Many of us dream of being born a castle, full of grand rooms adorned with ancient amour and the grounds surrounded by green rolling hills as far as the eye can see. And if this castle also came with one of the finest wine estates in Italy, most would shout a collective ‘si’ if offered the keys. Such is life for Francesco Ricasoli who was born in the majestic Castello Brolio once a medieval fort that today has Romanesque and non-Gothic additions making it one of the finest stately homes in the country. The estate also houses Italy’s oldest winery, Barone Ricasoli, which dates back to 1141 set in classic Chianti countryside positioned neatly between Florence and Siena.
The Ricasoli family can date their ancestry back even further to the seventh century and today the current 32nd Baron, Francesco, runs the vast estate producing award-winning wines from 1200 hectares of land. Great-grandfather, Bettino Ricasoli, is credited with creating the official recipe for Chianti wine in the 19th century keen to compete with the French wine market of the day. A man of many accomplishments, Bettino was not just set on transfixing the Italian wine industry, but also the country as part of the Italian Risorgimento, the unification and creation of Italy in 1860, and went on to become one of its first prime ministers. Today Francesco is adamant to keep these family values and wine traditions alive using old techniques with modern machinery and a sleek tasting room open for visitors all year round to enjoy some of the fourteen fine labels the winery creates. So when not gracing the rooms of a grand castle or surrounded by his vineyards, how does a Baron of Tuscany send his spare time? Here Francesco shares his NINE.
1. Galleries I Love
A great place to visit that you rarely will find in guidebooks is the Museo Stibbert. I have always been interested in weapons, especially swords. I am fortunate to have quite a collection from my own family; we actually have a dynastic Armory that is open to the public. When I have some free time, the Stibbert Museum is a wonderful place to see pieces from all over the world from many centuries. In addition, it has a wonderful garden with a villa from the 1800s.
2. For A Perfect Dinner
Ristorante Buca Lapi in the centre of Florence is one of my favourites as their food is exceptionally fresh and seasonal and the atmosphere is very relaxing. If you are able to get out to the countryside, Michelin starred restaurant La Bottega del 30 in Villa a Sesta is worth the drive!
3. For A Sweet Treat
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but if I am in the mood I will walk over to Gelateria La Carraia by the river Arno that has great gelato as well as amazing views. If you can time it right, go around sunset to enjoy the views of the Arno, a nice reprieve from being in the busy centre of Florence.
4. My Florence Style
I travel often so I buy most of my clothes in Florence. My style is classic, although when I have some downtime jeans are the perfect way to go. I have been buying my shirts for a long time at Simone Abbarchi on Borgo Santissimi Apostoli and my shoes from Sutor Montellassi in Via della Vigna Nuova.
5. Favourite Shopping Stores
If I am in Florence I like to go very early in the morning when there are no tourists to Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo. First stop is an espresso at Antica Pasticceria Sieni and then immediately to the ground floor of the "real" Central Market. I go to the fresh fish area where I find Pescheria Dolfi. I truly enjoy cooking so I always end up leaving with much more than I intended on buying!
6. For Sunset Cocktails
At the end of a long day, an aperitivo is a must! I like to get back to the Chianti countryside but if I am in Florence, SE·STO on Arno at the Westin Excelsior is spectacular or if I prefer something more low-key, Harry’s Bar is a great solution.
7. For Art & Culture
Tuscany is a treasure cove of places to see, the possibilities are endless and I am fortunate to be so close to so many openings and events. At this moment, I am particularly interested in a new exhibit called The Art of the Treasure Hunt 2017 Edition (www.artthunt.com). This is the second season that Barone Ricasoli, together with other wineries in Chianti Classico, is hosting a contemporary art display at Castello di Brolio.
8. Favourite Green Space in Florence
I would say that the Bardini and Peyron Gardens are truly spectacular. The gardens are immaculately cared for and stunning, and in my opinion, one of Florence’s best kept secrets.
9. Escape to the Countryside
Of course, how can I talk about a place in the countryside without suggesting a visit to Castello di Brolio! It has art, culture, food and if I can brag little, outstanding wines.
Barone Ricasoli wine tasting room and restaurant, Osteria del Castello, is open all year round with castle garden visits from March to October. Picnics on the estate grounds, private tours of the castle or visits to the museum and chapel are available from spring. Find all the details on www.baronericasoli.com
Photo credit: Francesco Ricasoli / portrait by Stefano Caffarri