Accommodation Review: 3 villas of the Villa Saletta Estate, Tuscany, Italy

by Marco Leonardo

Three exquisitely renovated private villas can be found in the bucolic setting of Tuscany’s Villa Saletta, a 1,700-acre estate with lush forests, vineyards, and a picturesque landscape.

Over 20 years ago, multi-millionaire businessman and italophile Guy Hands and his wife, Julia, purchased the abandoned Villa Saletta estate and began revitalizing it by restoring the wine and olive oil traditions and refurbishing the villas for high-end vacation rentals.

The three country villas, located half an hour’s drive east of Pisa, each include private terraces with swimming pools, perfect for lazy summer days. However, the more active may go olive 

picking in the fall, truffle hunting in the forests, on a tour of a vineyard, or even go hiking in the hills.

San Gimignano, Volterra, and Lucca, three of Tuscany’s most famous art villages, are only a short drive away.

The Villas

The villas are a fusion of Tuscan rusticity and English country house architecture, preserving beamed ceilings and terracotta floors while furnishing them with warm wood antiques and exquisite textiles. The bathrooms include modern fixtures and amenities, such as rain showers and deep soaking tubs.

These two larger villas are great for hosting large groups of people (children are welcome) thanks to their seven bedrooms. Hidden amid sun-dappled forests, the smaller old hunting lodge “Casanare” provides for a romantic hideaway, while the larger Villa Valle has a magnificently spacious kitchen, an exceptional master guest room, and a converted hayloft with separate rooms.

The villa “Fagnana” is my favorite because of its large patio with a view of the hills in the distance, attractive pool, and cozy

living area with plush couches and a fireplace. Villa Saletta’s award-winning wines, olive oil, and honey are just some of the local specialties included in the complimentary hamper. There’s a large, wonderfully illustrated book about the history of the estate, along with some fresh groceries, a tiny box of artisan chocolates, and a bedside table.

An Illustrious Past

980 AD, the name of Villa Saletta’s most premium wine, alludes to the estate’s first written record with a reference to wine production. The Riccardi family of Florence, who served as bankers to the House of Medici, was among the ancient aristocratic clans that formerly called this area home. In the 16th and 17th centuries, they developed the land into a successful business where nobility and commoners coexisted in the style of a medieval borgo (village).

Today, the village is an endearingly dilapidated collection of structures, their once-vibrant pink, crimson, and ochre paint flaking away from their exteriors. The frescoed Palazzo where the Riccardis lived and partied in splendor stands out, as do the clock tower, church, Riccardi chapel, loggia with beautiful

views, and other notable buildings. Except for one house, where a lady and her cats have made their home, the whole borgo has been abandoned.

In 2000, Guy and Julia Hands purchased Villa Saletta with the intention of reviving the estate’s history as a diversified agricultural operation that is compassionately managed and self-sufficient. Their goal for the borgo is to provide “a premium hospitality experience, with authenticity and tradition at its center.”

Wine making and Wine-tasting

David Landini, who has been the winery’s chief vintner since 2016, has been constructing a sleek new cantina and experimenting with novel grape mixes with the help of consultants in Bordeaux.

After visiting Hand’s own cellar in the United Kingdom, Landini was inspired to help realize Hand’s bold new plan for the grapes at Villa Saletta. Sangiovese, the traditional grape of Tuscany, is only one of several varietals he has planted; others, such as

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, thrive in his vineyard’s ideal conditions.

The rigorous hand-selection of the grapes, the fermentation in stainless steel tanks, and the aging procedures in French (and some Slovenian) oak barrels are all explained by Landini as he takes us on a tour of the contemporary cantina.

The next exciting event is the wine tasting. The estate’s flagship wine is the Giulia 19, named after Giulia Riccardi, who, fortunately, has the same name as Guy Hands’ wife, Julia. Other notable wines include the deep, spicy Chiave di Saletta 2018 and the refreshing, Provencal-like Spumante Rosé. To them both, a toast!


There are several highly qualified local chefs in this foodie destination who would be happy to prepare a delicious traditional Tuscan meal for you and your guests in the comfort of your own villa. Those who were risking everything by going out might vote on who would cook dinner each night of the week.

The nearby town of San Miniato is known for its white truffles and hosts the largest truffle festival in the area, so it’s no surprise that one of our chefs is from the Papaveri e Papere restaurant there.

In the neighboring town of Capannoli, where beef is king, there is a little inn called Osteria del Sole where you can get your fill of truffles as well as a hearty helping of hospitality. Rosso di Montalcino, the younger sister of the more renowned Brunello di Montalcino, both hailing from the timeless Tuscan hill town, paired well with the soft, juicy steaks.

Our cooking lesson back at the villa, led by the lovely Erika Elia, began shortly after we returned. We all gathered ’round the dinner table to knead pasta dough, shape it into snakes, and cut it into little pieces for orecchiette (little ears).

The chef was really kind when I messed up the dough and the pasta, and he threw my imperfect “ears” in with the others. The three-course feast of Puglian pasta, Tuscan chicken cacciatore, and Venetian tiramisù was the result of the afternoon’s labor.


Things improved dramatically at the end. White truffles (tartufi) are more highly valued than their black counterparts, and the hills near Villa Saletta are one of the few places in the world where both types are found in plenty. Oak, hazelnut, poplar, and willow trees host spores that, given the right circumstances, may develop into fungal tubers.

Dogs that have been trained for at least four years to find truffles are an essential tool for truffle hunters. The Lagotto Romagnolo, often known as the “water dog,” is a curly-haired, poodle-like dog that was developed as a gundog in the Po Delta and is especially well-suited to the task of recovering game from the water.

Dinner at Tartufi Savini includes crostini with truffle-flavored toppings, tagliatino pasta with ample shavings of white truffle, eggs with additional truffle shavings, and truffle chocolate gelato for dessert, since no truffle experience is complete without tasting the precious fungus.

The veteran truffle hunter Andrea showed just as we were digging into a plate of truffle paradise, disguised in his fatigues and carrying a basket of the white, mud-covered beauties. The shipment to Qatar will be rapid, and for €12,000, the basket will be sold for a steal. After being washed, a truffle will die within two days.

For four generations, the Savini family has run a truffle business out of their headquarters in Montanelli, not far from Villa Saletta. Savini Tartufi is a gourmet’s paradise, stocked to the gills with eighty different truffle-based items. Also included are interesting tidbits of information about truffles, such as the fact that a 1.5-kilogram white truffle was found in the area’s hills in 2007 and sold at auction for a whopping $330,000 to benefit charity.

Andrea and his adorable dog Giotto take us on a truffle hunting expedition into the heart of the Saletta forests. There was no assurance that any of the “white diamonds” would be discovered, but after a few missteps, Giotto became enamored with the aroma beneath a towering oak tree and started digging furiously.

Andrea used his dog’s favorite dog biscuits as bait to distract the animal long enough for him to complete the task with his vanghetto tartufi, a specially pointed instrument that slices through the clay without damaging the tuber.

Baby truffles, according to Andrea, are worth around €200. At this point, all Giotto wants is another cookie and a walk in the woods.

When we get back to Fagnana, we slump onto the couches and daydream of buying a vineyard, an olive grove, and a white truffle forest.

Fact File:

Both Pisa and Florence airports are conveniently close.

How much: Casolare (with three bedrooms) costs between €3,500 and €6,700 a week, while Fagnana and Valle (with seven bedrooms) cost between €6,500 and €16,000. We request a minimum of 7 nights during high and peak seasons, and 4 nights during shoulder and off seasons.

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