Idyllic days in Tuscany

by Mary.Novakovich

If your ideal holiday is some good walks, great views and exquisite food, there's a wonderful agriturismo in Chianti that has all the right ingredients

Few sights can cheer up a walker more after a strenuous hike than that of a long table set in a shaded terrace, overflowing with good food and wine and filled with lively diners. “We’ll have some of that,” we thought, as the guests merrily passed the bottle of grappa round the table. After a six-hour walk through the Tuscan countryside from Volterra through the Berignone nature reserve in the Chianti region, this organic farm hotel run by the Lazzari family was the perfect reward for our efforts.
Agriturismo Orgiaglia was set up by Umberta and Franco, a former teacher and banker respectively, in the late 1980s, and it soon became a favourite holiday spot for its mainly Italian clientele. Its secret is simple: it offers an extraordinarily friendly, convivial and relaxing atmosphere in a glorious natural setting of 250 acres of olive groves, woods and gently rolling hills. And Franco is a superb cook. 
The farmhouse dates from the 17th century and there are only nine rooms, with three additional apartments in a separate building. Dotted around the gardens are tables, chairs, sun loungers and swing seats, giving guests views of the valley where the swimming pool, tennis courts and riding stables are. When the early evening sun dips below the horizon, turning the green hills slightly pink, there’s no better place than to be lazily lounging on the swing seat, beer in hand thoughtfully provided by Franco. 
You come out of your reverie promptly at 8.30pm, when Umberta rings the large brass bell beside the farmhouse’s front door. It’s feeding time. On warm summer evenings, guests sit at the long table in front of the house. (The one on the shady terrace is for sunny lunchtimes.) When it’s cooler, everyone troops into the dining room, where several courses and plenty of Chianti come at exactly the right pace. Umberta is an old hand at placing guests according to language groups, so that conversation never stops flowing over the next three or four hours. 
First up is bruschetta: you rub your own clove of garlic on the toasted bread, add the tomato mixture, then top with a drizzle of the estate’s own olive oil. Then cured meats – prosciutto, salami, maybe some cheese. Then pasta, anything from pappardelle with wild boar sauce to spaghetti with melt-in-the-mouth duck. Or a wonderfully creamy wild mushroom risotto. Then grilled meats – pork, boar, rabbit, Florentine steaks – which will have been cooking in the enormous pizza oven in Franco’s kitchen. All of the vegetables will have come from their huge garden. A couple from Sheffield were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, which gave Umberta a lovely excuse to make a cake and bring out the prosecco. Then vin santo and cantuccini, the local dessert wine and hard-as-nuts biscuits that need a thorough soaking in the alcohol before they’re palatable. Then coffee and grappa. By this time we’re outside in the moonlight, reluctant to let the evening come to an end. But, of course, there’s always more food to look forward to the following day. 
Strangely, no one was the size of a cow at Orgiaglia. There are plenty of ways to work off that pasta and, indeed, work up an appetite for the next exquisite meal. The swimming pool is enormous, and there are tennis courts just beyond. One late afternoon we witnessed an epic doubles match between two young German men and a 12-year-old girl from Genoa and her middle-aged father. Everyone cheered as the Genoese pair came from behind to thump the Germans. 
The Lazzaris’ 20-something daughter Silvia runs the riding school, where she patiently and laughingly guides her pupils of all ages around the paddock. She’s as bubbly and good-natured as her parents, and is very eager to suggest walking routes through the vast estate and the nature reserve, or ways of spending days out in nearby Siena, Pisa, San Gimignano or Florence. 
But you won’t want to spend too much time away from Orgiaglia. It’s rare that one place so harmoniously combines natural beauty with a warm ambience – not to mention the food – that it makes you want to find any excuse not to leave.