Sunday, February 9, 2014

Renovating Tuscany


Stories of affluent foreigners buying up Tuscany’s abandoned castles and estates are commonplace. Over the past 15 years there have been many significant acquisitions made, especially by wealthy Americans and Brits, which have resulted not only in luxurious private homes, but also in fabulous resorts and award-winning wineries. Celebrity names like Sting,  Lydia Bastianich, Mario Batali, Frances Mayes might ring a bell, and one of the most famous Brunello wineries is the American-owned Castello di Banfi. 

More than once, what started out as a house hunting expedition led to the purchase of an entire village! Usually the buyers ended up being blown away by the place – despite finding it in ruins – and the subsequent restoration project turned into a life mission, which inevitably became far more complex than what they had originally imagined. The result, however, can be truly stunning. Just take a look at: Castello di Casole, Monteverdi, Borgo Finocchieto and Castelfalfi to get an idea.

Castello di Casole

A villa at Castello di Casole

Monteverdi Tuscany
interiors at Castello di Casole

Italy’s historic architecture conservation laws are very strict, and when coupled with the exasperatingly slow and complex bureaucracy, reaching the finish line becomes quite a struggle. However, in most cases the foreign owners have demonstrated extraordinary vision and commitment to the preservation of the historic origins of the properties, turning to local experts for guidance and using traditional materials, many of which have been reclaimed from the original structure. The resulting restorations have been beautifully integrated into the surrounding landscape, showing a great respect for the territory. The levels of luxury can vary, but one thing tends to unite most of the projects – an understated country elegance that reflects the best Tuscan traditions.
interiors at Monteverdi

As a foreigner living in Italy, it is especially gratifying to see that so many of my counterparts have been driven by the same passion to become a part of this beautiful country, and that they have done so with integrity and class. 
Many times I have encountered Italians who have commented on these restorations made by foreign owners, saying that they have shown a greater respect for nature and history than many of the Italians who have undertaken similar endeavorsThis is not to say that there aren’t locals who have dedicated great effort and investment to preserve and restore the extraordinary patrimony of this land – but it is noteworthy to mention that often the foreigners are even more concerned with this aspect – as it is precisely what drew them here in the first place.

Borgo Finocchiet

As this market continues to expand, with a growing number of investors now coming from Russia and the developing world, we can only hope that they too will continue the trend of keeping local traditions alive and being respectful of the long heritage behind these extraordinary estates. 

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