The ancient hamlet is all that remains of a castle on an outcrop – the only way up is a stone bridge that winds up the slope
The fief was settled a century after the Year One Thousand, in this broken land scattered with rocky spurs, the famous Tuscan “balze” or ridges, corners of earth that are the edges of bluffs, covered with woods. Borro means the bed of an ancient river whose banks are sheer drops and the word was adopted as the surname of the family that owned these lands. The Borro lineage ended in the late eighteenth century and the estate became the property of the Grand Duchy. Marriages then took it into the hands of the Hohenlohe-Waldenburg in the nineteenth century, and it was then divided among the Aosta cadet branches of the Savoy family. World War Two marked it with its own traces. In 1993, Ferruccio Ferragamo bought these 700 hectares of land in the south of Florence and brought them back to life, with vineyards and olive groves, fields and hills. He acquired them from the dominion of the Duke of Aosta, whose wife Claudia of Orléans still lives in this area.
The plain is broken up like a cracked slab of marble, with jagged gorges that slide into the depths of the earth. The bedrock is sandstone, or pietraforte, on a sandy, clayey terrain that is poor yet ideal for Tuscan vines. The impression it gives is geometric, one layer on top of another, streams and canals running through them, all rushing towards a watercourse that is none other than the River Arno itself. The metal fences are there to keep out the wild boars, while the wolves live in the mountains and are only a hazard for the sheep, in the same way that the foxes are for the hens. The pheasants reproduce without restraint here, in their very own paradise. There are grass and whip snakes, and the odd viper too, but only in the tall grass: the horses’ bodies are too high up off the ground and the viper’s poison does not affect them. The Borro estate is best visited on horseback. In the stables, Elisa looks after some forty animals, including thoroughbreds and long-haired Irish Cobs. A foal had been born two days earlier, the mare flattening her ears furiously if anyone dared approach, and Elisa had to administer it some drops for conjunctivitis. The colts can stay in the same paddock until they are eighteen months old, then they risk hurting each other by fighting. The draft horses are heavier, broader animals. Researching ‘horse riding Tuscany’ on Google from anywhere in the world, Il Borro comes up as the first result. SEM strategy helps, perhaps, but this supremacy is organic and well deserved.
The ancient hamlet is perhaps all that remains of a castle built on one of the steepest outcrops in this area – the only way up is a stone bridge that winds up the slope and then joins the street leading to the peasants’ houses. In this “albergo diffuso” or “scattered hotel” each room has a different size, some more spatious and some small. The furnishings embody the philosophy of this location, making you feel as if you belong and are not just passing through. The fire is lit in the evenings, but the hot air heating could be improved upon as it makes the rooms dry; in the winter, humidifiers and hot water bottles slid into beds as the latest idea may be a solution (the turndown service did not seem guaranteed, maybe it was only on request, but we didn’t investigate). In front of the hamlet stands the manor house —for a single guest and off limits to visitors when occupied— while on the left, a living area opens out, for lunch into the afternoon through to evening. The spa could be an option, but simply heating the outdoor infinity pool seen through the windows of the lounge and the gym would quite suffice. Old farmhouses here and there can be rented, their restoration created zero-energy buildings that use renewable sources.
The estate is today managed by Salvatore Ferragamo, son of Ferruccio and heir to the founder of the shoe company. A description of this place has absolutely no need of adjectives —despite the management’s presentation material choosing to make abundant use of them. A farm that since 2015 has been totally organic and eco-sustainable with its 45 hectares of vineyards and 40 of olive groves, plus forage fields and vegetable crops. Then there are bees, with 30 hives and 200 free-range hens. The organic produce is managed by Vittoria Ferragamo, the youngest daughter, and found in a cuisine that promotes all the flavors of this soil and enhances travels in Italy. Artichokes, salad leaves with throat-tickling local oil, zolfini beans, again local, like the chickpeas. The bistro on the edge of the wood and the starred restaurant are both, however, slightly impersonal.
Production of wine in Tuscany is a subject dating back to the start of the eighteenth century and something Cosimo III de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany intended to structure: he divided the Chianti countryside into four sectors—central Chianti, Carmignano, Pomio and upper Val d’Arno. The latter is Borro, whose DOC appellation was recognised in 2011. The wine produced in Borro is called Borrigiano, which in Italian stems from the word for gorge or crevasse. No pesticides or chemical fertilisers; pruning during the waning moon to respect the plant’s sap; the creation of ecosystems that include insects, fungus and antagonist bacteria; rows of vines alternating with grassy species after harvesting to enrich the humus.
The new wine cellar was built in 2000, with plans for an underground corridor that then connected it to an old medieval cellar: about two hundred metres into the cave you can feel the depth in the earth and the rock and how the temperature drops. The vaulted walls house the barrels. One wine, the Petruna, is vinified in amphorae for a year. The bottle dedicated to Alessandro dal Borro, a condottiero against the Turks in the first half of the seventeenth century, has an elaborate label stuck to its prominent belly—irony in wine, a bottle of red dedicated to Alesandro is worth hundreds of euros: cold-pressed Syrah grapes, fermented in French oak.
The owner’s art collection is housed at Il Borro, this estate that belongs to the Ferragamo family, and displayed in rooms adjacent to the wine cellar, sorted into themes and tales edited by Martina Becattini, who also curates the Stilbert Museum in Florence. During our visit and throughout this summer part of the display is dedicated to Bacchus and Venus, in other words the constant theme of wine focuses on the female figure. Etchings, charcoal and more, by maestros who, again without any need for adjectives, soothe the earthly experience and reinforce hope: from Tiepolo to Chagall, Manet, Picasso, Warhol, Canaletto and Tissot through to Vik Muniz.
Località Borro, 1, Loro Ciuffenna AR