Although I have been to Tuscany in Italy several times in the past, when I saw a tour called “Secret Tuscany” advertised in an e-mail from the 1818 Society, I was intrigued and decided to sign up. On September 9, 2023 my husband Hugo and I arrived at beautiful Villa Bonizella after being picked up at the train station about half an hour away. Driving in the beautiful Tuscan countryside, turning onto a narrow and winding gravel road, passing a grove of olive trees, and then approaching the villa with its vine-covered façade and manicured garden was a delight and just the beginning of a week full of more delights. Our gracious hosts Boni and Giovanni (former Bank staff) met us at the front door and showed us to our room, “The Library”, full of antique books in different languages (Aristotle, anyone?), facing an extraordinary landscape of mountains, forests and farmland, unchanged for centuries. The entire villa, originally built in the 1300s (though renovated for the 21st century), is full of art and antiques, including a suit of armor named Felipe that never failed to startle me when I entered the room. We felt like nobles pampered and living in luxury in this place so remote it has no street address in Google Maps. The six bedrooms are part of three suites, each with different décor and layout, as well as its own living room and kitchenette. Not that we ever used the kitchenette to cook, since meals at the villa (all breakfasts and several dinners) were included as part of the package and we always ate al fresco near the pool. Some of us, though, used the living room for late night wine-drinking! The food at breakfast and dinner was always delicious, prepared by our creative New Yorker chef and sommelier. Most of the vegetables came right from the villa’s own garden.
Group photo at Arezzo
There were eight of us in the group for the week, following another group of 1818 Society members the previous week. We had two vehicles and two friendly chauffeurs who took us on our daily sightseeing / eating trips. We visited several medieval cities (Trequanda, Pienza, Monticchiello, San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Arrezo, and Siena), two wineries (one owned and managed by Giovanni’s family), the villa’s gardens and olive farm, a private villa unchanged since the 18th century, and a small, organic ancient grain pasta factory. We had lunches and dinners at lovely restaurants chosen by our hosts for their good food and charming settings and had a picnic at an award-winning cheese farm. We learned a lot about local customs, art, history and wine from our guides in the places we visited. After returning to the villa in the afternoon there was time to relax by the pool. On our last full day, we had a fun lesson in pasta-making with a local chef who taught us how to twirl long strings of dough into a pasta called pici. After a lot of kneading, twirling, chopping, peeling, and pot-stirring we ate the results of our efforts at a delightful dinner by the pool while watching the sun set over the beautiful Tuscan landscape.
Landscape behind Villa Bonizella
Boni and Giovanni were remarkable trip organizers, ensuring that everything went smoothly and going out of their way to help guests when issues arose such as missed flight connections and lost luggage. Their experiment in turning Boni’s childhood vacation villa into a guest house for several weeks in the summer has been successful for them and a unique experience for groups like ours. If you want a relaxing, educational and beautiful visit to off-the-beaten-track Tuscany, you must visit Villa Bonizella!
KEYWORDS pasta, Tuscany, villa Bonizella