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It takes a Ferragamo village

The grandson of the famous shoemaker, Salvatore Ferragamo explains why Il Borro, with its Tuscan medieval setting, appeals to both wine connoisseurs and wedding parties

I am in Florence on an unusually warm day in May to meet Salvatore Ferragamo, grandson of the legendary shoemaker to Hollywood. He is bang on time for our lunch at the family restaurant in Florence, “Il Borro Tuscan Bistro”. It is a branch of the eatery of the same name at their stunning Tuscan estate Il Borro, now a Relais and Chateux property of which he is CEO. With piercing blue eyes, Salvatore is charming and courteous, more Anglo Saxon International ‘charming’ than Tuscan ‘machismo’. Shocked that I have boarded a train from Venice at the crack of dawn just to meet him, he laughs, “I would have come to Venice to meet you.” Ha Ha. Yes, those blue eyes work.
He is down to earth and in a bit of a rush but is relaxed enough to offer me a glass of Il Borro sparkling, Bolle di Borro, a delightful blush bubbly made in the almost 100% Biodynamic vineyards. “We produce three times more energy than we need on the estate. We are completely self-sustainable and we even have a negative carbon footprint,” he proudly explains.

Rooms with a view

Brought up between Florence and London, his mother’s home, and educated in NYC, he is part of the new generation of ‘thinking’ entrepreneurs with a clear view of the bottom line all the time. He goes on to talk about his uncle Massimo (the chairman of Ferragamo USA) the youngest son of the founder of the fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo, who has found a second career in the world of hospitality. In 2003, Massimo Ferragamo, prompted by his love for Tuscan wine, purchased Castiglion del Bosco — an 800-year-old, 5,000-acre estate in Montalcino — and spent five years transforming the property into an upscale resort. Fondly referred to as CDB which produces commendable Brunello di Montalcino wine, they also recently had Obama on their estate for a game of golf while he was vacationing in Tuscany. So why the shift to hospitality and wines from the traditional business of fashion and footwear? “Between our two estates, our asset value has increased enormously. We as a family still own 75% of the company with only 25% given to the public… and although we are all involved in the family business, we all have business degrees as well as three years experience before we can start working in the company.” This is sound American style business school talk coupled with what looks like a genuine love of his native Tuscany. “The beauty and architecture of Tuscany…especially Sienna and Luca still move me.”

Made in Tuscany

Lunch is a simple one course affair and he shows great restraint with just a small plate of gnocchi, more concerned about finding out how the bistro is doing and what has been happening in his absence. Salvatore’s English is impeccable — testament of course to the fact that his mother is English, that he has a home in London and is constantly travelling the globe promoting his estate and his wines. Ferruccio, his father, bought the Il Borro estate in 1993 and they opened to the public in 2001. In those eight short years, they have managed to put the estate on the International jet set map and produce wines, including a Super Tuscan called aptly Il Borro, of superb quality. Other wines in their stable to look out for are the Alessandro dal Borro, a 100% Syrah wine, the Polissena, which is 100% Sangiovese and a real example of a true Tuscan ‘salt of the earth’ style wine and their dessert wine of Vin Santo, made and sold in limited quantities only. All of these and more are available at their wine shop and cellar on the estate. Not all the wines are necessarily available outside.

The wedding experience

So what is it about Il Borro that makes even Salvatore Ferragamo get married there? “It’s definitely romantic,” he says. “It’s like owning your own medieval village to share with your friends and family.” The staff and management are ready to pull out most stops for a memorable experience from the ceremony in their private church presided over by their own priest, to receptions outdoors in one of the many cobbled stoned courtyards in the village. If views are what you want, they will set the scene in the middle of the vineyards with cutlery, crockery, glassware and flowers. And if it’s a more upmarket evening affair, then the elegant pink Dimora Il Borro villa, which towers over the small medieval village, will be transformed into a dreamy indoor and outdoor setting. You and your wedding party can also stay there and make use of the 24×7 butler, the heated indoor pool, the gym and sauna, amongst other things. They also have several other private fully serviced villas on the property. And unlike other Tuscan villas and estates, which are often inaccessible or simply a bit too rural, Il Borro has it all on the 1700 acres property; three restaurants, spa, winery with an impressive cellar, two swimming pools, artisans at work in the medieval village, horse riding, golf and accommodation. Moreover, it is completely accessible being just under an hour’s drive from the south of Florence.

Sole searching

The Return to Italy 19 May 2017 – 2018. Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, Florence

The famed shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo returned to Italy in 1927, after 12 years in the United States. This year, to mark the 90th anniversary of his homecoming. Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence (in the same complex as the store, Ferragamo offices and bistro) presents an exhibition offering an overview of the 1920s. Initially well-known for making bespoke shoes for the rising stars of cinema – Mary Pickford, Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford – he went on to patent models that have marked the history of footwear such as the wedge and the “invisible” sandal. Post war, his followers, for whom he kept wooden shoe ‘lasts’, included Audrey Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner and Eva Peron to name a few.

Pasta perfect

Il Borro is served by three restaurants, all reasonably priced – the upscale Osteria with its tasting menu, a more down to earth Tuscan Bistro with simple everyday fare and a Vin Cafe for in between.

Checking in

Accommodation ranges from the Dimora 19th century villa which was previously the family’s own home to charming, fully equipped affordable farm houses a stone’s throw away and 35 completely refurbished suites in tones of ecru and taupe, with fine cottons and linens, in their restored Medieval village.

When to visit

Tuscany is pretty warm and comfortable from April all the way through to early November.

Avoid the summer months of June, July and August, when it is both very hot and crowded with tourists. Rates range from 350 euros a suite at the height of summer to 250 euros in winter, while the Dimora villa with ten bedrooms is at 4000 euros a night.

Published as seen and written for The Hindu.

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