C California Style

Il Duomo punctuates the Florence cityscape.
Tuscany's famous cypress rows.
Villa Campestri's pool.
Villa Campestri's dining room.
Frescobaldi's Castello di Nipozzano.
Villa Panna.

Super Tuscans

by C California Style

The fertile grounds of Italy’s central province entice with familiar and newfound flavors.

Steeped in high culture, Tuscany’s sun-drenched landscape is a prime destination for young, curious travelers. But the purity of the region’s natural resources—water, wine and olive oil—keeps serious gourmands and bon vivants coming back for seconds, thirds and even more.

On a reserve in Scarperia, Acqua Panna’s natural water spring flows down from Mount Gazzaro before entering a limestone aquifer, where it remains for some 15 years. “I think it sounds like music,” says Bottling Plant Manager Donatella Cursi watching the water flow underground. Its bucolic Villa Panna (acquapanna.com), once the Medici family’s holiday estate, has all the charms of a picturesque country home. Situated between a forest and manicured farmland, the cypress-lined drive winds through the carefully tended former hunting grounds. The estate is now primarily used for Acqua Panna and San Pellegrino culinary and private events (and not open to the public), including education on water pairings. One such lesson: Take a sip of water after wine, do you still experience the virtues of it—does it enhance or strip the flavor?

You could also ask marchese Frescobaldi (frescobaldi.it) the inverse. A few sunflower fields from Villa Panna, is the homebase of Italy’s preeminent winemaking dynasty, who during the Renaissance famously traded wine for Michelangelo paintings. Today, the stunning hilltop Castello di Nipozzano, the most celebrated of the five family estates, is devoted to the craft. For the past eight years, the family has determined which three wines to produce here based on a blind tasting of 10. And of all the Frescobaldi’s 10 million bottles sold internationally, thirty percent comes to the U.S. annually.

Family businesses thrive in the Mugello Valley. Just north of Florence, the nearly 800-year-old Villa Campestri Olive Oil Resort (villacampestri.com) is run by the Pasqualis. Stone buildings (guest rooms, spa, restaurant, olive mill and the owner’s homes) are clustered on the expansive property draped in olive trees. An oil tasting with agronomist Gemma Pasquali will enlighten any connoisseur to the finer science. (A few take-home tips: olive oil should be stored in dark glass or a stainless steel tin, consumed within one year of the harvest date and used within two weeks of opening.)

And in Firenze, steps from the Arno river, chef Marco Stabile of the Michelin-starred, open-kitchen concept Ora d’Aria (oradariaristorante.com) ties it all together, bringing innovation and elegance to classic Italian fare without a margherita pizza in sight.

Written and edited by Jenny Murray.
Photography courtesy of Acqua Panna.