Fattoria Barbialla Nuova

Montaione, Tuscany, Italy Book from

Reviewed by Emma Taylor
Pure city escapism in converted farmhouses (sleeping 2-8) on a 500-hectare organic farm - a remarkably tranquil and hospitable retreat
If you've ever dreamt of ditching the city rat-race for a simple rural lifestyle, here's your chance. Set in 500 hectares of private estate, these 3 farmhouses, tastefully converted into 7 rustic-chic apartments for 2-6 and 1 villa for 8-10, are surrounded by nothing but woodland, hills, pastures and utter tranquillity.

Forests full of wild boar, deer and locally-prized white truffles cover half of the estate, and there's a remote wildness quite unlike postcard-Tuscany, with its uniform lines of cypresses and vines. Guests are welcome to roam the land as they please, and you could explore for days. As well as walking and tracking wildlife, you can go truffle hunting in autumn, pick wild herbs in spring and gorge yourself on figs and cherries in summer - all of it organically grown. Wine-tasting and sightseeing opportunities abound: the towers of San Gimignano and the underrated town of Volterra are on your doorstep, Siena and Florence not much further. But it's the sense of remoteness, nature and space which mark this place out, and may have you pondering a permanent move to the countryside.

Highs

  • This is utter pastoral bliss, yet just 1 hour from Florence, Siena and Pisa
  • The wonderful hosts, Guido and helpers, believe in Slow Food and offer bread-baking lessons, pasta-making demos, guided truffle hunts, even an intro to bee-keeping
  • The apartments combine simple rustic stylishness and spaciousness - a cut above most Tuscan farmhouse conversions; and all are good for families
  • Each building has its own pool: a large one for Doderi apartments, another for Brentina guests and a private plunge pool for Trosce villa
  • There's a huge variety of plantlife on the estate: blackberries, figs, apples, plums, nuts, herbs, elderflower, pears, cherries, peaches... go forage

Lows

  • After entering the estate, you have to drive over bumpy tracks to reach your accommodation, but nothing an ordinary hire car can't handle
  • These are self-catering cottages, so you bring your own food or stock up at their lovely farm shop
  • Doderi and Brentina are split into 3-4 apartments, so sound can carry between them; but most guests are peaceful, and we weren't bothered by any noise
  • Be aware that it's Saturday-Saturday rentals only in summer (and check in before 6pm)

Best time to go

Summer in Tuscany is busy, but this place is a haven from the crowds - and the pools are a godsend too (though bear in mind there's no air-con). If you're planning to do some sightseeing then May-June or September-October will have fewer tourists yet reliably good weather, while winter is blissfully quiet but can have cold, frosty weather, rain and occasional snow. Each season brings something new here - don't forget the truffle season, which runs from October to December. The hotel is closed from the end of December until mid-March.

Our top tips

One of the great things about Italy is the availability of local produce; Barbialla Nuova is truly Italian. On our first visit we stayed over a public holiday and hadn't stocked up at all... but we needn't have panicked. We ended up cooking an organic, seasonal feast of zucchini flower frittata with tomato and basil salad, and new potatoes crushed with sage, garlic and olive oil. Foraging and feeding from the land, in such a stunning setting, made it a very memorable meal and one that fitted in well with the ethos of Barbialla Nuova.

The famous Mostra del Tartufo Bianco (White Truffle Festival) takes place each November in San Miniato (about 30 minutes away) - it's foodie heaven in this part of the world and well worth exploring. There are also guided truffle hunts around the local area if you want to try your hand at tracking down the elusive delicacy for yourself.

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
Eco
Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Stylish Agrotourism
  • 7 apartments for 2-6, 1 villa for 8-10
  • Self catering
  • All ages welcome.
  • Closed: 16 Dec 2016 - 10 Mar 2017
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
Room:

Rooms

Spread across the estate are 2 converted farm buildings (Brentina and Doderi), which between them house 7 apartments for 2-6; and a third building (Trosce) which is a separate villa for 8-10.

Country living is reflected in the rustic charm inside. Simple, sturdy wooden furniture (well-worn dining tables, four-poster beds and capacious wooden chests) sit comfortably on original tiled floors, next to large traditional fireplaces (in some apartments) and exposed original brickwork. All kitchens are thoughtfully stocked, and there are enough utensils and chairs for the number of people in each house. In the summer, the rooms are blissfully cool thanks to thick stone walls and small windows; in the autumn and winter, they're cosy and snug, with open fires (in some apartments). Don't expect a luxurious finish, but know that all the bathrooms are modern and surprisingly stylish.

Doderi is a typical Tuscan hilltop farmhouse split into 3 apartments, sharing a larger pool that has panoramic views of the farmland and beyond. It's a 20-minute walk from a lake, and surrounded by fruit and olive trees. All 3 apartments have their own outdoor dining space - we particularly liked the covered terrace and elevated views from Doderi Alto, where we stayed in 2013.

Brentina is more remote, tucked in a dip out of sight from the main track that cuts through the farm. The traditional farmhouse and converted barn make 4 apartments that share a pool, in gardens full of plum, apple and pear trees. Rambling roses climb up the walls, while lizards scuttle into log piles collected for firewood. You'll have your own designated outdoor area for eating and relaxing.

Le Trosce, built in the 19th century and rented as a villa for 8-10, is an ivy-covered farmhouse with 4 double bedrooms (though only 2 bathrooms). The terrace is a perfect place to sit and take in the fantastic panoramic view, and you can cool off in a small but stylish decked plunge pool. Bags of communal space include a large dining room, a sitting room, a kitchen, a dining area and large covered terrace. We found a little darker and less funky than the other 2 houses, but wonderfully cool in summer.

You can find factual info on each apartment (bedrooms, facilities etc) on our Rates page - click the names to see full details. As a pointer, we thought the best option for a couple is Doderi Ovest (overlooking olive groves, with an open fire in the terracotta tiled kitchen, and a cosy double bedroom); the best for a family of 4 is Brentina Ovile (a funkily converted sheep barn with great original features in its open-plan living space); the best for a larger group is Trosce (see above), because it has its own pool.

Features include:

  • Barbeque
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fireplace
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Kitchenette
  • Oven
  • Terrace
  • WiFi

Eating

The villas are self-catering so bring what you need, though you're encouraged to help yourself from the garden, or to stock up from their lovely organic shop (see below). If you're arriving late, you can ask for your fridge to be pre-stocked.

The kitchens in the apartments are well supplied with plates, utensils and pans. Each apartment also has its own outdoor area with table and chairs, as well as table and chairs in the kitchen. There are crates of local bottled water in the outdoor area - you can help yourself, leaving cash in the box and bringing your empties back to the same place for recycling. You can also buy boxes of firewood here.

One of the best things about Barbialla Nuova is its organic shop, with staples like milk, bread, tea and pasta, home-grown products (olive oil, honey, meat, eggs, jam, ragout sauces, white truffles), local wines and, if you're lucky, something from their gardens. If that's not enough, there are several village shops close by, and a larger supermarket in nearby Montaione; or owner Guido can direct you to another organic farmshop about 10km away.

As well as a list of local shops, they has also compiled a list of restaurants worth a visit for lunch or dinner, ranging from the local trattoria to fine dining in Florence (60km). Our new favourite is Osteria il Papero, a funky little place in nearby Balconevisi whose young owner-chef specialises in classic Tuscan recipes that have been creatively updated using fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Features include:

  • Chef on request
  • Children meals
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Kitchenette
  • Organic produce
  • Oven
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Explore the vast swathes of woodland on marked walks put together by Guido, looking out for wild boar, badgers, porcupines and wild roses; or stroll through the farm, visiting the organic veg garden and the friendly chianine cattle
  • We really recommend booking their excellent activities, which include cookery courses with a local chef, pasta- or bread-making lessons (including a delicious sour dough), and an introduction to bee-keeping for the curious
  • Guests also rave about the guided truffle hunts in the autumn - it's one of the few areas boasting highly prized white truffles, and porcini (cepes) are also abundant
  • You can fly-fish in the estate's lake, or sit with binos and a bird book looking out for hoopoes, bee-eaters and buzzards
  • Horse-riding is available 3km away (Le Mura) and there are 2 golf courses within 15 minutes (San Miniato and Castelfalfi)
  • There are countless lovely villages to explore, including Palaia and Montaione
  • Head to the touristy but pretty medieval towers of San Gimignano and the under-rated town of Volterra, both 40-50 minutes' drive away
  • It's only as a little further to Florence, Siena or Pisa - each is about an hour's drive
  • There are plenty of vineyards around for a spot of wine tasting too
  • Or just sit by the pool and appreciate the tranquillity - you couldn't be any more immersed in nature

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Bee keeping talks
  • Birdwatching
  • Cooking classes
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Pasta making
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Trekking
  • Truffle hunting
  • Wildlife
  • Wine tasting

Kids

This is a great option for adventurous families. Children are very welcome at the farmhouses and there are no expensive fittings, ornaments or furniture to worry about. There's no TV so it's a great chance to reconnect as a family. It's also great value and a self-catering farmstay makes a fun family holiday if you can cope without modern entertainment on tap.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

They're all good for families; we'd say book an apartment in Doderi if there are fewer of you (they sleep 2-8), or book out Le Trosce (sleeping 8-10) if you are a larger group as it has its own small pool.

Babysitting:

The hotel work with an English speaking babysitter who can be arranged with prior notice.

Baby equipment:

  • Cots
  • High chairs
  • Plastic crockery, cups and dishes (on request)
  • Stair gates
  • Baby bath tub (0-6 months)
  • Changing pads

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

Kitchens are functional. You can request a pre-stocked fridge with local goodies (recommended) or head to the nearby towns for groceries (15 minutes' drive). Book a chef in advance if you want, again they are superb. There are plenty of family friendly places to eat in neighbouring towns as well as crowd-pleasing gelateria.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Large shared pool for Brentina apartments, a large shared pool for Doderi apartments, private pool for Le Trosce house
  • There's a wooden swing outside the Brentina cottage
  • Kids cooking classes
  • Plenty of animals nearby, including white Chianina cattle, wild boar and hens
  • Truffle hunting with the local dog, in season
  • Walk, enjoy nature and enjoy each others' company
  • Play boules, football or ping pong

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Day trips to Siena, Florence and Pisa
  • Horse riding
  • Castles
  • Museum
  • Bike hire
  • Pinocchio Park, Collodi
  • Gelato sampling!

Families Should Know:

Those with smaller children should bear in mind that the gardens are very natural, without boundaries and with some steep drops. The pools and the pond are not protected.

Distances:

  • Airport: 50 minutes (Pisa)
  • Doctor: 15 minutes
  • Nearest shop: 15 minutes
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
9/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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Rates for Fattoria Barbialla Nuova