Eremo, how we found our Tuscan Villa
Eremo is a lovingly restored stone villa with 12th century origins that has been furnished with exceptional taste. Set in a wildlife reserve in the hills overlooking the Arno valley, its views, its protected peace and the luxurious hospitality offered its guests make it a delight for large family reunions or special occasions. This is our interview with the owners:
How long have you owned Eremo?
We bought our house in 2000.
What made you fall in love with it?
We fell in love with the location instantly, with its panoramic views west up the Arno valley and its private setting in the middle of a 250 hectare farming and game preserve. When we first arrived, however, Eremo was more ruin than house: most of the roof and a majority of the floors had collapsed and trees were growing out of the rubble. But the features still standing, like the triple arched entry and the large, four-arched cow stall (now the living room), revealed a gracious layout and generously proportioned rooms, unusual for a simple farmhouse.
During the five years we spent restoring the house, using antique beams and brick recovered from the rubble and found at salvage yards, we uncovered ancient tower foundations, old windows and doorways sealed up in the walls and boulders jutting out of the foundations. With each new discovery, our love and respect for the house grew. We performed most of the work ourselves, so it is easy to understand our deep attachment to the property.
Naturally, every beautifully restored farmhouse requires good workmen, quality material and, above all, patience. These 'before and after' shots give an idea of Eremo's growing pains and the mammoth undertaking that produced the stylish house guests enjoy today.
The facade of Eremo in the early days The facade today. The beautiful vaulted room when the building was found The vaulted living room today. The fireplace before restoration The fireplace today.
Are there any stories attached to the house?
Eremo is a hamlet consisting of two houses, one of which is stabilized but unfinished. For centuries our property was the site of a 12th century church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, likely located in the building next door.
It is rumored that a branch of Via Cassia, the ancient Roman consular road leading from Rome to Arezzo and Florence, forms the foundation of our driveway. In the finished house, a glass floor covers the earliest foundations of an 11th century tower.
During the course of successive expansions, the complex grew over the centuries into its present form and was home to three families of farmers (approximately 20-30 people), until 1969, when the buildings were abandoned. We have heard stories that the wife of one farmer murdered her husband in the other building! If so, he did not stick around to haunt us.
What secret or special place would you advise your guests go to see nearby?
Civitella in Val di Chiana, just 5 minutes' drive away, is a hidden gem. An authentic, tiny, walled village cresting a nearby hill, Civitella is the site of an important Lombard castle built in the 6th-7th centuries and expanded and used as a stronghold by the Bishop of Arezzo.
It stood intact until the waning days of World War II, when it was ruined by the retreating German army. A small museum movingly memorializes the "martyrs of Civitella," the 115 residents (mostly men but including women and children) who were executed in the village square by the German army in retaliation for the ambush and killing of three soldiers by partisans. After walking through the few narrow, stone paved streets, consider stopping in at Osteria Antico Borgo, set in an old olive mill and serving typical Tuscan cuisine with an upscale twist.
Osteria Antico Borgo
What do you like about renting your property?
During the five years we spent restoring Eremo, we lived in nearby Arezzo and gained an intimate knowledge of our part of Tuscany. The area is less crowded with tourists, and its proximity to all the major Tuscan towns and cities makes it a great base from which to explore central Italy. We are enchanted anew every time we come to stay and are tickled by the thought that our guests get to experience this beautiful spot for themselves. With our extensive knowledge of central Tuscany and the contacts we developed while living there, we love to share insider tips and help make arrangements to meet any request, from bicycle rental to horseback riding and golf, guided bus and city tours, wine tastings, chef prepared meals and pizza nights using our 3m diameter beehive oven.
Do you have a favourite restaurant?
That's a hard question, as there are many good places to eat nearby. For fine dining we recommend Osteria del Borro, located in Il Borro, the Ferragamo estate.
If you want to soak up the local atmosphere (and don't mind being the only foreigners in the place), Ristorante Neda in Pieve al Toppo has some of the best Chianina beef Fiorentina steaks, pizzas and pasta in the area.
Though there are many restaurants to choose from nearby, with three kitchens on site and catering easily arranged, also enjoy Eremo's many dining areas inside and out:
Have you had any famous guests?
Yes, but out of respect for our guests' privacy, we don't drop names.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
Since its rebirth in 2006, Eremo was the setting for a German film, was featured in an Italian country home periodical and is winner for "Best Tuscan Kitchen and Dining Renovation" on HGTV's Bang for Your Buck. Most importantly, however, for the past 12 years we have been a home away from home for multigenerational family gatherings, groups of friends, wedding parties and academic retreats. We look forward to working with Invitation to Tuscany to provide you with an unforgettable experience.