The ex Convento di San Francesco is part of a 16th century compound designed by the Renaissance architect Antonio San Gallo the Younger. It was functional as a monastery of monks devoted to Saint Francis from 1522 until 1910. It is surrounded by 26 acres of heavily wooded ravines filled with meandering paths down to the meeting of two rivers. Hidden in the forest are porcupines and all manner of mushrooms and edible plants; trod paths made by families of wild boar to caves, Etruscan tombs, and 16th century throne seats carved in the soft crumbly rock. From the windows and terraces of the house you can see views of meticulously tended vineyards across the ravine, as well as pastures of softly jingling sheep down below.
Inside, we have endeavored to change as little as possible so as to keep the magical solemnity of the building.
The dining room can be entered from the garden, ideal for cleaning and preparing our foraged and wild foods. It's the room where the franciscan monks fermented their wine; several of the massive old chestnut barrels still decorate the room. There's a long refectory table built from a single slab of chestnut and one smaller round table built into a cushioned banquette for more intimate seating. An enormous fireplace covers one wall stacked high with logs and baskets of kindling sticks. Down a flight of ancient hand carved tufa stairs is the cantina: two stories underground, where the wine was stored in great green glass fiaschi (balloon shaped handblown bottles). This is lit by electric light and maintains a constant ambient temperature of 14.5 degrees celsius (58 degrees fahrenheit).
The kitchen has 2 refrigerators, a powerful 6 burner gas stove and electric oven, dishwasher, and all the tools necessary for serious cooking. Many elaborate feasts of all varieties have been lovingly prepared here. There is also a long marble countertop to one side of the adjoining dining room if larger groups of people want to participate in communal preparation. A wood burning hive shaped brick pizza oven is built into a room just off the cloistered courtyard on the other end of the house.
Wander from the kitchen to a cosy library with vaulted stone ceilings; filled with guide books about the area, books of the gardens of Italy, cookbooks, field guides to local edible foods, and history of the Etruscans onwards.
Outside, a long shaded pergola runs the length of the back side of the house, lined with billowing flowers, sprawling acanthus, and headily scented clusters of cistus, rosemary, and lavender. Jasmine, roses and grapes crawl up the wrought iron supports around the long stone table. A plank of chestnut is attached to the outer wall to function as a sort of sideboard for serving. A short walk in one direction leads to the eighteen meter long salt water lap pool overlooking the ravine, the other way leads you to the lavender garden and our fruit and nut trees. There are seven bedrooms upstairs (five double and two single), and six bathrooms. Most have (original) wood burning fireplaces. Downstairs there's one double with an ensuite bathroom, featuring an enormous 18th century ceramic bathtub. Every bed is made with linen sheets and antique handwoven coverlets, and down pillows.
It is a short drive or ten minute walk outside the astonishingly breathtaking town of Pitigliano, one of the most beautiful small cities in Tuscany.