It is in the nature of defense towers that they are impossible to sneak up on unseen; yet it is also true that they are a welcoming beacon as you approach. Seven kilometres before reaching its base, the Torre del Merlo stands high on the horizon and guides visitors to the medieval village it once protected and that now provides a charming taste of Tuscan village life for guests adventuresome enough to take up residence in this uniquely vertical accommodation.
Built as a lookout tower in the 14th century by the powerful Belforti family and eventually passed down to the French barons de Rochefort, its thick stonewalls withstood medieval enemy attack and offered protection to villagers during World War II bombardments. Restored and furnished in 1969 by Italian architect / designer Franco Albini at the request of wealthy industrialist/fine art collector Emilio Jesi, the tower rises 28 m., which means the furnished terrace atop the tower offers incredible 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside that stretches to Volterra to the east, the Appennini and Alpi Apuane mountains to the North and, on clear days, takes in a sliver of the sea and the island of Elba.
Sitting at the top of the historic centre of the village, the tower is accessed via a metal staircase in the small garden area at the foot of the tower. Each of the four floors includes one large room and, happily, an adjacent shower room or WC. On the lowest floor beyond the entryway is a large double bedroom, whose ample wardrobes and table and chairs seem dwarfed by the thickness of the walls and the height of the ceiling. The next floor includes a spacious kitchen with a table for 10, a satellite TV behind cupboard doors and a single sofa bed. One flight up is the large sitting room, with bright sofa and chairs, a fireplace and a double bed set behind a partial screen. The uppermost floor is a bedroom for the king of the keep, for here the views are the most striking. The room is furnished with modern pieces that were the vanguard of their time and has the largest of the minimalist shower rooms; moreover, it is but one spiral staircase away from the roof terrace. A small fridge at the base of this staircase and table, chairs and an umbrella above mean that cool drinks and light lunches do not entail hikes down to the kitchen.
The property also has a laundry room in the ground level cantina, a private parking area and access to a large lower garden full of olive and fruit trees, a grapevine-covered pergola, and benches set to enjoy the panoramas. Set within the garden, a 6x4 m. above-ground pool provides a cooling retreat from high summer, with additional pools available on a nearby farming estates.
A short stroll has guests enjoying their morning coffee or an evening pizza in the local bars or restaurants, but this village has yet more to offer. The Cecina Valley mining industry dates back to the Etruscans, and Montecatini once thrived on the wealth of the copper mine at nearby Caporciano, the richest in Europe and active until 1907. The mine itself is now a fascinating museum and a stunning backdrop to summer concerts and theatre. While the town is surrounded by forests offering meandering walks and porcini mushroom or asparagus hunting, and near the crystalline waters of Cecina river, Volterra, famous for its alabaster and summer festivals, is a short drive away, as are the Cecina beaches and Bolgheri wine cellars along the coast. Easy day trips can take in the guidebook destinations of San Gimignano, Massa Marittima, Pisa or Lucca and still have you back for sunset viewing from your top-of-the-world terrace.
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