There is a bathtub precisely my size in my suite. It is as if it was molded for me, and with lavender bath salts and rosemary soap, both all natural products made with the herbs growing outside of my tub’s picture window, I feel as if I have discovered the true meaning of vita della campagna. My room, two floors and with a private door to a small grassy area overlooking the mountains, exudes life in the country with its perfume of burning wood and herbs. I risk dunking my iphone in the water in order to capture the sunset, the pink hues enveloping the giant cypress trees and the wild hills of the Maremma. Shouldn’t every bathtub in Tuscany have it’s own picture window? There’s no going back now.
Carlo and Aurora Baccheschi Berti define international style, understated elegance, and comfortable luxury in a rustic, rural setting. From Firenze and Milano respectively, to Bali and back, they have created an indescribable oasis in southern Tuscany that brings together their travels and ever-evolving taste. When they purchased Castello di Vicarello, their intention was to salvage the ruins and restore the property as a private home. As the project progressed, they most generously decided to share their unique property with discerning travelers in search of tranquility, divine views, and the most authentic Tuscan experience. The restoration is meticulous; in fact, I feel as if I have stepped inside the original castle belonging to the 12th century. My favorite room is the familial breakfast table surrounded by windows on four sides: one being the roof. The room is truly an architectural feat; what is better than beginning the day with a sun bath, surrounded by mountains and cypresses, homemade jams, tartlets, fresh seasonal fruit, and local yogurt?
After my early evening bath, I wait for the lights to come on in the kitchen, signifying that dinner preparations are under way. I cross the courtyard with the slight illumination of the moonlight. Aurora, ever kitchen curious, has chosen a new recipe from an Indian cookbook: fish cooked in a sea of spices, and the scent of cumin simmering on the stove warms me up immediately.
I sit at the ancient wood table, half watching Damit in earnest and half perusing one of the many cookbooks from Aurora’s collection. Damit does a great deal of the cooking on the property, and he has been working with the family for more than a decade. He slices the property’s famous 7-grain bread, baked every two days and housed atop an empty wine barrel covered with a large napkin, and places the slices atop a tray on the stove to warm. To double the trouble, Damit also brings over a freshly baked dark-wheat focaccia drizzled with Vicarello olive oil and homegrown rosemary. I rotate between the two. Absolutely everything one eats at Castello di Vicarello is homemade or locally sourced. During a discussion on Parisian baguettes, I mention how much I adore pate. Aurora unveils a glass container of fois gras made by a friend. Parmigiano Reggiano aged 36 months is brought from Parma by a courier, as is Modenese Balsamico from Modena. In the summer months, Aurora chooses her fish from the docks at the Tuscan coastline, and seasonal produce is grown in the vegetable garden next to one of the property’s pools. During my stay, we dine on just-picked lettuce and spinach that has so much flavor, I swear it is a different plant entirely.
In season, dinner is served outside on the grassy terrace overlooking the vineyards and hills of Maremma. This al fresco dining area is actually the roof of the living room, another architectural feat. I do not think there is another property in Tuscany with 360 degrees of unobstructed views. Lunch is served wherever you find yourself at meal time, from the shade of the stone courtyard to one of the two pools, or perhaps on a grassy clearing in the middle of the Vicarello vineyards. If I return again in the height of the season, I would most certainly dedicate most of my time to cooking with Aurora, a published cookbook author. Her style is effortless, relaxed, and unafraid, much like her personality. Guests at Vicarello are welcome to take advantage of as many cooking lessons as they like, and Aurora is more than willing to focus on a certain product or style, for example bread, fish, or vegetarian plates.
To be continued…