Europe, Wanderlust

The perfect big family villa in Tuscany – with Bookings For You

What do you look for when you’re booking the perfect villa? A great location to chill out and explore? Loads of space – especially when you’re looking for a big family villa to spread out in? The chance to come away feeling pampered and relaxed?

View up to the exterior of Villa Le Capanne near Volterra in Tuscany - my review of the perfect big family villa in Tuscany, Italy

How about a pool, a hot tub, a pizza oven, the chance to have fantastic authentic food cooked for you (and magically cleared away afterwards)? Oh, and lovely decor – enough modern touches to feel luxurious but still plenty of history and tradition. Sun almost guaranteed if you book outside of winter, but still a short-haul flight away.

I know, it sounds like I’m asking the earth… if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve found it and stayed there. About the only thing Country Relais & Spa Le Capanne in Tuscany doesn’t promise families is that your kids will magically sleep through the night and let you have a lie in. You’re probably thinking it sounds like I’ve got a bit carried away after too much Prosecco… but read on, and I’ll prove it.

The villa itself is out in the Tuscan countryside, part of the handpicked collection from Bookings For You, which specialises in luxurious holiday villas in Italy. A short drive from Volterra, it’s only about an hour from Pisa and Siena and 90 minutes from Florence, so you get the chance to utterly relax in the peace of the countryside, or a great base for a few days out.

Once a farmhouse, the larger pieces of furniture are original and you can still see the shelf seat in the huge fireplace upstairs where the family could have sat in winter to keep warm. The animals meanwhile would have had the downstairs. These days, it’s been converted to a huge kitchen, two dining rooms and a living area, as well as a hot tub and small spa area if you fancy booking a treatment.

And the nine bedrooms, including two suites accessed by their own staircase (perfect for a bit of privacy – the villa is also hugely popular with wedding parties) are all decorated slightly differently, with space for 22 people to sleep there, ideal if you need a big family villa in Tuscany, to celebrate a milestone birthday or simply getting big groups of friends or the whole family together.

It’s the little details which lend so much of the villa’s charm: a wall of old wooden wine boxes and a trough to throw used corks into after an evening celebrating, exposed brick, white wood drawers and dried flowers, a rolltop bath in one room and old-fashioned trunks in another, even an vintage sewing machine and retro radio, all enough to make you feel very much at home as soon as you step through the door.

Then there’s the grounds, 100 acres where four very friendly (outdoor) cats prowl, and deer roam in the early mornings. Olive trees grow on the slope and the surrounding hills are reflected in the swimming pool – a bit chilly for a dip in March, but I can imagine spending hours lounging by the side in summer, especially with the new cabana area planned, featuring a bar, BBQ and chill-out area. If you are travelling with smaller kids, especially toddlers, it’s worth noting that it’s not fenced.

Another long table would be the perfect place to soak up the views, with a handy wood fired pizza oven off to one side. Which brings me on to the food.

I had a taste of what the Giovannini family, owners of the villa, could whip up at a masterclass in the UK in February, and with mamma Fabiola back in the kitchen, and her son Dario and daughter-in-law Vera in charge (husband GianCarlo was minding the shop, Dolceria del Corso, the oldest pastry shop in Volterra), we ate and ate and ate from the moment we arrived.

The villa is self-catering so if you wanted to cook your own food, that’s an option – and the family can help fill the fridge before you arrive too, as well as offering a 24-hour concierge service. But what a missed opportunity that would be. We tried four of the different menus on offer, each a different style and approach, each so mouth-watering that I vowed to live on salad as soon as I got home to compensate.

Our first night saw the most formal menu option featuring a mini cookery masterclass, a string of courses from cheese with honey and wild boar sausage to risotto and roast pork before their award-winning panforte, cantucci and vin santo.

Allowed a peek in the kitchen where Fabiola whipped up a meal for the 13 of us, including a couple of vegetarians and other dietary restrictions, it reminded me how some of the best Italian food is made from only a handful of top-quality ingredients, not least olive oil made from the 400 trees in family’s own olive grove surrounding the house. None of the ingredients has travelled more than 20 miles, this is true slow food.

With everything served up and cleared away, we were left to make merry with the prosecco and wine, along with grappa, limoncello and Baileys. Happily a huge breakfast spread of pastries, fruit and cured meats also appeared the next day without us needing to lift a finger, as I suspect we’d have struggled to do more than make coffee…

If you’re looking for a more informal evening, there’s the ‘Tuscan mommies’ option, created by a true Tuscan mamma – in our case, the wonderful Fabiola again. Focused on traditional dishes from the area, the cucina povera, it’s yet more proof that you can create wonders from leftovers with the right ingredients. A pappa al pomodoro bread soup, designed to use up stale bread along with tomato, herbs and a little cheese, was perfect after a slightly chilly day in Siena and so delicious I had seconds, and made a note of the recipe (all the while knowing my version was unlikely to be quite so delicious).

After pici pasta and wild boar, Fabiola decided we simply couldn’t have cantucci and vin santo to finish two nights in a row, so whipped up a heavenly ‘Tuscan tiramisu’, using biscotti and mascarpone, on the spot.

And for our final evening, before a prosecco brunch to set us up for our flights, was pizza night. The wood fire was lit when we arrived back slightly bedraggled from a distinctly rainy Florence and the pizza just kept coming, faster than we could eat it: veggie versions, spicier options, anchovy-laden and more (and more), finishing with dessert pizza, topped with chocolate and strawberries. As the plates were put down, I discovered spare room in my groaning stomach.

A view across the roof to the hills from one of the bedrooms at Villa Le Capanne near Volterra in Tuscany - my review of the perfect big family villa in Tuscany, Italy

Perhaps it was a good thing our days were packed with walking! On an ordinary holiday, I had visions of lounging around doing very little for days on end, simply relaxing and gazing out to the horizon, the hills that were so lushly green after spring rain turning golden in the sun.

But there should always be time to wander around Volterra. Unexpectedly cast into the spotlight as a result of the Twilight books, a supposed haven for powerful vampires, the reality beats fiction hands down.

Along with its Roman history and Etruscan tombs, plus the alabaster marble creations that it’s famous for, it’s the kind of hilltop town where you could wander the medieval streets for hours, spying gorgeous building and quirky details, stopping in little shops and browsing the market, whiling away hours over espresso as the world passes by.

And a quick pitstop at Dolceria del Corso too, of course, the Giovanninis’ shop. Don’t miss the bite size doughnuts while you’re there (even if you’re not hungry by this stage!).

If you’re assuming you’ll need to pay through the nose for this level of indulgence, there’s one final happy surprise – a long weekend like ours in Spring costs around 2,500 Euros, while the meals would have been around 2,000 Euros on top. Split between 13 of us, that’s less eye-watering than you might expect at around 350 Euros for three days of sheer indulgence. Book for a week, and it’s still under 300 Euros per person (without the food) if you fill the villa.

As I didn’t get chance to try the pool, there’s only one thing to do next – find 19 friends to join me, my husband and Minnie, and head back for a second taste.

13 family travel bloggers at Villa Le Capanne near Volterra in Tuscany, Italy my review of the perfect big family villa in Tuscany, Italy

Disclosure: My stay was courtesy of Bookings For You and the Giovannini family. All opinions and bottomless pizza stomach are my own.

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My review of the perfect big family villa in Tuscany, Italy - Country Relais & Spa Le Capanne near Volterra, with space for 22 guests, pool and some of the most delicious Italian food I've ever tried, on a trip with Bookings For You. #notjustavilla #handpickedbybfy #tuscanvilla #tuscany #familytuscany #tuscanyholiday #familyvilla #italyvilla #luxuryvilla #mummytravels

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