From Chianti farm to Luxury Chianti hotel in Chianti

Hotel in Chianti

Vision and Change: From Farm to Hotel

Franca, Duchess di Grazzano Visconti
The Marchesa Marie-Blanche Viviani Della Robbia had only one child, a daughter, Franca. Marie-Blanche was very involved in her only child’s education and ensured that her studies were global and cultural. They travelled together but for most of her youth Franca was raised in the Chianti countryside at Villa Le Barone instead of their central Florence home. Franca was regarded as one of Florence’s great beauties and loved the excitement and activity of being in the city. In her youth, she regarded Villa Le Barone as remote country living and disliked the long and cumbersome trip on the then-unpaved, long and winding roads. In her early twenties, she married Duke Guido di Grazzano Visconti and lived a privileged and active life in the city centre. Unfortunately, Guido died in Africa during World War II, early in their marriage, and Franca never remarried. She travelled extensively while keeping her primary residence in Florence. She visited Le Barone rarely, mostly to visit her mother, and chose instead her closer property in Ugolino as her country retreat. Upon the passing of her mother in 1971, Franca, at the respectable age of 64, took over the Fattoria Le Barone property. Despite her appreciation for the Barone property and respect for her mother’s determination to maintain it as a productive farm, the inheritance proved at first an onerous responsibility to the Duchess. The dearth of experienced and qualified labourers to work the land and the poor economic returns on an agricultural dependence underlined the limited viability of Fattorie Le Barone as a working farm. What was she to do with this family legacy of various stone farm buildings, an old manor house and acres of olive groves and grape vines?

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A student of her remarkable mother, she understood the importance of adaptability and evolution. She looked to the modern transformations happening around her in the Chianti. In the 1970’s, Chianti was undergoing its very genesis as a tourist attraction. After the war, the abandoned Chianti farmhouses were discovered primarily by the pastoral-loving English who began to buy the old buildings and restore them. The rolling hills became peppered with the reclaimed cotta coloured stone buildings, again heralding the seductive beauty of the Chianti. As demand grew, numerous Italian families opted to sell their farms, villas and castles to this growing demographic of foreigners wishing to claim an idyllic Tuscan retreat for themselves. For many landowners and farmers it was a welcome opportunity to address the financial challenge of maintaining agricultural properties in the countryside.

Franca herself was briefly tempted by a generous offer but the long history of entrepreneurial genes from her grand mother’s Larderel family must have been strong in her blood. At the age of 65, she chose a more courageous and creative path by deciding instead to turn the longtime family farm into a small, charming hotel for the increasing stream of visitors to the Chianti. Her friends and advisors challenged the boldness and viability of such a vanguard decision. What did she know of such a business - it was something new and untested for the area? Would it be successful? And how would she, a single woman of advanced age manage it? But Franca, like her mother, was a strong and determined woman and moved her vision forcibly ahead. Thus began the third life cycle of Villa Le Barone as a charming inn.

As a well-travelled woman of the patrician class, Franca enthusiastically engaged in the project. The small hotel of only six rooms in the central manor house was first opened to referenced guests. A stickler for manners and decorum, Franca, ignoring the demands of the service industry, boldly placed in the reception foyer the unusual greeting “All guests make us happy - some by coming, others by leaving.” She was indeed a confident and tough task master to both staff and guests!

Opening of Hotel Villa Le Barone
The official opening if Hotel Villa Le Barone on the 30th of June 1976

However her determination and high expectations were the engines necessary to move the new enterprise forward. The rooms were updated and decorated with personal antiques and interesting trinkets the Duchess personally chose while on her own travels abroad. To assist in the operation and provision of board for the newly opened hotel, she engaged many of the loyal contadini who had worked on the farm, encouraging them in their new trades as gardeners, waiters, porters, cooks and concierge. A celebratory evening to mark the inn’s official opening was organised on June 30th 1976 for the Duchess, her many friends and international contacts. The hotel’s charm and simple, warm Tuscan hospitality earned it many accolades and the news of its existence quickly spread.

For a period of over twenty five years, Franca commanded the operation and growth of of our hotel in Chianti, Hotel Villa Le Barone until her death in 2003. Today Corso Aloisi de Larderel, Franca’s cousin, and his wife Jacqueline are the current custodians and spend much of their time now at Hotel Villa le Barone. Dedicated to ensuring the integrity of the original vision, they oversee the continual adaptation of necessary changes and upgrades demanded by today’s ever evolving modern world.

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