Villa Lena in the Tuscan Countryside

WORDS Robyn Alexander PHOTOS Courtesy of Villa Lena: Daniele Civetta, Lottie Hampson, David Kaliga, Henrik Lundell, Frederik Vercruysse, Niklas Adrian Vindelev

Combining art and culture with a unique natural and historical setting, Italy’s Villa Lena showcases a new, exciting type of travel destination that blends holiday relaxation with creative inspiration.

It’s an origin story redolent with romance: a country villa, situated close to the Tuscan village of Palaia – midway between Pisa and Florence – is built by a wealthy family of Italian aristocrats in the late 19th century. It soon becomes a famous venue for parties and meetings (and hunting), and the family cultivates olives, grapes and wheat on the land. But after its early 20th century heyday, and with the death of the original owner in 1931, the estate goes into decline, undergoing many changes in ownership as the subsequent decades go by.

As a result, when the current owners bought the San Michele estate in 2007, it was in a state of extensive disrepair. Fortunately, art world professional Lena Evstafieva, musician and producer Jérôme Hadey, and Parisian restaurateur and nightclub owner Lionel Bensemoun had a plan: they’d combine their skills and knowledge to redevelop the property, and found the Villa Lena Agriturismo Experience and Art Foundation.

Today, Villa Lena is the kind of hybrid travel destination that we’re expecting to see much more of in the coming decade: it’s a creative residence, an agritourism hotel and a tranquil holiday escape. Guests interact with Villa Lena’s creative family – and in the process, they celebrate local Tuscan history, culture and food in an environment that offers international artists, writers, designers, filmmakers, musicians, creatives, chefs and agricultural experts the space to explore and hone their respective crafts.

The estate includes 500 hectares of woodland, vineyards, olive groves and organic vegetable gardens. The villa itself, sitting at the heart of the property, now houses the Villa Lena Art Foundation and artist-in-residence programme. Beautifully converted, historic agricultural buildings – former farmhouses, stables and hunting lodges – contain guest apartments and other shared facilities.

Creativity and collaboration are essential to life at Villa Lena, with a programme of events ranging from artists’ talks to children’s activities, and alfresco film screenings to cooking workshops and candlelit concerts. As a guest here, you can choose to spend your days exploring the woodlands, or visiting nearby towns and cities such as San Gimignano or Siena. You can learn to make fresh pasta, forage for truffles, socialise over cocktails or just relax by the pool. Each evening, guests and artists gather at the terrace restaurant for a communal dining experience – where, of course, you can expect seasonal, organic menus rooted in Italian cuisine and prepared by the visiting chef-in-residence.

Villa Lena
British artist Bobby Dowler’s exhibition after his residency.

Lena was the gallery director at Pace London before coming to run the Villa Lena Art Foundation. Previous programme participants and advisory board members of the foundation include RZA (of Wu-Tang Clan fame), artist and filmmaker Lola Schnabel, fashion designer Barbara Casasola, gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin and art curator Caroline Bourgeois. The artistic energy at Villa Lena is infectious, and guests are encouraged to participate in workshops, talks and other events in collaboration with the resident artists.

With a conscious dedication to art and culture at the heart of the project, this is an inspiring and serene place for individuals and for families. Villa Lena cultivates both nature and culture, exemplifying a new way of living – and providing a genuinely fresh choice for travellers in search of something out of the ordinary.

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