A luxury converted convent that sleeps 14, Convento sits on the hills near Carmignano, west of Florence. With a private pool, air-conditioning throughout and all rooms en-suite, this is a luxurious villa in Tuscany.
In the hills west of Florence, a short distance from Vinci, Leonardo's birth place, are the convent of Carmignano and the home of Leonardo's grandparents' .
This will explain the feeling of familiarity one feels on gazing across these hills - the views you are seeing are the same Leonardo himself drew from when painting and sketching.
Today the hills remain largely unchanged and Convento sits among them, an ancient convent restored to a new life. The building is now a luxurious place to stay, with a private pool overlooking the views and with every bedroom an ensuite and the whole building air-conditioned. If you're going to explore Tuscany, do it in style and stay here, with a live-in concierge to organise your tours and make your days slide by.
Double doors in the central arch of its wide facade leave no doubt as to where to enter and the entry hall with multiple doorways and touches of grandeur are a welcoming starting point.
To the left three stone steps lead to the largest sitting room, with sofas and the original open fireplace. Here, as throughout the ground floor, the stone walls are exposed, yet the rooms are warmed by the presence of brick arches, gleaming woodwork and bright furnishings. This is seen in the adjacent small sitting room, furnished passageway and music corner - all of which ensure that members of a large group can find a quiet corner when the mood requires.
Wide corridors lead to a large dining room with an open fireplace where four square tables can arranged to the group's preference. Further down the corridor is a cinema room whose television provides satellite channels and DVD options for viewers in comfy armchairs.
Feeding a group of 14 requires a serious kitchen; Il Convento's provides all the modern appliances marble-topped preparation space a good cook needs, while its open fireplace, stone carved sink and corner bread oven reflect its heritage. Near the kitchen is a stairway down to one of the convent's cellars, now restored to offer space to store or sample wine produced on the estate.
Off the entry hall are double doors into a room with armchairs and a corner coffee and cocktail bar, a room popular also because it has the best WiFi coverage in the thick-walled structure. This is because it is adjacent to an internet-served office, staffed during the day to offer any concierge services required. The final room on the ground floor, a few steps down to follow the slope of the hill, is the fully equipped Billiards Room - probably not something the earlier monks go up to, but very popular with modern guests.
All sleeping accommodations are located on the top floor, situated around a wide corridor running the length of the building. Halfway up the stone stairway to this floor is a handy WC with toilet and twin stone carved basins.
Each of the seven spacious bedrooms, 4 double bedrooms and 3 which can be set up as a double or a twin with prior request, have ensuite shower rooms, with one exception that offers a marble dressed tub instead. Midway along the corridor is a small sitting room with seating around a fenced opening to the entry hall below.
On this floor the stone walls have for the most part been plastered and painted - in the bedrooms in pastels referring to the produce once harvested at the convent, e.g., peach, yellow plum, sage, while in the bath or shower rooms bright marble harmonizes with touches of wrought iron and stylish fittings. Fine fabrics and quality antiques feature throughout the large villa, with attention paid to the maintaining the look of country comfort.
The panorama that greets you upon stepping outdoors merits places from which to appreciate it and at Il Convento there are several - the large dining pergola with a table for 20 and a convenient kitchenette; a pool area with a generous flagstone surround for sun beds and bistro tables; and furnished gazebos both on the lawn by the pool and on a small hill reached by winding stone stairs behind the dining pergola.
The nearby village of Baccheretto places fresh bread and the buzz of village festivals within walking distance while a short drive brings one to the beautiful fresco for which Carmignano is famous or to two grand Medici villas - the fortified villa purchased by Lorenzo and finished by his son Pope Leo X in Poggio a Caiano and UNESCO's World Heritage Site La Ferdinanda, 'villa of 100 chimneys' located in Artimino, a hamlet noted also for its fine Etruscan museum. Half an hour away is Prato, the center of the Slow Food Movement and known since the Middle Ages for its textile industry and Vinci, Leonardo's natal town with a small, but enlightening museum.
To the south is Montelupo Fiorentino, one of the most important pottery centers of Italy during the Renaissance and still today a mecca for visitors seeking colorful ceramics and San Miniato, a charming hill town that was once fought over in the Middle Ages and now acclaimed for its precious white truffles. Naturally, a trip to Florence is a must and probably, to avoid the big city parking nightmare, most easily done via train from Prato. The Queen of the Arno and its wealth of palaces, museums, bridges and gardens is eminently walkable, though this does mean that, duly inspired, by the time you return to your quiet hill north of Prato, you will have renewed appreciation for the peace of convent living.
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