Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

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Il Borghetto, Medieval Villa Restored in Tuscany

Frances Mayes and Marlena De Blasi did it. Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry did it. Phil Doran did it. Ann Cornelisen did it. Alice Leccese Powers tells of others who did it.

What do these people have in common?

Besides being writers, all these people lived in Tuscany or other parts of Italy, and many of them bought and renovated old villas or farmhouses.

And the Bimbi family (Sandra, Simona, Riccardo, and Nicola) did it, too. In 1999, they purchased Il Borghetto, one of nine farms of Pietrafitta located within sight of  the medieval walled city of San Gimignano.  The villa was in serious need of restoration, as you can see by the following pictures (used by permission of the Bimba family).

Pietrafitta and Il Borghetto lie between Florence and Siena in the Tuscany region of Northern Italy. The name Pietrafitta means “stone pressed into the ground,” indicating a tollgate marker or boundary line on the ancient Strada Chiantigiana, the road from Florence going south to Siena. The road is now SR222.

Road leading to Pietrafitta and Il Borghetto

Over Pietrafitta and Il Borghetto’s long history, political, religious, and economic events intertwined, reflecting the historical upheavals of the times as Tuscany moved through the dark ages, medieval times, the Renaissance, and into modern times.

In early medieval Tuscany successive rounds of invaders from the North, Ostrogoths (405AD), Goths (552 AD), and Lombards (570 AD) claimed territory in Italy. The Pope called in Charlemagne, King of the Franks to rout the Lombards in 774 AD. Charlemagne drove them out and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor (800 AD) for his efforts. This started the power struggles between the pope and the emperor: Who will rule Italy? The emperor or the pope?

As if these external forces did not cause enough problems, Italy had a long, checkered history of internal power struggles, constant feuding, scandals, and broken treaties. Wars of revenge or conquest raged almost continuously between competing and often changing factions of popes and cardinals, emperors and kings, Ghibellines (supporters of the Holy Roman Empire) and the Guelphs (supporters of the pope), noble families, and in later times, the bourgeoisie (merchants, the rising middle class), plebeians (common people), and serfs (workers bound to their owners).

All of this resulted in instability in the region as major city-states (Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Venice, Parma, Milan, and others) fought against each other. To be on the wrong side of a conflict meant plunder, destruction of property, and often banishment or death. Even towns suffered the fate of complete destruction and mass forced exile. Bribery sometimes saved the towns as mercenaries preferred money to loyalty. These were not easy times by any means.

Eventually, after centuries of both external and internal power struggles, King Victor Emmanual II unified Italy in 1861, the first time it had been united since the 6th century just before the Holy Roman Empire began to disintegrate. Still, Italy had more tough problems to face with World War I, Mussolini, and World War II.

How did Pietrafitta and Il Borghetto fare through all of this history? In my next post, I will concentrate on the families that owned Il Borghetto over these chaotic centuries.

In the meantime, this is what Il Borghetto looks like today after restoration by the Bimbi family.

On the door mantle: PARVA SED APTA MIHI
“Small, but enough for me”
From 16th century poet, Ludovico Ariosto.

Ourtdoor dining

Carol, Inger, Chris at dinner at 8 pm on Il Borghetto’s covered patio after a long day of exploring Tuscany.

Just as the writers mentioned earlier discovered, restoring a villa is hard work, but the final results bring pride and satisfaction. Not really small or just enough, Il Borghetto is magnificent and inviting. Congratulations to the Bimbi family for a job well done. You can find Il Borghetto at www.ilborghettotuscanholidays.com. Plan to stay there on your next trip to Tuscany.

Read my next post to see how the previous owners of Pietrafitta and Il Borghetto fared through Italian history.

You can read more about Il Borghetto in modern times in my earlier post here.

YOUR TURN: Do you know other writers who have restored a villa or farmhouse? What other writers have focused on Italy in their writing?

Italy: A Villa in Tuscany

Our home away from home: Il Borghetto, a restored villa located between Poggibonsi and San Gimignano in Central Italy.

Il Borghetto, once a part of Villa Pietrafitta, sits atop a hill at the end of a long, winding gravel road.

From the moment we enter through its gates, we seem to be in another world, yet we are close enough to make day trips out to visit Siena, Lucca, Pisa, Volterra, and Florence.

The Bimbi family owns the villa, and they are most gracious, courteous, and friendly to all of the guests. Mamma Silvanna and her assistant chefs prepare outstanding Tuscan specialities for our special candlelight dinner outside under the pergola. On cold and rainy nights, dinner is served in the elegant La Stanza del Duca (the Duke’s Room). For one of the dining evenings, the menu featured a variety of bruschetta, a delicate green lasagna with delicious pink cream sauce, pork loin and sauteed fresh vegetables, and tiramisu and coffee. Patrizia, one of the chefs, offers cooking classes for anyone interested in learning to cook Tuscan recipes.

Il Borghetto staff photo by Il Borghetto.

The scenery around Il Borghetto is incredible. The views from our windows are spectacular, especially in the early morning mists.

Morning mists photo by Christine Kolstad, fellow traveler.

Hiking paths through the olive groves beg to be explored.

One path leads to an excellent view of the medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano, only a forty minute walk down a country lane. (“Tea with Mussolini” was filmed there.)

At the end of our hike, the villa pool invites us to cool off with a late afternoon swim.

All this and we have been in Italy only one day!

Next post: The Il Borghetto Story: Before and After Restoration

Italy: A Visit to Tuscany

Tuscany: a region of Central Italy, formerly a grand duchy (a territory ruled by a duke or duchess); an exquisitely beautiful setting, aloof and apart from the outside world; quiet, serene.

Sounds and sights and scents of a perfect setting command our full attention. My companions (sister-in-law, Carol; niece, Christine; and friend Inger-Anne) want to miss nothing. We gape wide-eyed at everything in sight. We listen. We smell.  We touch. We taste.

Variegated patchworks of spring greens cover rolling hills and valleys as far as the eye can see, holding us captive to the beauty of Tuscany.

Yellow, orange, tan, and apricot-colored villas with clay tile roofs crown many hilltops, standing majestically in time.

Symmetrical rows of carefully pruned grapevines line the hills in orderly array, soaking up the warm afternoon sun.

Dusty green olive trees show their new spring-green leaves amidst the dark green of last season, getting ready to produce new fruit.

Climbing white wisteria and light blue flowers of rosemary bushes scent the air, teasing our senses.

Wild cherries beg to be picked and eaten.

Red poppies stand royally among the roadside weeds.

A dusty toad, caught in freeze-action on the gravel road at night, waits for our car to pass to reclaim his territory. (I entertain my friends by slipping into a roadside ditch trying to take this little hopper’s picture!)

Two ring-tailed pheasants run through tall grass in an olive grove, evading our curious eyes and ready cameras.

Our car’s tires (A Mercedes!) crunch and bounce on the rutted gravel road, leaving a trail of flying dust.

We hum as we try to match the sound of our car’s tires on a short piece of pavement oddly interspersed on the long twisting gravel road that climbs to our hill-top villa: Il Borghetto.

Welcome to Tuscany and an adventure in history, culture, and beauty.

Next: A Villa in Tuscany

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