Fattoria Le Barone, a Tuscan farm

Hotel in Chianti

A Farm in Chianti: A Brief History

Villa Le Barone
Villa Le Barone in 1932

The passion for villeggiatura – an escape from the city to a villa in the hills – is deeply embedded in the history and culture of Tuscany. Over the centuries, the ancient Tuscan towns of Florence, Arezzo and Siena flourished and became important cultural and political centres, attracting and spawning a patrician class of nobles. Strategically bordering these prospering cities lay the pastoral and agricultural region of Chianti. The slower, more tranquil pace of its countryside attracted nobles who build estates away from the noisy, cluttered cities and the number of Tuscan villas and castles became particularly great in the verdant hills of Chianti. These country retreats of the ruling classes also served as important agricultural enterprises or fattorie, farms whose produce supported the households in nearby cities with basic agricultural products such as olive oil, wine, wheat and meat.

During the late Renaissance, the descendents of the famous Florentine ceramicist Luca Della Robbia claimed Villa Le Barone as their Chianti farm and summer retreat. Located only 30 kilometers from Florence and perched on a commanding hilltop, Villa Le Barone was once the seat of a Baronetcy (hence its name), originally built in the middle ages as a watch tower. By the late 14th century, the tower had been torn down and the main building turned into a farm house and then later converted into a formal residence for this famous family. The scattering of outer buildings on the estate were used to house farm workers and to serve as stables, presses and barns.

Fattorie delle Barone

Fattoria Le Barone

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The Villa Le Barone maintained its traditional agricultural rhythm until the early 20th century when it was inherited by Marie-Blanche, widow of the late Marquis Viviani Della Robbia. A modern and intelligent woman, Marie-Blanche was actively involved in the cultural and literary circles of Florence. She was a respected and celebrated author and a founding member of a cultural salon that attracted a wide range of participants to address current social and cultural issues. Through these circles, she became aware of and interested in the more modern methods of agriculture and determined to invest these new ideas into the operations of her farm. She restored the house, re-planted the gardens and sought to teach the stubbornly traditional peasants new ways to improve the land. She converted the property into a wine estate and for many years was wholeheartedly devoted to overcoming the challenges of running a farm in the then still-rural hills of Chianti - something considered very unusual for a woman of her status and time.

Sadly, Europe in the early 20th century was witness to two World Wars and though the Chianti stumbled relatively undiscovered and unscathed through the first one, in the latter it experienced the to-and-fro transit of huge, mechanised armies that interrupted the centuries old farming patterns. The post-war modern world had far reaching global effects and rural Chianti was unable to regain its previous agricultural momentum, changing the pastoral existence of Tuscany forever. Long time farms and homes of contadini were abandoned as labourers were attracted instead to pursue more lucrative opportunities in the fast growing city centres. Finding and retaining reliable farm managers or workers was difficult and maintaining an operational farm became an increasing challenge for Marie-Blanche and many other Chianti land owners. Fattoria Le Barone persevered despite the hardships. In her celebrated book “A Farm in Chianti”, Marie-Blanche shares her many challenges and mourns the deteriorating state of the Chianti farms, angry and disappointed at the changing loyalty of the younger generation of contadini. She remained until her death confident and optimistic that the inherent love of the land would ensure its future.

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