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Rural retreat: Le Pratola is set on a hill with fabulous 360-degree views
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Meet the owner: Margherita Piliero
Le Pratola

By Tuscan Guru

Margherita Piliero owns and manages Le Pratola, one of the luxury villas featured by To Tuscany. In the first of a series of occasional interviews with our villa owners, Tuscan Guru spoke to Margherita about how she created this fabulous property and what special qualities it offers holidaymakers.

I grew up in Britain, but my family is from Basilicata in southern Italy, where I used to visit as a child. Yet my husband and I fell in love with Chianti and we have been returning here for 25 years.”

We came across Le Pratola while viewing properties during a holiday near Castellina-in-Chianti. It was by far the most beautifully located place we saw – set on the top of a hill, with 360-degree views, the setting took our breath away. At that point, it was the location that attracted us because the villa had been lived in by an old man who’d let it go, then bought by a developer who’d stripped it bare. It had been a farmhouse. The lower-ground floor was originally designed to shelter animals – we found a trough there – the people would have lived on the upper floors. There were low, dark ceilings, very few windows, and the land came right up to the structure.”

In fact, the villa has a rich history. Long before it was a farmhouse, it was a look-out tower during the Siena-Florence wars – the original building is almost 500 years old. Later, it was part of a wine estate (there’s even a Super Tuscan wine named after it). The building that remains is predominantly the original structure, set around a courtyard. You can see the tower, but it’s closed to guests.”

This was the first overseas property project my husband and I worked on (my background is in banking, but I now work in property development and management). It was also the biggest and most ambitious project we’d attempted because of the size of the building and the work that needed to be done. We completely gutted and reconfigured the interiors and put in new plumbing and electrics. The landscaping was by far the most demanding task – all those hectares of olives and vines (we still have a few hundred olive trees and make oil that guests can enjoy). It took three years to get to the point where we could move in.”

We employed local teams, including a builder from Radda, and a very talented British project manager called Joe Thompson, who speaks fluent Italian. He really helped bring the build to life and make it fun and exciting. We were personally involved with the design, with a little help from a friend. We used authentic materials; lots of travertine and exposed brick. We restored a beautiful wooden floor and the dark Tuscan beams and terracotta on the ceilings. But we added very contemporary styling, mixing elements like the kitchen by Ernestomeda and the antiques we bought at an auction house in Florence, with furniture from Roche Bobois and Kartell, modern art by Elizabeth Ockford, and accent lighting by Artemide and Cristina Prandoni.”

The villa has high ceilings and big windows. And we created a double-height, galleried landing with a metal-and-glass bannister. It is a very light space, an inside-outside house, where you can see the nature around you and feel immersed in the Tuscan countryside. The open-plan design creates a sociable atmosphere. There are lots of spots for eating together – this is Italy, after all – in the courtyard with the pizza oven, the front terrace, the back terrace with sunset views. But there are also lots of little alcoves and benches where you can take yourself off to for some quiet time, read a book, enjoy a glass of wine, recuperate. All the bedrooms are air-conditioned and have their own bathrooms (with Ferragamo toiletries). There’s a heated outdoor pool with sun terrace, too.”

We wanted the villa to provide an escape from busy lifestyles. This should be a place to relax. So we offer a range of services that appeal to guests who want to visit Tuscany and really experience the place – drivers, chefs, private tours, we can organise almost anything. If you want to cook, that’s great, the kitchen has everything, plus we have a vegetable and herb garden. But if you want help, we can organise it. We have a close-knit team, I liaise closely with guests and there is a full-time house manager and a housekeeper who goes in every day. They will show up and help – so you won’t be stuck trying to open the pizza oven or navigate to a local town. But we’re also careful to ensure guests enjoy as much privacy as they desire.”

While we chose Le Pratola because it is a tranquil place, we also wanted to be in a location rich in culture, history, food and style. We’re urban dwellers, so to be in the back of beyond would have been intimidating. This villa is just three kilometres from the nearest town, and close to good restaurants, and it’s also easy to reach nearby cities, too.”

The sort of people who stay are looking for somewhere that will really work, especially for a big family. So much has been designed with families in mind. The pool has an electronic cover, there are window locks, the property is gated and secure. There’s a pool table and table-tennis table, wifi and music streaming. The layout is particularly popular with multi-generation families; one bedroom is off the courtyard, slightly independent of the rest of the place, which is good for elderly relatives. Our three children were young when we started work on Le Pratola, so the place has evolved with our family. That’s why the villa is so family-friendly.”

Find out more about Le Pratola at to-tuscany.com/lepratola

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