Xenia Taliotis checks into an elegant Tuscan hotel and decides to never leave.
Mama mia, Villa Le Maschere, che bella! Truly one of the most gorgeous hotels I've ever stayed in, Villa Le Maschere is a Renaissance beauty that has hosted a pope (Pius IX), royalty (Carlo Emanuele IV and Carlo Felice) and more blue bloods than I've space to mention. Among its centuries-old splendours are floral reliefs and frescoes, Venetian-style terrazzo floors and two exquisite female figures by the sculptor Foggini, which step out of the walls of the sumptuous Foggini Suite. Though the villa fell into critical disrepair after it was abandoned in the 1960s (the Italian Ministry of Cultural Property considered it "irrecuperable"), a five-year, €50m-restoration has snatched it from the grave and transformed it into one of Tuscany's most elegant hotels.
Where is it? In the Mugello Valley, about an hour's drive from Florence, set in 44 acres of parkland with views of the Apennine Mountains, the verdant hills and vineyards of Tuscany and Bilancino Lake. Free transfers are provided to and from Florence's airport and train station for guests staying in the suites and prestige collection rooms. I was visiting on an Insight Luxury Gold Vacation.
Check-in experience: Seamless. Reception is a gracious space full of light and gorgeous over-sized furniture that makes you feel like Alice in Wonderland after she's had the Drink Me, Shrink Me potion.
Why should you stay: Because it's a Renaissance beauty that has been transformed into one of Tuscany's most dazzling and elegant hotels.
The bed: From generous to gargantuan, depending on which room you book. Many of the rooms are decorated with 17th- and 18th-century frescoes and friezes.
Bathrooms: Again all are different — some have showers, some baths, and some both. All are kitted out with deluxe toiletries, and pH-balanced shampoo and conditioner made exclusively for the hotel by specialist Marie Danielle.
Well, I overslept and missed my ride into Florence so, no, no noise.
Food and drink: Outstanding. Head chef Giuseppe Frabetti's interpretation of traditionally robust and hearty Tuscan classics takes the weight out of them; what you get are perfectly balanced flavours dancing across your taste buds. Finish your evening in the bar putting the mixologist through a cocktail challenge. I promise you, he'll win — you won't be able to find one he can't make.
Rest and recreation: There's no proper gym but there are exercise machines in a sectioned-off area on the first floor. It also has two outdoor pools, one of which is heated, and a fabulous wellness centre, with sauna, Turkish bath, emotional! shower and a range of pampering, preening and primping treatments.
What's in the neighbourhood? As if having Florence within reach isn't enough, there's more history and art closer to home with some fine examples of Renaissance architecture including Castello del Trebbio, one of the longest-inhabited castles in Italy, the Villa Medicea di Cafaggiolo, built for the Medicis in the 14th century, and exquisite medieval towns, such as Firenzuola and Scarperia. Throw in every outdoor activity going, from canoeing and windsurfing on Bilancino, to trekking, cycling and riding through the unspoilt wilds of Mugello, plus cheese and wine tasting across the road at Ristorante Enoteca Le Maschere, and you've no reason to leave.
Free wi-fi: Yes. Plus free-to-use PCs.
Perfect for: La dolce vita.
Would I return? To return, you first have to leave ... and I'm not going anywhere. No please don't call security...
Villa Le Maschere is at Via Nazionale 75, Barberino di Mugello, Florence. Phone: +39 055 847 431.