Sandra and Riccardo grew up as sister and brother on the outskirts of San Gimignano, the fabled towered city of Tuscany. For them, there were so many beautiful country paths to explore, and romantic places that took them back in history in their thoughts. When they were at play, they would imagine themselves playing the parts of Italy’s most important historical characters.
Not far from their home was the ruin of a great historic villa, and it became their favorite fantasy playground. They were enchanted by this place. It had great mystery and a haunting presence that was irresistible. From its imposing vantage point, they could see down into the valley that leads to Poggibonsi, Siena and Florence.
Over the entrance to the great villa was the Latin expression parva sed apta mihi which is a 16th century line of poetry from Ludovico Ariosto. It means ‘small but enough for me’, a line of humor from a time long gone. The children were very cautious in walking through this wreckage of ancient times, and respectful of the important characters of Italian history who had gone before them.
In truth, the first residents of this villa were the noble Cattani family, who bought it in the 1300s and ruled the countryside here in feudal times. In 1410 it was purchased by the Acciaiuoli family, noble Florentines who lived here for two centuries. In 1598 it became the property of the Archbishop of Pisa, Carlo Antonio dal Pozzo. In the 1620s, Gian Lorenzo Bernini completed an extraordinary bust of the Archbishop (left), which can now be found in the National Gallery of Scotland. In 1867, the Archbishop’s heiress Maria Vittoria dal Pozzo della Cisterna married Amedeo di Savoia, Duke of Aosta and son of King Vittorio Emanuelle II and it became the villa of Her Royal Highness Duchess of Aosta.
The royal Savoia family retained ownership until 1946, when it became the property of Countess Alba Balbi Valier, who was an important winemaker and earned the D.O.C. distinction for San Gimignano’s famous Vernaccia and the Chianti Colli Senesi in 1966.
The property had been abandoned in 1954 and sat on its noble Tuscan hillside, slowly advancing into a state of decay. But Sandra and Riccardo never lost their affection for their beloved fantasy villa. As children, they shared a dream that some day this magnificent palace would be their own.
In 1999, their dream became a reality, when their family was able to purchase the villa.
Sandra, the architect of the family, immediately went to work to create a design and plan for the renovation that would turn it into a modern villa with traditional style and colors. The work went on for more than two years and everyone helped, including Mama Silvana, who didn’t mind moving stone with a wheelbarrow.
In Sandra’s words:
For the restoration we tried to maintain the original structure and the colours of the walls, windows, etc. The villa was restored using natural materials, and first quality cotto floors, Florentine tiles and beams, which we had to do because the villa is under fine arts protection. The furniture is a mixture of local crafts and antiques together with modern design. The restoration was directed by me, Sandra, and my family with the help of an engineer and skilled workers for the masonry, plumbing and wiring.
The work was completed in 2002, when Sosta del Duca opened its historic doors for guests eager to enjoy an authentic experience of Tuscany at its best.
People who live here for one week or two or three are considered to be as part of our family…we hope they enjoy our company! We help our guests, we are available for information, to give directions, suggestions, make bookings for museums, wine tours, cooking classes and other services that guests could require during their stay. And in the end we enjoy so much to share new experiences with them.
The beauty of this job is to meet always new people and learn something new. In fact, during these ten years that we are open we have made so many contacts, and some of our guests are really close friends. Our loved Mama is in the kitchen with two other ladies to prepare our simple dishes. So guests can share also our familiar way of cooking as if they were at our home for dinner. We are always pleased to pass our recipes to those guests who are interested in Tuscan cooking.
Thanks to its central position in the heart of Tuscany, Sosta del Duca is an ideal starting point for those guests who want to discover the most beautiful and evocative places this region has to offer. The most important cities and provinces of the arts, such as Siena, Florence, Lucca, Arezzo, Cortona, Pisa and Pistoia with their piazzas, streets and museums set a beautiful stage for art lovers.
Then there are the medieval villages of the Chianti wine region, then Volterra, the Val d’Orcia, the Etruscan Coast and the minor unspoiled villages scattered through the countryside.
To read more about our visit to Sosta del Duca, please click here.