Gill Martin laps up the the sybaritic lifestyle of the ‘Silver Coast’
‘TRESPASSING. Violators will be shot. Survivors will be shot again,’ proclaimed a stark notice on the forbidding iron railings of Villa Ciclopica. ‘Attenti al Cane’ reinforced the stark warning. The image of an open-jawed guard dog posted on the high gates was accompanied by the barking of a couple of hounds yet to bound into view.
La Maremma – once a hostile land of brigands and rife with malaria – is somewhere tourism seems to have forgotten. Its medieval villages, olive groves, woodlands and imposing forts go largely unexplored
Their barks were worse than their bites. Moli, the golden Labrador with arthritic hips, and Scila, a black and white cocker spaniel cross, preferred a stately amble to a faster gait.
We’d held our breath at the warnings at the top of the driveway to the villa but now our breath was taken away by the panorama spread beneath us, 400 metres down twisting roads to the port of Cala Galera.
The view was framed by cypress trees standing sentinel, silver olive trees and brilliant yellow laburnum leading down to a glittering sea and lagoon. A flotilla of bright white yachts and ocean cruisers left a criss-cross of foaming wake. Tycoons’ toys and more modest weekend sailors’ craft rubbed hulls as they bobbed at anchor.
The nearby town of Porto Ercole exudes a Fifties sense of glamour, a taste of the La Dolce Vita enjoyed by bygone legendary visitors including Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin and David Niven. The celebrity tradition was revived more recently by Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law for the filming of The Talented Mr Ripley. Madonna too. And Sven Goran Eriksson and Nancy dell’Olio.
Our doggy friends, now as welcoming as our hosts, rolled over for tummy tickles, lay panting at our bare feet as we relaxed on loungers around our swimming pool, occasionally lapping the water when the thermometer edged towards 25C. in the Tuscan May sunshine.
We were to sample the best of villa life, a private chef in the person of an ever-smiling Maria Bujoreanu.
‘You’ll eat the best food in the world,’ said our driver of Romanian Maria’s culinary skills. Canapés of succulent olives, spicy tomatoes and salamis served with our sundowner gin and tonics whet our appetites. And dinner of artichoke lasagne and tiramisu so light it was in danger of floating off the table proved his point.
We were no easy bunch of villa visitors to please. How do you cater for a British Asian Hindu vegan; a Russian/Afghan Orthodox Christian/Moslem who would not eat pork; one lactose intolerant woman; one omnivore (me)?
“Does the wine contain gelatine?” they asked. “Are the courgettes fried in butter?” “Is the Pope a Catholic?” OK, I made up that one.
Maria fielded our questions with aplomb and served up stunning breakfasts and dinners with much home-grown produce: fig chutney, breakfast jams and compotes, fruit and vegetables from the garden. The villa even has its own vines.
The 150-year-old farmhouse has been transformed over the years by its Roman owner and his interior designer wife, who favours quirky décor, making it ideal accommodation for families or a group of friends.
It was homely, stylish and welcoming, with indoor and al fresco eating areas, a gym, billiards room, a library and lounge area with comfy leather sofas and an array of DVDs, including Fawlty Towers, thrillers and drama for stay-in evenings.
The concierge service meant we could arrange for cooking lessons (we whipped up a mean lunch of sea bream pasta and Chantilly cream cakes in the well-equipped kitchen), soothing massages, visits to a state of the art winery for a tasting, a trip down to the ancient lagoon town of Orbetello for ice cream heaven, window shopping for bejewelled sandals and a sunset aperitivo by the Etruscan ramparts of the city wall.
There were windmills aplenty but sadly no sight of the famous flamingos, nor the local speciality of anguilla sfumato, smoked eels in salt and vinegar.
While tourists flock to Tuscany for its glorious weather, wine and cuisine, this Silver Coast (Monte Argentario) area of La Maremma – once a hostile land of brigands and rife with malaria – is somewhere tourism seems to have forgotten. Its medieval villages, olive groves, woodlands and imposing forts go largely unexplored, its sweeping sandy beaches remain uncrowded.
Whatever the attractions it’s hard to drag yourself away from the home comforts of Villa Ciclopica.
Tuscany Now & More offers seven nights at Villa Ciclopica from £7,669 per week based on 12 people sharing on a self-catering basis. Tuscany Now & More features a range of properties across the region and Italy and can provide private chefs, excursions and other services upon request through expert partners The Art of Leisure.
Tuscany Now & More can organise bespoke experiences and excursions as a part of any stay at Villa Ciclopica or any of their other properties. The Art of Leisure can arrange any of these excursions/activities as a part of the villa experience.
For Petra Vineyard visit: www.petrawine.it.