Villa Lena

Palaia, Tuscany, Italy Book from Book from £158 per night

A unique creative agrotourismo offering workshops with artists, an easy community feel and organic Italian food
Talk about remote. As we drove along ever-narrowing roads in the beautiful Tuscan hills, we began to wonder if we’d missed a turning for this hidden rural retreat. Then suddenly it appeared. Turning a corner, the magnificent salmon-pink walls came into view, backdropped against a cobalt-blue sky and surrounded by tall green cypress trees. Co-founded by Russian art consultant Lena Evstafieva, Villa Lena is a fascinating hybrid of hotel, organic farm and not-for profit artists' colony. Its 19th-century outhouses have been carefully renovated to create 14 rooms and 1-3 bedroom apartments dotted across the 500-hectare wooded estate, with spectacular views in all directions.

Guests share the space with artists-in-residence, who stay here for a month-long creative retreat, and in return lead diverse talks and workshops. The main pool and restaurant are the heart of everything, a place to all come together and share stories over farm-to-table meals. We loved being swept up in the easy boho vibe of the place; you're continually interacting with the ethos of the Villa, joining debates, admiring donated art on the walls, perhaps listening to a candelit performance in the piano room. A rare find.

Highs

  • Inspirational talks and workshops with resident creatives, who may be painters, poets, photographers, conceptual artists, designers, botanists, poets, even meditation dancers
  • Watching the mist rise from the valley during morning stretches on the yoga deck
  • Although this is a sociable place, the accommodation is so spread out that it's easy to find peace and privacy if you need it
  • Great for families: the Renacchi apartments share a separate pool and playground, and there's a cinema and games room. Bikes to borrow, too
  • The Slow Food is an explosion of colour and flavour - there are chefs-in-residence, too, and rates are half-board

Lows

  • The shower in our Fattoria apartment wasn’t great, but there’s talk of a refurb to rejuvenate the odd tired feature
  • Remote. Nothing in walking distance and not for those seeking a buzzing nightlife on holiday
  • The children’s splash pool is right next to the main pool and bar area, and excited little ones can get noisy
  • Guests in Renacchi's apartments have a 15-minute (albeit beautiful) walk to the restaurant, or drive

Best time to go

Villa Lena opens annually in mid-April, when the poppies start to bloom and the weather reaches perfect t-shirt-in-the-evening temperatures. The shoulder seasons (May, June, Sept, Oct) are perfect for exploring the wooded estate, but even as high summer brings the heat and tourists to Tuscany, Villa Lena feels like the region’s best-kept secret. High in the hills and away from the crowds, the cool rooms and poolside bar give respite from the sun. In the colder months there's a secret Winter Bar with a wood-fired stove, cocktails and a speak-easy vibe.

Our top tips

Walk 20 minutes up the hill to the abandoned village of Toiano. Eerily quiet – bar the occasional stray cat – views from this deserted place are spectacular. Go early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat, though the stroll there takes you along shady lanes lined with wild flowers in spring and blackberries in late summer.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 14
  • Half-board stays (B&D); restaurants a drive away
  • All ages welcome
  • Closed: 17 Dec 2018 - 31 Mar 2019
  • Heated Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
Room: San Michele

Rooms

Villa Lena’s beautifully simple accommodation is bright, cool and airy: perfect for siestas once Tuscany’s summer heat kicks in. There are artistic touches everywhere, with carefully chosen art hanging on the walls, and small additions that bring interest to otherwise modest interiors: ours had an old typewriter, an Oriental room screen and tiny pops of colour throughout.

The pretty San Michele rooms are great value, with views across the valley and comfortable furniture to make guests feel at home. If you'd prefer extra space and a bit of independence, the Fattoria apartments have 1-3 bedrooms, along with self-catering facilities and spacious living areas for relaxing in privacy. We stayed in one of these and found it great for families with babies/toddlers.

Families with older kids love the Renacchi apartments (again 1-3 bedrooms), which are a 15-minute stroll from the main house, and perfect for dipping in and out of Villa Lena’s social side. The building has its own pool, plus a playground and lots of space to run around.

Features include:

  • Central heating
  • Coffee / tea making
  • Coffee maker
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Iron
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Mosquito net
  • Phone
  • Pool towels
  • Terrace

Eating

Grown on-site or sourced locally, the food at Villa Lena is beautifully fresh and full of flavour. The set dinner menu changes daily, and a couple of specials offer alternatives if you need them. Everything is distinctly Italian, but resident international chefs change on a monthly basis and bring their own individual style to the table. Our mushroom risotto flan starter was melt-in-the-mouth delicious, but it was the homemade pasta that really stood out. Light and fresh, a simple ricotta ravioli tasted even better when laced with butter, sage and parmigiano.

Breakfast is a buffet of cold meats and cheeses, fresh bread and cakes. For a supplementary cost, guests can order from a small menu of cooked breakfasts (the smashed avocado was worth it). Light lunches are available on request, served on the terrace beside the pool; dinner and breakfast are eaten in the light and airy restaurant, which overlooks rolling Tuscan hills. If you're staying in the apartments you'll find the kitchenettes useful for whipping up lunches or snacks; the San Michele rooms share a communal kitchen.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children's meals
  • Coffee / tea making
  • Coffee maker
  • Communal dining
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Organic produce
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Immerse yourself in creativity: workshop with the artists in residence, listen to talks, join in debates and try various mediums: perhaps ceramics, songwriting or painting
  • Borrow a mountain bike to explore or join the 1.5-hour guided hike that takes guests to secret corners of this beautiful estate and through the kitchen gardens
  • Learn to cook like an Italian. Join the resident chef to make pizza and pasta, or go foraging for a true farm-to-table experience. We tried the pasta making, and our kids loved getting their hands dirty
  • Spend an afternoon wine-tasting or join a cocktail-making evening in San Michele’s bar. You can day-trip to nearby vineyards, too
  • Step back in time as you explore the cobbled streets of medieval town San Gimignano, a Unesco site. Don't miss the famous Gelateria Dondoli, with its exciting gelato combinations
  • Late September-December is truffle-hunting season; search with the expert dogs, then take home what you find - or have it whipped up into pasta dishes by the resident chef, and served with Villa Lena's own wines

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Art classes
  • Birdwatching
  • Cooking classes
  • Creative writing
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Swimming
  • Well being
  • Yoga

Kids

All ages are well catered for at Villa Lena, with under-3s staying for free. A shallow pool, playground and toy-room keeps little ones entertained, while older children will love the cinema and games room. A long way from anywhere, there’s not much within walking distance to explore. But with more than enough space for all ages to run around in, and workshops such as pizza-making and foraging tours that appeal to kids, they certainly won’t get bored. During school holidays, there are free art activities for children, led by visiting art educators.

Best for:

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

Family friendly accommodation:

Close to the main pool, splash pool and restaurant, the Fattoria apartments are well-suited to families with young kids. There’s space to relax, and self-catering facilities for a bit of flexibility during your stay.

For large family groups, and those with older children, we’d recommend the spacious Renacchi apartments. Fifteen mins' walk from the main restaurant, the former farmhouse has its own pool and playground.

Babysitting:

On request

Baby equipment:

  • Baby cots can be provided for all rooms
  • High chairs

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

Children's meals:

A children’s menu includes simple meals such as tomato and basil pasta, or grilled chicken and chips. And gelato (of course)!

Kids Activities on site:

  • 500 acres of estate to explore
  • Splash pool for little ones
  • Two additional pools
  • Games room with snooker table, table tennis, table football and jukebox
  • Cinema room
  • Toys, books, and art and craft materials
  • Small playground
  • Bikes to borrow

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Sample world-famous gelato at Gelateria Dondoli in San Gimignano’s Piazza della Cisterna
  • Visit Amedei chocolate factory for a guided tasting tour!

Families Should Know:

The pools aren't fenced. The estate begs to be explored, but we were warned to take particular care with little ones as wildlife (including wild boars) come out at night

Distances:

  • Airport: 45-minute drive (Pisa)
  • Hospital: 20-minute drive
  • Shop: 15-minute drive
Kid Friendly:

Location

Reached via roads barely on the map (though our satnav did get us there), Villa Lena feels a long way from anywhere. And yet, while you’ll need a car to reach it, many of the region’s big hitters, including Florence, Siena, San Gimignano and Lucca, are under 2 hours’ drive, making day-trips possible.

By Air:
Pisa Airport (45km) is a 45-minute drive, and Florence Airport (63km) is just over an hour.

From the Airport:
Villa Lena offers transfers but we'd recommend you hire a car so you can explore the region.

Detailed directions will be sent when you book through i-escape.

Airports:

  • Pisa Galileo 45.0 km PSA
  • Florence 63.0 km FLR

Other:

  • Beach 60.0 km
  • Shops 0.0 km
  • Restaurant 0.0 km

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 1 independent review from i-escape guests

10/10
Room
10/10
Food
10/10
Service
8/10
Value
10/10
Overall

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