For travelers looking to reawaken their artistic impulses, Villa Lena is a haven and an incubator for creative individuals in Italy. Every summer, this agriturismo resort opens the doors of its 19th century villa and farmhouse studios to artists from all over the world to work and inspire their guests. Through this regular flow of creative forces, Villa Lena is a hotel where guests can’t help but find inspiration in the beautiful vistas and constant creation around them.
Forty-five minutes from Pisa and an hour from Florence by car, Villa Lena is located in a quieter part of Tuscany in area known as San Michel. High up on a forested hill, classic Tuscan scenes of rolling vineyards and cypress trees expand in every direction. Mountain bikes are available for those who want to attempt the trail to the nearby town of Palaia for fresh-made gelato, but the best way to get around is to rent a car. The villa is also a short walk away from a nearby ghost town of Old Toiano, whose original residents were forced to evacuate in the 1940s and today is mostly occupied by a wild cat colony.
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Every year, hundreds of artists apply from around the world for the opportunity to spend a part of their summer at Villa Lena. For six weeks, the chosen artists will have the time and space to work on their projects in exchange for running workshops and leaving an original piece of work behind for the hotel. The types of artists vary from musicians and painters, filmmakers and sculptors, and even bookmakers and floral arrangers. The scheduled workshops, screenings, and readings change from season to season depending on the skillsets of the different artists.
The workshops are a great chance to get hands-on with the art being created and are especially fun for families with young children or teens. If you happen to stay during the last weeks of the residency program, you may even have the chance to attend the Artist Aperitivo, when all the artists will open their studios and talk about the work they’ve created during their stay and present the piece they will leave behind.
As a guest, feel free to not only peruse the art left behind and peek into the studios, but to also strike up a chat with the artists who can be found intermingling with guests around the pool or in the restaurant. Because the artists are living on the property, learning more about their work and their process can really enhance your experience as a guest and open up new ways to perceive the scenery around you, whether that’s taking notice of the sculptural details of a fountain or spotting a specific type of wildflower on the trail. With the residency program at the heart of the resort, creativity is an abundant resource.
Villa Lena welcomes all kinds of guests and is family and pet friendly. There are many different types of rooms available that represent a wide range of price-points. At the more affordable end of the spectrum, the San Michele rooms are located above the restaurant and at the heart of the resort’s social scene with views of the old villa. A short walk from the center of the property, the Renacchi and Santa Maria apartments are perfect for large groups with their own quieter pool in-room kitchenettes. And closer to the property’s entrance, the brand new Fattoria building features deluxe rooms for those looking for a little more luxury, with a romantic bathroom dressed from floor-to-ceiling in Carrara marble. And at the top of the line, Casetta Bella is a private villa with a private pool and three bedrooms located on the far end of the property.
With over 2,000 olive trees, over four acres of vineyards, and an organic fruit vegetable garden, almost everything you consume at the San Michele restaurant comes right from the land. The set dinner at the San Michele restaurant, which is also open à la carte lunch, is one of the highlights of staying at the hotel. The menu is created daily in collaboration with the international chef-in-residence who is encouraged to incorporate new ideas into the Italian cuisine.
In addition to meal times, guests can learn more about their food by signing up to come along on a truffle hunt or attend a pizza-making workshop with the chef-in-residence. Not to be missed is the cocktail making workshop, where you can learn the history and significance of the Italian aperitivo while mixing and drinking your own Campari cocktails.
Price and How to Book
Room rates begin at 89 Euros per night, which includes breakfast, Wi-Fi, and dinner, as well as use of the facilities and access to the pre-scheduled artists workshops. Culinary workshops like pizza-making and truffle hunting are extra, but reasonably priced. If you’re driving through the area, you could also stop in for a meal at the restaurant or purchase a day pass to use the pool and other amenities like the yoga deck. Plus, you’ll still have a chance to chat with some of the resident artists.
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Jamie Ditaranto was hosted by Villa Lena. Follow her on Instagram @jamieditaranto.