All photos are by Jaime Travezan
In the Chianti region of the Tuscan hills sits Trudie Styler and Sting’s family retreat, Il Palagio. Trudie talks to Haute Living about her lovingly restored Italian haven, located 45-minutes outside of Florence. With seven villas, grape vineyards and olive trees, the estate is now offered to a select few for seasonal rentals.
What drew you to Tuscany and Il Palagio?
We spent a lot of time in Italy when Sting was writing his ‘Soul Cages’ album, renting the “Villa Salviati” near Pisa, and our daughter Coco was also born in Pisa, so we had really grown to love the region during what was a very joyful and creative time in our lives. But it took another seven years of searching before we finally found Il Palagio. Having seen many grand houses over many visits to Italy, we had almost begun to despair of finding somewhere that would feel right for us. But Il Palagio immediately fit the bill—we just knew that as a family we could feel at home. We love many areas of Italy—I go to Ischia every year for the film festival, and that’s spectacular; we’ve spent wonderful times in Pantelleria; and Venice has also played a big part in our lives together. I’ve worked as an actress filming in Rome earlier in my career and just had a fun few days filming at the Cinecittà studios again, which was so nostalgic. But Tuscany is very special to us—stunning natural beauty, world-class culture and history, amazing food and wine, and elegance and style everywhere you look.
What are the special dishes of the house for dinner or any other dining time?
We produce many of our own ingredients at Il Palagio—wine and olive oil of course, but also many fruits, vegetables, eggs, zolfini beans, prosciutto and salami. We make pomodoro sauce from the beautifully sweet and mellow Italian tomatoes we grow there. Favorite dishes include ribollita, which is a Tuscan soup made with leftover beans and bread; and spaghetti con aglio, olio é pepperoncino (with garlic, oil, and hot chili peppers)—simple but delicious. Another dish is polenta with cinghiale (wild boar)—another classic Tuscan ingredient. Our Italian cook, Alba Papi, makes amazing fresh lasagna with zucchini and pesto, as well as an irresistible tiramisu and Torte della Nonna.
What do you spend most of the time doing when on the estate?
Our visits to Il Palagio are usually during the summer holiday for the extended family, and that means we are all usually more than ready for some relaxation time. So we spend the first few days learning to switch off, I think. It’s so peaceful there. The rising sun slowly burning off the morning mists that gather among the rolling hills, the silence except for a few cockerel calls and the growing birdsong—well worth getting up early for. The next sounds in the house are likely to be the gentle strains of Sting’s guitar practice as he sits in his usual morning spot just by the terrace, drinking his coffee between bars. We have a leisurely breakfast as one by one the children and friends come down, looking forward to the family lunch under the large oak tree. Then, a swim, a nap, a yoga class, or horseback riding as the day cools down, followed by a delicious courtyard dinner. Perfect holiday time, really!
What makes Il Palagio distinct from another Italian estates?
Il Palagio is a working farm, so we have the vineyards, olive groves, as well as other produce growing there. We sell what we grow in our little farm shop, Tenuta Il Palagio, which is nearby the estate. On the estate we have the main villa but also two smaller houses, so people can spread out and have some privacy if they want. Our Italian chef runs some great cooking classes for guests who want to learn how to make fresh pasta, homemade ice cream, and lots of traditional Tuscan recipes. We run wine tastings, visits to the vineyards, and occasionally give guests the chance to help out during the harvests if they are staying at the right time. In the summer we set up a big outdoor screen so that once its dark, guests can watch movies under the stars. When the Villa has guests it is rented as a whole, so we are able to provide a very personal service tailored very much to the needs of the group staying, creating a home away from home.
Why have you decided to share this paradise with others?
As the children have grown into adults with their own busy lives, the time we could spend all together at Il Palagio has reduced over the years, and so it seemed a waste to have this beautiful place unoccupied so much of the time. We’ve also seen how every one of our friends who have spent any time there have loved it so much—it’s actually a pleasure to be able to offer that chance to people. I know that Paolo and Bina Rossi, the brother and sister who were born at Il Palagio and are still there to run the estate, feel the same. They are so happy for people to come and appreciate its special atmosphere.
If you had to pick one thing that you are most proud of in the evolution of Il Palagio, what would that be? What hurdles did you have to overcome?
I think the wine we’ve created there has been a great achievement. When we first bought the property, we imagined we would have our own great wine to drink, but it has been a long labor of love to get to that point. The very first wine we made from the grapes growing there wasn’t great! But then we replanted the vineyards in stages over three years, in 2001, 2002 and 2003, and were guided by the expertise of the late Alan York, who advocated biodynamic viticulture. Now, helped by experts Daniel O’Donnell and Paolo Caciorgna, we are producing excellent estate wines that are scoring highly and gaining a great reputation, particularly our Super Tuscan called “Sister Moon,” as well as the delicious mid-range red “Message In a Bottle,” which we will be following up this year with a white “Message in a Bottle.” As wine lovers this is a really exciting project for us, and we’re thrilled that what we’re making is going down so well.