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Tuscan Villa Hotels

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Photo: Simon Watson

Villa Mangiacane, San Casciano in Val di Pesa

This hotel is for people who have been to Florence before and want to get to know the Chianti wine district outside it without sacrificing easy access to the city. Seven and a half miles separate Villa Mangiacane and the Tuscan capital, a distance the hotel invites guests to cover in a free shuttle. You can shoot down to Florence in the late afternoon for some quick retail therapy and be back at Mangiacane in time for Negronis on the loggia, a sprawling, glamorous space with large-scale frescoes of hunting scenes and waist-high olive-oil jars from nearby Impruneta—but also lacquered Japanese stools, carved Balinese tables, and ottomans covered in zebra skin. The architecture may be vernacular, and that tower in the distance is definitely the Duomo, but the villa speaks the international language of resort design with proud fluency. For better or worse, a very deliberate effort has been made to keep things global.

Itself a rolling 600-acre wine estate (grappa and olive oil are also produced here), Mangiacane was built in the 15th century by Giorgio Vasari for Cardinal Francesco Maria Machiavelli, uncle of the hotheaded political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote his notorious screed on power, The Prince, at the estate. Vasari’s friendship with Michelangelo has encouraged the belief that they collaborated on the villa, but this is probably no more than wishful thinking on the part of Mangiacane’s current owner, Zimbabwe-born Glynn Cohen, founder of the largest transportation company in sub-Saharan Africa. Still, the property’s pedigree is such that the original plans are archived in the Uffizi Gallery. Not too shabby. Besides the Machiavellis, it had belonged to only one other family before Cohen purchased it in 2000. This limited unwanted changes and wear and tear, but the building was badly damaged in World War II and deserted soon after.

Cohen’s restoration netted eight guest rooms in the villa and 19 more in a converted farmhouse a couple of hundred yards away. Naturally, the farmhouse rooms—some of which have a slightly racy, louche appeal—go for a lot less. But after staying in one, I can’t pretend I didn’t feel like I was missing the party—what, after all, was I here for if not the grandeur and romance of the villa?And yet I find it impossible to regret not having shelled out the additional $400—more than half the price of my annex room—it would have cost for entry-level digs in the villa. If you notice, this is a circular argument, one as old as travel itself. Creating memories can be expensive.

You can time your stay at Mangiacane to participate in the grape and olive harvests, though I doubt the hotel gets many takers. Service is choppy, unless you think half an hour is a reasonable amount of time to mix a Negroni. Mangiacane has the veneer but not the superstructure of a luxury hotel, where everything is seamless and possible. Which is why I was surprised that the food is as good as it is. The bistecca fiorentina is from the famed Antica Macelleria Cecchini, in neighboring Panzano. Osso bucco is deconstructed into a sauce for potato gnocchi. Chef Massimo Bocus coaxes the logic out of putting chocolate ice cream, bread, fleur de sel, and a slick of olive oil on the same plate. And isn’t it wonderful in this day and age when your waitress is local and speaks terrible English? Doubles from $516.

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