VILLA LA MASSA (at CANDELI)
If you want to be near Florence, but away from the city’s hustle and bustle, I know the perfect place. The Villa La Massa was built 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. It has been an hotel since 1948 and in 1998 became the sister hotel of the great Villa d’Este on Lake Como. Although it is much smaller than its sister, 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 wonderfully proper.
But beware. The level of enjoyment to be had within the borders of the estate, surrounded by its lemon trees and olive groves, is so intense that a serious temptation arises. 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 a lazy lotus eater. 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 the level of service offered at the Villa without interruption from early morning until late at night. And that level is very high. Credit for this must go to the man at the helm, the General Manager, Mr Archille di Carlo (pictured).
My room was on the second floor (the piano nobile) of the main building. Number 35 is designated a ‘Junior Suite Top’, and is therefore 630€-980€ a night, bed and breakfast for two, according to season. Through a proper hallway (with fitted wardrobes and a private safe), I entered a high-ceilinged chamber with that aura of restrained luxury one expects in the finest Tuscan villas. Walls of pale green and carpet of striped red were enlivened by the gilt of the chandelier and of the Roccoco-style frame to the mirror. The writing desk, tall bureau and bedside cabinets were in the antique style and veneered with walnut. The lighting from the standard lamps and table lamps was discreet and effective – just like the air conditioning. Two easy chairs and two wooden upright chairs provided the seating. The canopied bed was immense in both its size and its comfort. From the two high windows were views of the River Arno. Within the bathroom I found spotlights, lots of green marble, a large tub with a shower over, two wash basins, a bidet and a loo. This was a comfortable billet.
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 candles in silver sticks, the subdued lighting and the attentive waiters in their black waistcoats. Silver domes were lifted, and I was pleased to note that napkins were replaced if diners left their places for a moment.
The excellent Restaurant Manager, Luca Giaccone, 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 Andrea Quaglirella cooks in exactly the right manner for this context. He takes fine and expensive ingredients, handles them with skill and care, combines them with intelligence and produces dishes which are immensely enjoyable to both the eye and the palate. A six course tasting menu is offered at 95€ (which increases to 135€, if paired wines are included). I made it my habit each evening to select four courses from the carte (for which you should expect to pay 100€-110€).
Allow me to share with you the highlights of my own meals. A poached egg with black truffle was simple and luscious. Tender lobster was precisely balanced with a salad of exotic fruits. Tortelli with pecorino cheese and ravioli with ricotta, spinach and a sage sauce were both examples of pasta at its most satisfying. A veal noisette was exquisitely tender and tasty and grilled sea bass was wonderfully moist and full of flavour. And my sweet tooth was fully satisfied by white chocolate bavarese, with hazelnut crunch and a barley reduction.
The wine list is mostly Italian and has 367 offerings, including 18 half-bottles. Ten wines are offered by the glass. Italy dominates, of course, although there are tempting champagnes and some grand French sweet wines, like 1995 Yquem (760€, half). Prices run from 30€ for a Tuscan rosé to 1,940€ for a magnum of 2004 Masseto. Krug Grande Cuvée champagne is 350€. Other bottles to catch my eye were: 2013 Cervaro della Sala (90€), 1997 Sassicaia (950€), 1997 Solaia (790€), 1999 Ornellaia (500€) and 1995 Luce (430€, magnum). From my own drinking, I would commend to you a red Tuscan made with the sangiovese grape, which possessed a most appealing density of damson and blackcurrant – Brunello Campogiovanni, San Felice, 2010 (78€).
It was back to the restaurant to break the fast each day. Then I was looked after very well by the waiter Lorenzo, who brought to me silver pots of coffee, buckets of ice, mushrooms on toast and my concluding cappuccino. From the buffet I secured pineapple, strawberries, orange, Allbran, apple tart, bacon and tomatoes 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.
The Villa La Massa is, indeed, the perfect lodging for those who wish to be near Florence and to sally forth to view the wonders of the city. But it is also the ideal place for those who simply want to give into temptation and stay put in a retreat 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 430€-590€, bed and breakfast, according to season
Check the hotel website for special offers
Open from April to November