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Florence: The Best Countryside Retreats

Though there are plenty of regular hotels in the countryside, don't overlook agriturismo options, which offer travelers the opportunity to stay on a working farm. Besides the following best bets, a mix of both countryside hotels and agriturismo establishments, don't forget the Torre di Bellosguardo and Pensione BenescistȤ.

  • Villa Vignamaggio (near Greve in Chianti; tel. 055-854-661): Your home here is a luxurious suite in one of the peasant houses dotting the vine-covered property of a 15th-century villa. Take a dip in the pool or wander the manicured gardens. Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing was filmed at the villa.

  • Hotel Castagneto (outside Siena; tel. 0577-45-103): This simple brick farmhouse from the 1780s contentedly watches over its olive groves on a ridge outside Siena. The guest rooms are large and plain, filled with country air and Tuscan sun. Some have terraces and all enjoy views over farmland, even though just a few feet from the gate you can catch a city bus into Siena.

  • Fattoria Maionchi (near Lucca; tel. 0583-978-194): This agriturismo estate, lost in a tangle of olive-lined country roads in the foothills 13km (8 miles) east of Lucca, produces some of the province's finest red Colline Lucchese wine. The apartments are pretty standard but very large, and there's an outdoor pool where you can refresh yourself just yards from the vineyards. Signora Maionchi and her husband are two of the friendliest hosts around; they'll be glad to show you the gardens in back of their 17th-century villa.

  • Relais Il Falconiere (near Cortona; tel. 0575-612-616): At the end of a long winding dirt road in the foothills behind Cortona lies this early-17th-century farm, an oasis of fine dining and countryside quiet. The main villa has country-simple doubles, some with frescoes. But the best rooms are the suites flanking the tiny chapel, with big beds on ancient terra-cotta floors, wood-beam ceilings, and windows opening onto the olive trees and stone structures of the property. In the old building where lemon trees were once kept in winter is Cortona's best restaurant and some of the finest dining in Tuscany.

  • Castello di Gargonza (Valdichiana; tel. 0575-847-021): The 13th-century walled village of Gargonza offers one of the most unique hotel experiences in Italy -- the chance to live in a real medieval borgo. The ancient central piazza, with its well, is your open-air living room, and an old olive press is your den. Each of the stone peasant houses has been converted into an efficiency apartment, and the hamlet is isolated on all sides by wooded mountains.

  • Locanda dell'Amorosa (Valdichiana; tel. 0577-677-211): The central buildings of this 14th-century farming estate are situated around a triangular gravel courtyard like a Spanish hacienda. The guest rooms behind the second-story brick loggia either look onto this piazza or out over vineyards and fields. The spacious country-style loft accommodations have large beds and are very quiet. The restaurant, though mind-bogglingly expensive, is one of Tuscany's best.

  • Hotel La Badia (outside Orvieto; tel. 0763-301-959): A disused abbey built between the 8th and 14th centuries, La Badia is just far enough away from it all to offer an oasis of peace and quiet. You can relax in the richly appointed and medievally atmospheric rooms or just wander around the property. The city glows across the valley, and in just minutes you can be in town enjoying frescoes, dinner, and Orvieto's perfect white wine.

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