Villa La Massa: Traditional style meets contemporary luxury at this uncompromising Florentine hotel

Zoe Gunn

16 September 2021

Combining historic grandeur with modern service and style, Tuscany’s Villa La Massa offers the best of both worlds

16 September 2021 | Zoe Gunn

I

t is a truth universally known that some people are a bit of a nightmare to holiday with. I will, tentatively, admit to being one of them. I love sunbathing by a pool but get bored after a couple of hours. I’m always up for a walk on the beach but can’t stand getting sand everywhere. I also have an almost pathological need to visit even the most minor cultural site within the vicinity of any given hotel, resort or Airbnb. In short, I want a holiday that offers a bit of everything, all of the time.

Well, step forward Tuscany, and, in particular Villa La Massa. Originally built in the late 1200s, and used as a summer palace by the Medici, Florence’s ruling family, throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, it is a historical landmark in its own right. It also happens to be located around an hour (and in some cases much less) from the vineyards of Chianti, Florence’s famous cultural sites, the beaches of Forte Dei Marmi and Livorno, and the fantastic hiking of the Pistoia mountains. Talk about box-ticking.

Of course, whether or not you visit any of these locations is entirely dependent on your strength of will to tear yourself away from Villa La Massa itself. And, once you’re safely ensconced within its tranquil 25-acre estate on the banks of the River Arno, that can be more difficult than you’d think.

Transformed into a luxury hotel in 1948, after more than 600 years in the hands of some of Europe’s most prominent aristocratic families, the past seven decades have been spent renovating outhouses, barns and storage spaces into luxurious places to stay, with the modern Villa La Massa offering 51 rooms and suites across five unique buildings.

Each has been designed to restore as much of the original architecture and atmosphere of the property as possible with the result being a distinctly different feel in each space. Looking to live it up like an Italian noble? Request a room in the Nobile main house – the original Medici palace, which still features a vast great hall where you can practically smell the lavish feasts of days gone by. In the rooms the Renaissance history of the villa translates into canopy beds, vibrant Tuscan textiles and ornate frescoed ceilings.

A Casa Colonica suite

For something a little more modern, look to the light-filled La Limonaia – formerly a barn used for storing the lemon harvest – or the elegant Casa Colonica, both of which were introduced in 2019. Offering some of the biggest and best suites on the estate, the four-suite Casa Colonica also features a private kitchen, garden and al fresco dining space providing the perfect full-use option for families and large groups looking for hotel amenities with a more intimate atmosphere. See what we mean by best of both worlds?

Having become part of the Villa d’Este Group in 1998, Villa La Massa has clearly been drawing on the legendary Lake Como hotel’s reputation for world-class service and hospitality. The staff here pull off that very neat trick mastered by Europe’s grand dame hotels of always being on hand when you need them without ever seeming to be around at all. And, when it comes to facilities, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a hotel with such a complete offering so close to Florence’s city centre (sightseers, there’s a frequent shuttle bus that will get there in 15 minutes).

Take, for example, Villa La Massa’s flagship restaurant Il Verrocchio. The only one of its calibre to offer views over the River Arno, its new head chef Stefano Ballarino is a literal transplant from Villa d’Este, where he worked his way up from chef de partie before being offered the top job in Tuscany. An affable presence around the property, you’re as likely to find him whipping up a delectable primi of wild boar tortellini as you are doing the rounds at breakfast to check everyone’s eggs are exactly to their liking. Ask nicely and he may even share the secret to the irresistible focaccia served at Villa La Massa’s poolside bistro L’Oliveto. (Pro tip: order a side of homemade hummus for dipping). It’s unclear when (or if) Ballarino ever takes a break but his dedication is evident in your dinner.

Speaking of poolsides, with its dedicated changing area, proximity to the L’Oliveto bar and views across the hotel’s olive groves, Villa La Massa’s is quite the charming spot to while away an afternoon – even for those with itchy feet like myself. It is rivalled, perhaps, only by the hotel’s subterranean spa, which features a state-of-the-art gym (complete, somewhat fittingly, with what appears to be an actual Medieval dungeon), sauna, steam room, experience showers, a relaxation room and a full list of treatments using products from the famed Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

Suitably, rested, rejuvenated and ready to explore? The hotel is well aware of its privileged position among some of the world’s most revered culture, gastronomy and history, and is keen to shout about it. Accordingly, it’s spent years developing close relationships with the area’s lauded brands and institutions, affording guests access to a series of carefully curated experiences. Fancy a private tour of the world-famous Frescobaldi vineyard? No problem. Perhaps you need a personal shopper to escort you around Florence’s luxury boutiques? The concierge will be happy to provide. From sunset drawing classes by local artisans to behind-the-scenes tours of the city’s top museums, Villa La Massa takes the business of helping guests uncover the best of Tuscany seriously.

And, with so many options available in Tuscany, take it from this restless holidaymaker: you’re going to appreciate the guidance.

Rooms at Villa La Massa start from €520 (approx. £470) for a Double Deluxe Room per night, including breakfast. Price also includes use of the Arno spa facilities, swimming pool, parking and shuttle service to Florence, villalamassa.com.