The low-key Tuscan countryside is quietly home to some of the world’s biggest stars. Here, Indagare’s Amelia Osborne reveals Sting and Trudie Styler’s favorite local haunts.
When did you first visit Tuscany, and what initially struck you about the place? In 1990/91, we rented a villa near Pisa while Sting was recording his album Soul Cages, and so we had time to really settle in to Tuscany and begin to feel at home in the area. It was the beginning of our real sense of connection with the region. The Tuscan countryside is incredibly picturesque, very fertile and green, full of rolling hills and beautiful valleys scattered with villages that seem to have hardly changed in hundreds of years. The cities too—Pisa, Florence, Siena—still have such history in every street, in their architecture, art and culture. Old and new rub shoulders unselfconsciously in Italy—contemporary styles and fashions are embraced and invented there, and sit easily in the ancient settings. Nothing feels incongruous there—everything somehow just works together.
How did you find Il Palagio? We actually searched for a home in Italy for about seven years. We looked many times, but most of the properties we saw didn’t feel right for us. We needed lots of bedrooms for family and friends, and most villas with that many rooms were far too grand in style. By the time we visited Il Palagio we no longer had many expectations, but we were very pleasantly surprised. The villa is not full of cavernous rooms and precious frescoes. Rather, the rooms are on a human scale, and the position in the hills offers wonderful views and freshness. It has a wonderfully restorative and peaceful atmosphere, and has been a very special family place for us.
What was the renovation/restoration process like?
We wanted to be able to enjoy the house as quickly as possible, so the first thing we did was work on the bedrooms and bathrooms. We went for a very simple style in the bathrooms, really for speed and we thought as a temporary measure—a marble-based waterproof plaster finish everywhere with freestanding baths and sinks—but we haven’t changed them because they work so well with the architecture of the house. They’re all very simple but beautiful, and will never date. There is a chapel adjoining the house, no longer consecrated, but we went to town on the wall decoration in there, with beautifully vibrant wall paintings inspired by Indian art.
We’ve been protective of the structure of the house, most of it remains original, and there is great beauty in the old details that we would never consider modernizing. So it feels very homey and lived in, but at the same time there is a style everywhere that seems to come naturally in Italy. Around 2000 we also began to restore the vineyards on the estate, a process that continued over three years, and gradually we built a collection of wines we’re really proud of. Il Palagio wines are now available in most of Europe and in the United States, and we really hope that this aspect of our life in Italy will go from strength to strength.
What are some of your favorite memories that took place in the house? We’ve spent most summers at Il Palagio, happily coinciding with our wedding anniversary in August, so we have had many special anniversary parties there. On our 20th I actually wore my wedding dress, which our dear friend Gianni Versace had designed, and that was an incredibly special occasion. Our children have loved spending summers there as they grew up, and now that they’re all adults they still join us for family time together, with their partners now, and in the last few years also with our grandchildren. A new generation is starting to enjoy the annual "Sumner sojourn" to Tuscany, where we can all relax together and reconnect over a few weeks. It’s a valuable tradition that has developed and having our own house there has really facilitated that.
We’ve also used the villa for a yoga retreat; a retreat for writers, filmmakers and philanthropists; Sting has recorded albums there in the onsite recording studio; Trudie has made a series of fitness dvds there - it’s a very relaxing and inspiring environment.
Now we’re renting the estate for destination weddings and special celebrations, as well as private vacation rentals. It’s a pleasure to be able to share the peace and beauty of Il Palagio.
It’s very laid back! Everyone will trickle down for a buffet breakfast on the terrace - Sting is often first up and practicing guitar in his favorite shady spot… we’ll chat and read, sunbathe, and Sting and I usually work out, doing some yoga or Pilates. At lunchtime everyone convenes at the great long table under the huge oak tree for a buffet lunch of pastas and salads. More relaxing, reading or having a siesta in the afternoon, and then when the day begins to cool I’ll often go horse-riding. We’ll have dinner in the courtyard around 8 or 9; then when it’s really dark we might go and watch a movie on the big outdoor screen under the stars, Cinema Paradiso style.
Siena is less than an hour’s drive away and always worth a trip, especially if Il Palio is on. The horserace is held twice a year, in July and August, which takes place right in the Piazza del Campo of Siena, where ten bareback riders represent ten of the city’s 17 contrade, or wards. Thousands of spectators cram into the square or watch from the surrounding windows and balconies. It’s an amazing spectacle, all over in less than two minutes, but generating huge excitement.
Forte dei Marmi provides a wonderful day at the sea, and Florence offers all the shopping opportunities you could want, including the wonderful Santa Maria Novella pharmacy and perfumery, which is an Aladdin’s cave of exquisite natural scents, creams, potions and potpourri.
Also fun is a day at the monthly Arezzo flea market, where you can spend a day wandering around rummaging for antique china, linens, furniture and all sorts of treasures.
What are your favorite restaurants/dining spots (for lunch, coffee, gelato, casual dinner, lengthy dinner?)? We tend to stay home when we are in Italy, but if we do venture out we may go to the local Villa Casagrande in Figline Valdarno, whose 17th-century cloistered courtyard restaurant always has a lovely evening atmosphere (Via Giovanni Battista del Puglia, 61; 39-055-954-4851). In Siena we love Osteria Le Logge, a warm and friendly place serving sophisticated yet wholesome Tuscan food. The menu is based on what’s freshly available each day.
If we’ve had an afternoon in Florence we might finish up at the beautiful L’Incontro wine bar in the Savoy Hotel (Piazza della Repubblica, 7; 39-055-273-5891) near the Duomo, which offers views over the Piazza Repubblica.
For an afternoon or late evening ice cream treat our favourite local is Caraiby Gelato Artigianale (Piazza Serristori, 21; 39-055-915-6035) in Figline Valdarno.
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