Il Borro: a Tuscan legacy

From ruin to grandeur

Laura Robertson
July 27, 2006 - 18:00
Credit | Michela Simoncini via Flickr Credit | Michela Simoncini via Flickr

 

At the source of the Arno River lies Il Borro, a striking medieval hamlet whose origins stretch back more than a thousand years, when the area was once dominated by a fortified castle. Named for its deep yellow gorges, or borri, the region was originally inhabited by the Etruscans and the Romans. During feudal times, the fortress hosted the Pazzi family, until the Pazzi’s emperor-loving Republic of Arezzo lost a bloody battle against the pope-supporting Florentines. During the Renaissance, The Grand Duke of Tuscany gave Il Borro to sea captain and Duke Alessandro dal Borro, also known as ‘the terror of the Turks’. The hamlet was later returned to the Grand Duchy in 1766 and then sold to the Medici Torquinaci family.

 

At the beginning of the 20th century, it was sold to Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Aosta, Vit-torio Emanuele, Count of Turin, and Luigi Amedeo, the Duke of Abruzzi. In the 1950s the property passed into the hands of Duke Amedeo of Savoia of Aosta who sold the property to the Ferragamo family in the early ‘90s. Il Borro was invaded and occupied by German soldiers during World War II, who bombed the hamlet’s main villa before retreating from the British forces. Owned by the Ferragamo family since 1993, the recently restored medieval village has made its way from ruin to grandeur and become once more one of the most prominent treasures of the Valdarno Valley.

 

The area, still inhabited by Tuscan farmers, invites a different kind of country tourism. Each season is marked by nature’s favorite gifts: chestnuts, grapes, durum wheat, sunflowers, and lavender. Craftsmanship too, easily finds fertile soil in the Pratomagno valley. From fabrics and jewelry to pottery and porcelain, the village is still teaming with local artisans who create their wares according to quasi-extinct tradi-tional methods. Olive trees provide the local wood-carver with enough wood to create trays, bowls and cooking utensils. A stroll along the stone-paved streets will lead visitors to a furniture maker who uses age old methods to produce traditional Tuscan furniture, and to a workshop which forges weapons according to the old Renaissance tradition.

 

The year 1995 saw the rebirth of the il Borro’s wine-producing industry. Thanks to the efforts of Ferruccio and Salvatore Ferragamo, current manager, Il Borro vineyards now stretch forty hectares and host both Tuscan and French grapes chosen for their ability to adapt to a wide variety of soils. After the ripening process, these grapes—namely Sangiovese, Cabernet, Sauvignon, Merlot and Sirah—are each made into wine separately. Once fermented, the wine is aged in barriques for one year, after which it is bottled and aged in cellars. Wine-making at Il Borro can be traced back to the year 1760 when the estate was owned by the Medici-Tornaquinci Family.

 

Today, with the help of expert oenologist Niccolò d’Affitto, the Ferragamo family has succeeded in perfecting viticulture techniques used at il Borro since the 18th cen-tury. From the blend of these grapes, Il Borro produces three Tuscan reds—namely Il Borro, il Pian di Nova and Polissena. Deeply flavourful and high in alcohol content, these wines are highly suitable for roasts, wild game and aged Tuscan cheeses. They combine well with the area’s subdued wholesome cuisine where rosemary, sage, fennel, garlic and onion tempt the palate with Mediterranean flavor.

 

Reclaiming the area’s wine-industry was just one of the changes that the Ferragamo’s have brought to Il Borro over the last 13 years. From the farm houses scattered throughout the property to the houses squeezed along the village’s narrow streets, no cost has been spared to restore this once dilapidated hamlet to its original splendour. Restorers gathered stones from local quarries and employed 30 full-time village dwellers to match the ‘new stones’ to the ‘old’ houses. By the same token, it took 40 craftsmen to rebuild the hamlet’s homes, streets and church. Architects, designers, decorators from around the globe have had their hand in creating one of Italy’s most recent examples how local tradition and cultural wealth needs to be both preserved and protected.

 

Restoration was made possible thanks to the efforts of Amanda Ferragamo, Ferrucio’s British wife. In her book Seven Years in Tuscany, she wrote a striking account of the project which called for a combination of dedication, restoration and top-notch interior design. The 56-room villa, formerly occupied by the family, can now only be rented in its entirety. It hosts ten bedrooms and an indoor pool overlooking the village and, despite the family’s contributions to Italian style, the house has an elegant but homey English feel. Once summer residence of the Hohenlohe Waldenburg Schilling princes, it has been completely restored to breath-taking splendour. Called one of Ferragamo’s ‘legacies to Italy’, this village-wide restoration project has transformed the area into a leisure destination for national and international visitors alike and has become a note-worthy example of Tuscan tradition in the world.

For more information visit: www.ilborro.com

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