Villa Mangiacane has been on my travel wish list for the past two years. It has only been open to the public since 2002 but has been getting so many positive reviews (including a feature in the June Travel & Leisure), that it is giving Villa San Michele in Fiesole (still an amazing place) a run for the money when it comes to high-end hotel villas outside the city of Florence.
This was a perfect place for a short getaway that is close enough to Florence (20 minute drive – you can drive in right to the center or take one of the hotel’s shuttles but the latter is limited) to get your shopping, cultural or restaurant fix satiated. The 15th century villa in Tuscany, once home to the Macchiavelli family, was restored meticulously in 2000 to be a private residence by Glynn Cohen, a South African who happens to own the largest transport company in Sub Saharan Africa. No detail was left behind – walk through property you will see. We particularly liked the mezuzah at the door entrance to the Villa. There is a beautiful spa on property (we didn’t have time to test it out), a cellar for private parties, two pools (never saw a soul by the pool), a gym (again, never bothered – we preferred to eat or shop with the time we had), an herb garden, on-site restaurant and, of course, the 600 or so acres of vineyards. Other than the restaurant, we didn’t feel a need to make use of the facilities. We wanted simply to relax and taken in the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
You can stay in the Main Villa or Vineyard Villas on the property (there are 29 rooms, I believe). We stayed in a duplex on the top floor of the Main Villa sharing an immense terrace, where dinners are often held in summer, with a few other guests staying there. Views are beautiful and the whole place evokes a sense of calm. Wifi is provided throughout property but, as we learned in Italy, it can be very unreliable. It did not work at all when we were there but learned that rodents may have eaten the wires.
WHAT WE LOVED: The bed! Seriously, throughout our stays at hotels in Italy (all 4 or 5 star), we found all the beds hard and uncomfortable. I’m not sure what’s up with this among the Italian hoteliers, but Mangiacane had the only bed where we slept blissfully and without backache the next morning. Note to other hotels TAKE HEED. The beds are important!
Staying at the main villa – with its main salons and libraries stocked with photo albums, interesting books and cool music playing – we felt like we were staying in someone’s home (albeit a VERY rich person’s home). Taking a look through some of the photo albums – you can tell the owner had some wild masquerade parties here.
WHAT WE DIDN’T LOVE: The Hotel Manager wasn’t there until the day of our departure due to a personal event. We felt the service during his absence was proficient and accommodating but it wasn’t exactly the most proactive and warm service that we would have expected in a 5-star hotel in a country location. We wanted someone to give recommendations or maybe even ask how our dinner was. A hotel intern, from Germany, was there during the times we needed answers and wasn’t able to help what we thought were common questions – in our mind, this was our biggest disappointment but we assume it was an abnormal situation.
CHECK OUT: Shumba, the resident chocolate lab, on the property (he looks a bit lonely). Mangiacane means “eat dog” in Italian (no, they don’t eat dogs. I’m not sure how they chose the name but it sounds good when you say it) and dogs are prominently featured throughout the property in statues and in photos in the main rooms of the villa.
DON’T MISS: The simple but delicious spaghetti pomodoro and zucchini, pine nut, pesto and ricotta salad for lunch on the outdoor patio with a rose from their vineyard. The olive oil, made on property and available for sale in bottles, is also delicious. Be warned though that service is very slow.
TIP: Ask Juan Miquel, the hotel manager, to book a cooking lesson for you with the chef (actually, you may want to do ahead of your stay), if you have time. You pick herbs from their herb garden and then cook lunch and eat on the terrace overlooking the vineyards and hills…
THE LAST WORD: I couldn’t resist checking out the Hotel Lungarno and Hotel Savoy (part of the Rocco Forte Collection who has excellent hotels) while in Florence. Lungarno is located off the Arno River (one of the few hotels that is) and is an intimate, well-designed hotel that has a loyal following. The Savoy, right in the heart of the city, is also a contemporary high-end property known for their service that I particularly liked (there is a great cafe across the street Gilli and a carousel on the piazza). If I stayed in the city next time, I would be happy to stay at either of these. If you prefer larger hotels, check out the new Four Seasons property, which is supposed to be spectacular and has received rave reviews.