VILLA LA MASSA (at CANDELI)
Everyone who loves Italy will love the Villa La Massa. It was built in the countryside near Florence in the 16th Century (and was extended in the 18th and early 19th Centuries) and sits in 20 acres of gardens right next to the River Arno. An hotel since 1948, in 1998 it became the sister hotel of the great Villa d’Este on Lake Como. Although it is much smaller than its sibling, the Villa La Massa offers its guests something of the same experience, for it, too, is spotlessly elegant and supremely comfortable, and provides the sort of service which is both attentive and entirely proper.
It shares another characteristic with the Villa d’Este. It tempts its guests to remain within its borders. The level of enjoyment to be had here, surrounded by its lemon trees and olive groves, is so intense that it is very easy to spurn the hotel’s shuttle ‘bus (which whisks guests off to explore the Renaissance glories of Florence and return them after a day’s sight-seeing) and to turn into the laziest of lotus-eaters. I confess that I succumbed. I did not step outside the property throughout my stay. My feeble excuse was that I had been to the Uffizi and the Duomo so many times before. But did I really need an excuse for staying put in an hotel this good? After all, it even has its own pretty little chapel, built in 1804, for the occasional turning of the mind to Higher Things.
My staying put was not entirely a matter of indolence, however. For I was thus able to experience – for the sake of you, dear Reader – the level of service offered at the Villa without interruption from early morning until late at night. And that level is very high. (A special mention must go to Antonella, the charming barman, who gilded my afternoons by bringing to my table on the terrace pots of tea and the most ravishing little coffee and chocolate éclairs.) I therefore salute the fine gentleman at the helm, Stefano Venturi, the General Manager, (pictured with your correspondent). Mr Venturi was at Claridge’s in London for some years, an establishment I have been known to visit myself. (As I have often observed: the world of the best hotels is a small one.)
My room was on the first floor of the main building. Number 24 is designated a Junior Suite, and is therefore 740€-860€ a night, bed and breakfast for two, according to season. This was charming and immaculate accommodation. Through a proper hallway (with fitted wardrobes and a private safe), I entered a chamber with that aura of restrained luxury one expects in the finest Tuscan villas. The colour scheme of cream, pink and pale green was entirely to my taste. The striped carpet, the fauteuil in grey, the framed antique engravings, the velvet sofa, the deliciously comfortable bed, the abundance of silk cushions – all contributed to the sense of a civilised retreat. And so did the view from the windows, over the carefully tended gardens and the wide, flowing river. Within the bathroom I found lots of green marble, a large tub with a shower over, two wash basins, a bidet, a loo, lots of soft white towels and the special toiletries shared with the Villa d’Este.
Apart from outside terraces around the swimming pool, the hotel has several lovely sitting rooms, furnished in that inviting style which employs figured damask and silk velvet, for those days when the weather is less than clement. The dining room - called the Ristorante Il Verrocchio, after the painter to whom some frescoes discovered in one of the restorations were attributed – also has both inside and outside spaces. As a slight chill marked the evenings during my visit, I decided against al fresco dining. Instead, I sat inside, among the columns and beneath the vaulted ceiling. I liked the atmosphere created by the white napery, the white crockery, the Spiegelau glassware, the subdued lighting and the attentive waiters – like the friendly Emilio. I was pleased to note that napkins were replaced if diners left their places for a moment.
The efficient Restaurant Manager, Paolo Micheli (pictured with myself and the Chef), looked after me with exemplary kindness and courtesy. His team is well drilled to take care of the dining room. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Executive Chef Simone Paredi has arrived with the considerable talent he used to employ for The Grill at the Villa d’Este. His cooking is precise, intelligent and exactly right for this context. He takes fine and expensive ingredients, handles them with skill and care, combines them with panache and produces dishes which are immensely enjoyable to both the eye and the palate. (For three courses expect to pay 80€-103€, and for four courses 110€-138€.)
Allow me to share with you the highlights of my own meals. Steak tartare with red onion and Parmesan sauce was a large portion of thoroughly satisfying lusciousness. A plate of scallops came with each one topped with a piece of duck foie gras and surrounded by black truffle – a combination as impressive as it sounds. Steak Fiorentina, carved by the table, was one of the best versions I have eaten (and I have eaten many), the tender beef yielding exciting layers of carnivoral richness. Monkfish with green peas, flavoured with vanilla and blakcurrant was excellence of a different kind, a tour-de-force of exquisite subtlety. And the fondant with pear was a real treat for this particular chocoholic.
The wine list is Italian (apart from the champagnes) and has 297 offerings. Prices run from 30€ for a Tuscan rosé to 1,570€ for Krug Clos du Mesnil 1998. Krug Grand Cuvée is 350€. Other bottles to catch my eye were: 2015 Cervaro della Sala (85€), 1997 Sassicaia (950€), 1997 Solaia (690€), 1999 Ornellaia (410€) and 2003 Masseto (1,280€). One of my favourite Italian red wines is Luce, the gorgeous super-Tuscan in one of wine-making’s most beautiful bottles. Here I had the opportunity to compare the 2007 and 2008 vintages (both 138€). I judged the 2007 better. It is fully mature, with an enticing nose of brambles, blackberries and blackcurrants, its bold structure supporting a generous depth of ripe fruit. This was lovely drinking.
It was back to the restaurant to break the fast each day. Silver pots of coffee, buckets of ice, mushrooms on toast, omelettes, my Grandfather’s Breakfast (porridge made with water, sliced raw onion and slices of buttered brown bread) and my concluding cappuccino were all brought to me. And from the buffet I secured pineapple, strawberries, melon, ham, cheeses and croissants – all of excellent quality. I lingered over these breakfasts, and I would very much have liked to linger longer at this enchanting hotel.
I love Italy. Therefore I love the Villa La Massa. It is the perfect lodging for those who wish to be near (but not in) Florence and to sally forth to view the wonders of the city. And, better still, it is the ideal place for those – like me – who simply want to give into temptation and stay put. The Villa La Massa is a hideaway which offers good taste, luxury and contentment.
VILLA LA MASSA
Via della Massa 24, Candeli, 50012 Florence, Italy.
Telephone +39 055 626 11
Fax +39 055 633 102
Double rooms from 480€-530€, bed and breakfast, according to season
Check the hotel website for special offers and for the rates for specific dates
Open from April to November