MONA LISA’S FORMER FAMILY HOME IN THE CHIANTI HILLS
Did Mona Lisa play ping pong? Did she wax, exfoliate, book facials and care about her bikini line? Or did she just leave it to Leonardo Da Vinci to make her skin look so luminous, smooth and radiant and give her that famous enigmatic expression of a representative of the Tuscan “Quattrocentro” gentry and the look of a woman hiding bad teeth as well as perhaps a heavily sliced backhand?
Mona (Monna in Italian) Lisa’s former family home in the Chianti hills above Greve and close to Panzano, forty minutes south of Florence, now has a spa and wellness centre, Infinity pool, mountain bikes and a table tennis table.
In 2014 architect and garden designer, 65-year-old Patrice Taravella bought the “Villa Rinascimentale” (Renaissance villa) and grounds and has begun restoring them to their former glories.
Born to Italian parents in Falaise, Normandy - also the birthplace of William the Conqueror -Taravella studied architecture at the Beaux Arts in Paris. For twenty years, he worked on various projects - theatres, schools and commercial malls. Before focussing on a new concept : the garden-farm-hotel and creating the Prieure d’Orsan monastic kitchen garden in France’s Berry region and Babylonstoren in the Cape Winelands of South Africa designed in an ecological way, integrating best organic practices with medieval-tapestry-inspired walled gardens.
“The moment I saw Vignamaggio I fell in love with it. Its position in the middle of forests near the source of the Greve river, the 1926 Sanminiatelli garden, box hedges, Lecci (holms) and 300-year-old cypress trees as seen in
Sir Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 “Much Ado About Nothing”, the region’s long gardening culture and the estate’s proximity to Florence airport were the main reason to invest money and time in it.”
It is a work in progress and labour of love. A new spa is being built and the villa given a makeover, offering twelve luxury rooms. “I want to create something that has conservation of the past at its heart, while being a farm of the future.
“Vignamaggio’s landscape was adapted by farmers’ necessities. Its beauty was not an objective but a result of hard farming work. This harmony is still recognizable in Chianti. Despite industrialization. My aim is to rescue the landscape and at the same time create an avant-garde farm.
“We have 62 hectares of vines, 5000 olive trees - Frantoio, Leccino, Morailolo ad Pendolino and 12 hectares of orchards.”
The walk to breakfast in the Casolese Sala delle Colazioni is one of the prettiest imaginable. A olive tree -flanked path takes you to your apricot jam “crostata” baked pies, “schiacciata alla Fiorentina” flatbread cake, “torta alla yogurt”, honey tart, plum cake, “torta della nonna” (grandmother’s tart) and “sfogliatelle” stacked leaf pastries.
One of Tuscany’s oldest farming estates (originally called Prenzano), Vignamaggio has been making wine since 1404. The Gherardinis moved from their Montagliari castle over the valley to Vignamagio in 1421 and lived there until 1831.
Mona Lisa was born in Via Maggio, Florence in 1479 living in various addresses around the city - near the Santa Trinita church, Basilica di Sant Spiriti, Via dei Pepi , near the Franciscan Santa Croce (burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo and Rossini) and over the road
“The moment I saw Vignamaggio I fell in love with it”