena is her brainchild.

What exactly is Villa Lena, you may wonder? At the most basic level, it’s an agriturismo hotel and artist residency combined. While that might sound confusing, I can assure you, as a guest, it is a delight of curious surprises, satisfying to each of the five senses; it’s a place where the eye always wanders, floral and herbal aromas spontaneously abound, and children’s laughter and birdsong commingle in the air. The palate is aroused at every meal and the decorative surfaces just beg to be gently stroked. “It’s a very personal project, a labor of love. It’s a project to celebrate how beautiful the simple pleasures of life really are,” Evstafieva tells me as we sip her villa-grown biodynamic sangiovese on the terrace of the hotel’s restaurant. Around us, cascading clusters of azure and mauve wisteria wrap around old-growth trees and iron gates, and swallows swirl overhead. “The villa is not a luxury product, yet it is luxury in its approach to hospitality because it celebrates what is integral to our being,” says Evstafieva. She is tall with sculptural features, her manner stoic with an air of efficiency. As we chat and graze on salumi and a variety of fermented cabbages (plucked from the ever-yielding vegetable garden and pickled over the winter months), I learn more about the woman behind the hotel and art foundation — its queen and head worker bee.

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‘My husband is a music producer, and with my art background, we wanted to create a space where ideas from different creative fields can be exchanged, and to bring that into the space of a hotel experience.’

The property is a playground for Evstafieva’s imagination. “The villa is an ever-changing, ever-evolving living entity,” she explains. “It brings together all the different things that matter to me.” A private person, she prefers to lead with her refined aesthetic. After working as curator at Moscow’s Garage Center for Contemporary Art and director of London’s Pace Gallery, she began to feel uninspired by the self-referential attitudes and repeated methodologies of the urbane art world. Yet creation and artistic practices are the starting place of Villa Lena. “My husband is a music producer, and with my art background, we wanted to create a space where ideas from different creative fields can be exchanged, and to bring that into the space of a hotel experience,” Evstafieva tells me. “All the impulses and inspirations are from encounters with other creative people.”

The central villa serves as the residence for visiting artists. It remains nearly intact with the original dining suite in situ, complete with frescoed ceiling. Guests can walk through the ground floor, but the upstairs is for the exclusive use of those who have come to make their work here. The former stable houses fully equipped studios for painting, ceramics, woodwork, and audio design. “Points of interaction” between artists and hotel guests of all ages are included in the daily schedule. For Evstafieva, who is a mother to two school-age children, it was important that there be no barriers to participation in imaginative experiences, and so “creative workshops [with the resident artists] are designed to be accessible for both children and adults.” I confirmed her assertion when, alongside an enthusiastic tween and her distracted younger sibling, I partook in an Ikebana class led by a floral artist from the Midwest. I can report that my arrangement — of apple-blossom branch and delicate wildflower, which I had proudly foraged and clipped myself — elicited less enthusiasm for its dynamics of rhythm, density, and intensity than those of my delighted classmates.

Special evenings are given over to artist aperitivi, a more dolce vita version of an artist studio visit. Art is everywhere. A condition of the program is that every creator leaves a piece behind that was inspired by their stay. “We now have a significant collection of pieces that we hang throughout the hotel, communal areas, and rooms, as well as install in the landscape for all of our visitors to explore,” says Evstafieva. As patron, curator, and art installer in chief, she is rightly proud of the body of work she has amassed.

The interiors do not correspond to any particular era. Five buildings provide a variety of accommodations: there are 18 rooms, five apartments, and two multi-bedroom vacation houses, all totaling up to 85 guests. Each of the spaces is unique, with its own feel and palette. The unifying theme is one of good taste, glazed with a lived-in and loved patina. Objects of exceptional design, like the massive multitiered tutti-frutti-colored Carlo Scarpa chandelier hanging over the reception area, share space with no-name but well-built divans upholstered in Liberty-esque prints. Time collapses as furniture and decorative objects from different eras of Italian design — all sourced by Evstafieva at local flea markets, or custom-made by neighboring artisans — are set against architectural details both tiled and marbled, creating a pastiche of high design meets folk craft. Every detail is right at home. Each item is considered, giving identity and pride of place to intentional imperfection, which elicits a counterintuitive feeling of nested care and aesthetically satisfying perfection. Yet nothing is so precious that touching (or smelling) would be frowned upon.

Evstafieva’s approach to the development of the villa is principled and determined. Every year, the off-season is given over to a new idea: a restoration or the installation of a system to make the grounds more sustainable and efficient for the long term. In the name of sustainability, she admits to points of occasional friction: room air conditioners are equipped with sensors “in order to discourage guests from using them to cool the room while opening the windows. We do not allow that. When the windows are opened, the air-conditioning shuts off.” Guests, take note!


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Nature’s bounty features prominently in the villa’s operations, most notably at the restaurant and its accompanying vegetable garden. Over three acres are reserved for year-round cultivation of organic legumes, vegetables, and fruit. Gigi, the head gardener, has full autonomy over the plantings, as he is well acquainted with the many moods of this particular soil; he’s always lived just down the hill. He works in tandem with head chef Marco, who, according to Evstafieva “just wants to cook seasonal food, what’s given by the garden. And the menu is dictated by that.” Dishes are unpretentious, fresh, and simple, with a sophisticated twist, like the braised Roman artichokes generously sprinkled with a savory tang of bottarga. I accompany Evstafieva to check on the just-reaped harvest of fava beans, which have spontaneously been added to the evening’s contorni options. The weather has been generous, which allowed them to sprout weeks earlier than expected. Everyone here is ready to pivot and adjust to nature’s rhythm. “The way my team works now is by adapting and being flexible,” she says. “What’s important is they observe and listen, and adjust to the circumstance. We adapt in response to what occurs.”

One morning I meander along the many paths crisscrossing the villa’s grounds. I pass through the olive groves where thousands of trees of sundry age and size are slowly pushing out fruit, their small oblong leaves shimmering among the sloping mounds. I find myself dead-ended on the lone street among the remnants of the abandoned medieval village of Toiano, which shares its slope with the hotel’s perimeter. Not much of this ghost town remains beyond a dozen crumbling houses, a cemetery, and the ramparts surrounding the foundations of a tower fallen long ago. This land has seen some things. A loud snort comes from behind me. I turn and freeze. A wiry-haired mama boar and her two cubs carry on their stroll right past where I am standing. I adapt, cutting short the day’s exploration to head back for more sparkling white.

Opportunities for self-care and wellness are integrated into the villa’s offerings. There are daily yoga classes with a roster of visiting teachers of different modalities. On my daily excursions around the property, varied secluded spots uncovered themselves for my meditation practice. I sat in the light-and-rain pavilion, a Zen-inspired open-air cabana in the farm building, and upon the stump of an ancient cypress that was holding space among the brambles of the hidden garden directly behind the villa. When I ask Evstafieva about what she does to release from the villa’s incessant demands, she enthusiastically tells me, “I aggressively whack balls. In tennis or in polo. That is my mindfulness practice. It keeps me present, fully concentrated on the ball.” We laugh, and I note how human it is to find pause and respite in such stark contrast to what one works to create.

I ask what sensations she hopes visitors might experience, what she wants the villa to imprint on the memories of those who find their way here. “We want our visitors to be happy, to have them step out of their routines and engage with nature and creative expression during their stay with us. We want to take care of them. This is it. It’s actually that simple.”

How to Bring a Piece of Villa Lena Into Your Own Home

Items to inspire and delight from the estate’s homegrown online shop.

  • Villa Lena Olive Oil

    Villa Lena olive oil is produced from their 3,000 olive trees. 100% estate. 100% organic. The robustly flavored Frantoio, Leccino and Moraiolo olives are harvested by hand and immediately taken to be cold-pressed. The result is a lively olive oil that is full of aromas of fresh Tuscan grass and green herbs. Production is small, producing only 1,000–1,200 liters of oil per year.

  • Limited Edition Prints and Art Pieces

    Every year, the Villa Lena Foundation collaborates with their artists in residency and Il Bisonte, a print workshop for graphic arts based in Florence, to create a series of limited-edition artist prints and curated items available for purchase. Additionally, an ever-changing selection of ceramics and homeware created in collaboration with local artisans and artists is available.

  • Da Occasione Red Wine

    100% organic and created from the traditional Tuscan sangiovese grape, Villa Lena makes two types of red wine. Each harvest is handpicked and produced in collaboration with a local winery to create Da Tutti I Giorni and Da Occasione, two vibrant reds. Da Tutti I Giorni is reminiscent of the carefree creativity of the villa, with tasting notes of soft fruits along with a smooth body and spicy aromas. A bolder interpretation of the sangiovese grape, Da Occasione is a full-bodied red inspired by the iconography of the estate, with tasting notes of velvet, red cherries, and warm wood vanilla.

  • IRIS Toscana

    In the last month, IRIS Toscana was formed in response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis, with the specific aim of integrating displaced persons into Tuscan society. The foundation aims to assist adults and children with language barriers in everyday situations, as well as aid in future work or school placement. Locals will assist with skills acquisitions in order to build a lasting integration into the Italian community, and help to overcome trauma through creative and cultural workshops.

  • Villa Lena Olive Oil

    Villa Lena olive oil is produced from their 3,000 olive trees. 100% estate. 100% organic. The robustly flavored Frantoio, Leccino and Moraiolo olives are harvested by hand and immediately taken to be cold-pressed. The result is a lively olive oil that is full of aromas of fresh Tuscan grass and green herbs. Production is small, producing only 1,000–1,200 liters of oil per year.

  • Da Occasione Red Wine

    100% organic and created from the traditional Tuscan sangiovese grape, Villa Lena makes two types of red wine. Each harvest is handpicked and produced in collaboration with a local winery to create Da Tutti I Giorni and Da Occasione, two vibrant reds. Da Tutti I Giorni is reminiscent of the carefree creativity of the villa, with tasting notes of soft fruits along with a smooth body and spicy aromas. A bolder interpretation of the sangiovese grape, Da Occasione is a full-bodied red inspired by the iconography of the estate, with tasting notes of velvet, red cherries, and warm wood vanilla.

  • Limited Edition Prints and Art Pieces

    Every year, the Villa Lena Foundation collaborates with their artists in residency and Il Bisonte, a print workshop for graphic arts based in Florence, to create a series of limited-edition artist prints and curated items available for purchase. Additionally, an ever-changing selection of ceramics and homeware created in collaboration with local artisans and artists is available.

  • IRIS Toscana

    In the last month, IRIS Toscana was formed in response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis, with the specific aim of integrating displaced persons into Tuscan society. The foundation aims to assist adults and children with language barriers in everyday situations, as well as aid in future work or school placement. Locals will assist with skills acquisitions in order to build a lasting integration into the Italian community, and help to overcome trauma through creative and cultural workshops.

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Our Contributors

Polina Aronova-Cahn Writer

Polina Aronova-Cahn is an editor and writer who connects the interrelated dots of culture, style, and conscious living. Her work is focused on lifestyle communication, translating the tools of mindfulness and holistic well-being into approachable yet aspirational stories of deep human connection.

Skye Parrott Writer and Photographer

Skye Parrott is the executive editor of Departures. A magazine editor, photographer, writer, and creative consultant, she was previously a founder of the arts and culture journal Dossier, and editor in chief for the relaunch of Playgirl as a modern, feminist publication.

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