It all started with an email. Would you like to come to Tuscany? Well who wouldn't? It was a year ago that we responded saying that the next time we're in Italy, we'll definitely stop in to experience the luxury Tuscan villa of Borgo Argenina.
Owned, operated and renovated 20 years ago by Elena Nappa, Borgo Argenina is the Tuscan villa experience you've always dreamed of having.
A Villa in Tuscany – The Experience
I've wanted to stay in a Tuscan villa since reading the book in 1996! After booking a flight to Rome and getting a smoking deal on a rental car we started our road trip through Italy.
When visiting Tuscany, you want to have a vehicle to truly get the local experience. It's the only way to really delve into the culture of the land.
We arrived late afternoon at Borgo Argenina and Elena's two dogs “Pasqualina and Giuseppina” greeted us with their tails wagging.
Her cats came out to say hello too! One cat even decided to hang out in our room with us for a very long nap.
Other guests were outside the villa sipping Chianti Classico wine getting ready to watch the sun go down over the vineyards.
Note: If you don't have a car, Elena has tour guides, driving trips, cycling trips and hikes that you can book through her.
We settled into our traditional Tuscan villa suite (I just love saying Tuscan Villa) and instantly felt a sigh of relief. Borgo Argenina is a place that makes you feel at home.
We didn't want to leave our room it was so comfortable. But we didn't want to miss a moment in Tuscany, or having an authentic Tuscan villa experience.
A Tuscan Villa Welcome
Once we were all set and ready to go, the new guests gathered around Elena's large wooden table in her traditional Tuscan kitchen.
She takes great pride in keeping everything traditional and historic to give her visitors and authentic Tuscany experience.
Her story is incredible.
The Borgo Argenina Story
Elena fell in love with the abandoned village of five stone houses in 1991 while working as a fashion designer in Milan.
In 1992 she bought the property and began renovating the 10th-century property.
It took five years to bring running water, heat and electricity to the rundown buildings that she turned into luxurious villas with the help of a skilled family of Tuscan craftsman.
Read her full story here
While listening to her speak, I declared that she is the original inspiration for Under the Tuscan Sun!
A Passion for Tuscany
I have never seen such passion in anyone that Elena has for Tuscany. She wants to share everything with you and make sure that you have the best experience possible.
During our introduction meeting, we sipped wine and ate olives as she pointed out on her beautiful hand drawn map where to go and what to see.
We had four nights at her Tuscan Villa and four nights was just enough.
If you want to really experience Tuscany and have a life changing experience, we suggest a week!
We followed her guidance with map in hand and explore the surrounding monasteries, castles and vineyards.
Each day began with a delicious home cooked breakfast overlooking the rolling hills, olive groves and the picturesque vineyard.
The villa doors were opened and the warm breeze whisked through as we sipped cappuccinos and dined on fresh bread, fruit and cheese.
She even makes homemade cakes and pies and if you are a fan of eggs, they are cooked fresh to order.
Mornings are lazy as we sat in paradise and never wanted to leave, but by mid-morning we pulled ourselves away from the tranquility to explore the region.
Setting off in our little Fiat 500, we were confident to tackle the winding roads.
Nearby Tuscan Sights
Brolio Castle is close to Borgo Argenina and if you want to hike in Tuscany, you can set off from the villa and be at the castle in time for lunch! There is a winery there, where you can do tastings too.
If you don't have a car, Elena has you covered, she knows everyone in the area and can set up cycling tours or private vehicle tours with guide of the region.
Her good friends Roberto, Paola, Sergio, Marco and Luca will show you the best kept secrets of Chianti.
Truffle Hunting in Tuscany
If you want a true Tuscan experience, you must go Truffle hunting with Giorgio.
Giorgio also owns a nearby restaurant where Elena sets up dinners that last all night long complete with wine flowing and prices so low they can only be experienced in Tuscany.
A fellow traveller raved about it when Dave and I arrived at the Villa.
Alas, Giorgio had just left for Milan the day we arrived for an olive oil conference.
We'll just have to go back to Tuscany soon, because Truffles and dinner at Giorgio's are things we don't want to miss!
Dave and I ventured a bit further out during our daily excursions stopping for food, wine tastings, taking unexpected turns on back roads and stopping regularly to enjoy the view.
A highlight was having lunch at a monestery near the end of Elena's hand-drawn map.
Monte Oliveto Monastery is a working monastery where monks welcome guests into their lives. It's a beautiful setting where you can tour the grounds.
Monte Oliveto Monastery
There are beautiful historic towns nearby like UNESCO World Heritage Site Sienna but our favourite was Radda.
This medieval town has cobblestone walking streets, large walls, beautiful views and several eateries, shops and places to buy and taste Chianti. When in Chianti, you can't get away from tasting wine!
Want more of Italy travel? Visit our post on Touring Cinque Terre
When in Chianti Classico, you must taste wine. The Classico is a better vintage than Chianti so we made sure to taste and buy a lot.
We bought a couple of wines from the Brolio castle winery. €20 a tasting, but if you buy a bottle it is free. We thought it was a fair trade since we bought a €20 bottle.
There are several wineries in the area and Elena has a full list on her website.
We got lost in Chianti.
Each morning we couldn't wait to choose a route and drive the countryside.
The rolling hills filled with olive groves and vineyards are like something out of a movie.
It's no wonder so many dreamers bought property in the 1990s for a song.
Elena told us that you could buy a villa for €3000 Euro back then. Now they are going in the millions!
The Chianti experience has caught on and if you want a break from the hustle and bustle of Florence which is just an hour away, this is the place to come.
You really don't need to go far from to get lost in Tuscany. Dave and I always thought that Tuscany was overrun with tourists so we avoided it. But not in Chianti. You feel like you have it all to yourself.
See our step-by-step guide on how to taste wine like the experts
Cooking Class in Tuscany
If you really want to delve into the Italian culture, you must learn to make pasta. One of the highlights of staying at Elena's Tuscan villa is to join her in a cooking class.
Elena doesn't let one non-traditional piece of equipment into the kitchen.
Dave and I even tried to bring a bottle of Chianti Classico into the class, but she insisted we drink her wine poured directly out of the flask.
In Chianti everyone used to pour out of a traditional flask. The bottles are a new invention.
It was a fun and festive experience as we made hand-made pasta, chopped fresh garden vegetables and prepared everything by hand.
The class lasts for hours as you get to know your fellow guests, drink Chianti and work up an appetite.
At the end of the class, you get to eat your giant three course meals.
Elena gives everyone a cookbook to continue the tradition of Italian cooking.
As she said, “Traditional Italian cooking is getting lost and we have to preserve it.”
That is why she keeps everything as it once was and gives her guests a cookbook to take with them and pass on to their families.
Staying at Borgo Argenina was a special experience. It was a true escape.
Florence is wonderful, but when visiting Tuscany, make sure you get out to see the countryside.
While staying at the villa, there were young couples, older couples and groups of (twenty-something) friends.
It is a destination for everyone. I could tell that everyone in the villa felt how special the experience was.
In a world of selfie sticks and instastories, Borgo Argenina in Tuscany is a place to get back to what is important in travel.
Meeting new people, making new friends and learning about the culture and traditions of the destination you're visiting. I'm glad we had the chance to have our own Under the Tuscan Sun experience.
Book your stay at Borgo Argenina