Written by Chris Beanland for The Independent
Christopher Beanland vistes Florence and the rustic surroundings of his modern getaway of I Giullai, whilst visiting the sites of Florence all within a stones throw of this charming villa in the Florentine hills.
Waking up to a patchwork of golden walls and emerald fields bursting with orange trees and vines takes some beating. And that’s the view you get every morning when you open the curtains at this 16th-century villa on the outskirts of Florence, sharing a prime patch of Tuscan real estate with a handful of other swish houses behind a locked gate.
Florence’s charms never change, and that’s exactly the point. You go to Tuscany not for a hipster break but to be at the heart of the Renaissance. This villa allows you to do just that – and to enjoy the charms of the Tuscan countryside to boot.
You’re in Pian dei Giullari, a handsome, peaceful and well-to-do suburb of Florence that has remained this way for centuries (Galileo Galilei once lived down the road). It’s on a hill to the south east of the city. You feel like you’re well into the Tuscan countryside and can enjoy walks around the area – stop at the Space Observatory nearby.
But bucolic as this is, you’re on the very edge of the city of Florence – a walk into town takes no longer than 30 minutes and takes you along storied, sunken roads of the kind that Lorenzo de’ Medici was using in his 15th-century heyday. Most Florence hotels are right in the crowded city but this – especially in summer – really is the best of both worlds. If you’re walking back, rather than face the hill you may prefer to take the bus, which drops you right outside the villa for €2.
Once in Florence, you’ll able to enjoy the peerless art of the Renaissance. Book ahead for the Uffizi Galleries to avoid the queues. Nearby is the Duomo (cathedral), whose vast dome by Brunelleschi – an extraordinary work of art in itself – is well worth climbing.
The nearest restaurant is Omero, just two minutes walk away with panoramic views over the surrounding countryside. There’s a deli area attached to it, if you’re keen to take advantage of the villa’s enormous kitchen. We picked up some pecorino cheese to go with the ludicrously generous welcome hamper back at the villa: bread, croissants, jam, butter, milk, water, honey, fruit and most crucially of all, a bottle of Chianti.
The villa is divided into two wings, one of which rents year-round, while the other is the owner’s house – though the building can also be rented as a whole on request, sleeping anything from six to 18 people. We took the smallest option, with three bedrooms open to us (others are opened up for bigger groups). All were more cosy than cool; fresh and breezy with lots of florals and wooden furniture. Each is spotless, though, and generously proportioned with a window and sometimes a Juliet balcony. Of the ensuite bathrooms, one has a bath, the others a shower.
In contrast to the traditional bedrooms, the lounge is funkier (it has transparent plastic chairs), while the kitchen is modern and very well appointed – not least with a double fridge, perfect for storing your Omero spoils. The room is huge – you could run a restaurant from here. There’s an open fire by the gigantic dining table, and the caretaker (yes, there’s a caretaker) will fetch wood to feed it – as long as you ask nicely.
The historic building oozes charm, with wiggly corridors and changes in level (not good for those needing accessible accommodation, but fun for the rest of us). It’s very child-friendly with a glorious pool round the front – an unusual boon for urban Florence – and a space to dine al fresco in warm weather.