I often remember as a child visiting my cousin, the elderly Marchesa Marie-Blanche Viviani Della Robbia (née Larderel), at her Chianti farm, Villa Le Barone. Together we would stroll through the gardens, overlooking the lovely rolling countryside and this slight, wrinkled lady with a shrill voice, a funny hat and sparkling intelligent eyes, would regard me seriously and humour my budding interest in agriculture (we still believed in it in the fifties!) by showing me the latest improvements in the farming techniques she was using there. A new all metal plough on wheels, a clanging, smoking tractor that the white Chianina oxen
regarded with disbelief and, wonder of wonders, a small but deep artificial lake that would allow plentiful summer watering for the promising bountiful new crops! With eyes open wide, I was mesmerised by the wonder of this exciting future. Marie-Blanche, a fan of Modernity with a capital M, would nod and remind me that one should always adapt to new times and never regret the past. Sadly, the sixties and seventies wrote a different story and agricultural revenues in Tuscany, as for the rest of Italy and Europe, dwindled away. Farmers abandoned farmhouses to go to the city, oxen were sold and ploughs rusted away.
In spite of agricultural hardships, Chianti remained beautiful, the hilly landscape retained its serenity, the vineyards and olive groves were like the lines of a lovely book written over the centuries. Marie-Blanche’s daughter and new owner of Le Barone, Franca Duchess Visconti, was also a woman of great character, preferring action over ‘status quo’. She lived by her mother’s credo and wasted little time adapting to the changing times of the Chianti region. Therefore in the early seventies, the old villa and adjoining farm buildings underwent a massive cleaning, refurbishing and painting. Franca would excitedly share with us the progress of transforming Le Barone from a working farm into a private guest house. Her enthusiasm made it evident that the fun part of the ordeal greatly surpassed the toil of hard work. When the first nine rooms were made available to guests in June 1976, the spirit of Le Barone was established: a stylish old family house open to friends. Good humour and friendliness often made up for the lack of formal training of the former farm people turned into staff, gardeners, cooks and maids and the over-seeing manageress Rina Buonamici’s smile and calm efficiency took care of the rest.
The child that listened in awe to Marie-Blanche is now married to the lovely Jacqueline and blessed with a wonderful family. Over the years we kept in close touch with Franca and Le Barone. Upon the sad passing of this remarkable woman, Jacqueline and I became the proud new custodians of this wonderful place with the aim to continue the tradition of sharing the house and its Tuscan hospitality with our guests until the next generation is ready to take over. We are pleased to share that the Villa’s future rests secure for many years as our fourth grandchild (a girl to our daughter), is going to be christened this year on the 30th anniversary of Villa Le Barone. “A Hotel in Chianti” is the continuation of Marie-Blanche Viviani Della Robbia’s “Farm in Chianti”. This book serves as both celebration and tribute to the evolving story of a land and place which, despite numerous transformations, remains, we hope, a Chianti home. If what appears to be love radiates from these pages, then we will have accomplished our objective.