Like all popular destinations, Tuscany lives large in our imaginations. Even those who have never been think they know exactly what it’ll be like — walking through sun-kissed vineyards with a glass of wine in your hand, delicately eating handmade spaghetti on a terrace with a view of rolling green hills, riding a bike with a wicker basket down a dusty tree-flanked lane. Usually, however, reality doesn’t quite live up to our expectations – even in Tuscany. The skies always seem a little cloudier, the wine ever-so-slightly more bitter, than we imagined. That’s why, when I pulled up to Melia’s Tenuta di Artimino hotel in the Tuscan countryside, between Florence and Pisa, I tempered my expectations. Turns out, I didn’t need to.
This former Medici estate, dating back to the 16th century, is the embodiment of what Tuscan tranquility is supposed to be all about. Far removed from the bustle of Florence, and even smaller tourist-laden villages like San Gimignano and Monteriggioni, Tenuta di Artimino seems to exist in its own world. Surrounded by acres of vineyards, the sprawling wine-producing estate is tethered only to the sleepy town of Artimino, which is exactly what you imagine a Tuscan village to look like (but without hordes of hapless tourists). You might be stumbling rather than walking through sun-kissed vineyards, slurping rather than delicately eating your spaghetti, and your bike probably won’t have a wicker basket, but Tenuta di Artimino is the closest you’ll ever get to the romanticized Tuscan experience.
A Medici hunting lodge turned hotel
Even if you’re not a student of Italian history, you’ve probably heard of the Medicis. The 15th-century banking family is synonymous with wealth and influence, having founded the Medici Bank and funded much of the Renaissance. The family regularly hosted artists at their estates, commissioned art for their palaces, and played a major role in the development and patronization of piano and opera. Tenuta di Artimino was built in 1596 by Ferdinando I De Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany at the time, as a hunting lodge. Its grounds — including farmhouses, stables, pheasant houses, and cellars — have since been converted into a hotel and restaurant.
Perched in a stately position overlooking 1,800 acres of rolling hills and vineyards, the Medici villa of La Ferdinanda is the most eye-catching part of the hotel property. Though guests can’t actually stay there, the villa was once the home of the Medici family, adorned with Renaissance art and opulent original furnishings. In addition to simply admiring the view of the villa from pretty much everywhere on the hotel grounds, you can also tour the estate with an experienced guide to get acquainted with its historical significance.
The hotel rooms themselves are housed in the old stables, sans horse and hay aroma. Many of the rooms are equipped with massive stone fireplaces, and rustic period-style furnishings that would look right at home in the Medici Villa. The rooms also have stunning views of either the villa itself, the sprawling vineyards, or the hotel’s peaceful pool and courtyard area.
Eat, drink, and bike through Tuscany
The first thing you’ll want to do here (and the second thing, and the third) is eat. The property’s Biagio Pignatta restaurant, which takes its name from the butler of Ferdinando I de Medici, embodies the Tuscan culinary tradition, using fresh fruits and vegetables from a private garden and serving wines produced on the estate. Whether you’re savoring Tuscan steak, finally indulging in the housemade pasta you’ve been dreaming about, or tasting different olive oils, this place will make quick work of your Italian cuisine bucket list.
To further immerse yourself in the culinary culture, take a cooking class and learn how to make your own pasta. The estate’s experienced chef will teach you how to make the dough from scratch; pound, mold, and stretch it properly; and then finally churn it into spaghetti. For a more active culinary adventure, consider a truffle hunt in the woods, guided by a truffle dog and a local expert, or a honey tour and tasting with the estate’s resident beekeeper.
Of course, it’s all about the wine in Tuscany. With 172 acres of vineyards, the estate specializes in producing Chianti DOCG, a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet that’s unique to the region. Take a guided wine-tasting experience through the rolling vineyards, led by a sommelier who’ll teach you (and let you taste) all the estate’s most iconic wines. And if you’d rather skip the tour and cut to the chase, the hotel’s wine bar is fully stocked and open late.
In the tiny intervals of time when you’re not eating, there’s plenty to do around the property. The pool is perched on a hill with a near-panoramic view of the countryside, and there are lounge chairs (some covered for shade) where you could easily pass an entire afternoon. For a more active way to spend your day, rent a bike from reception. There are several scenic trails leading through the vineyards, or you could simply pedal down the road to Artimino village in about five minutes.
With a population of just over 100, it might not seem like there’s much to the little town of Artimino. And you might be right. But the beauty of Artimino lies in its simplicity. Walking through the medieval stone gate, you’ll be greeted by two things that perfectly encapsulate the region: a 16th-century clocktower and a gelato shop. Don’t worry about the time of day or if you’re even in the mood for dessert – in Italy, gelato is a way of life, so don’t hesitate to indulge.
Speaking of indulging, be sure to check out La Cantina del Redi, a restaurant overlooking the rolling hills of Carmignano. The restaurant specializes in Italian cold cuts and regional cheese, as well as pasta and local wine. No, you won’t find pizza here — it’s actually a bit rarer than you’d think in the more rural reaches of Tuscany — but don’t worry. Just down the road you’ll find Circolo di Artimino da Mario, a pizza restaurant that also serves as a popular local gathering place. With views of the surrounding hillside, you’ll feast on massive rectangular pies and limoncello, without feeling like you’ve been sucked into a tourist trap.
As if exploring Tuscany wasn’t already relaxing enough, there’s also the Erato Wellness Luxury Spa. You might not expect such a tiny town to be home to a luxurious spa, but apparently, Artimino knows what the people want: pizza, gelato, and massages. With a hydromassage tub, chromotherapy showers, sauna, steam room, and quiet area for relaxing with herbal tea, this spa – an extension of the Tenuta di Artimino hotel – has pretty much every type of rejuvenating space you could ask for. They also offer personalized massages and a range of facial options.
Whether you opt for a Medici-esque experience with a spa day and fine Italian dining, or a more rustic slice of Tuscany by biking dirt roads and chowing down on pizza, Tenuta di Artimino makes the Tuscan dream a reality.