Italy family holidays offer up a plethora of stunning regions, divine cuisine and exciting adventures but it’s Tuscany that has Harriet Mallinson’s heart.
Tuscany villa holidays are an excellent way to get the whole gang together, whether you’re just one group, multiple families holidaying together or on a multigenerational getaway.
However, when there are lots of you it can be tricky to find a property that ticks all the boxes – which is why Villa Santa Gelsa in Tuscany is an excellent choice.
This palatial home is as spacious as they come, surrounded by beautiful countryside and within easy driving distance of some jaw-droppingly gorgeous Italian towns and cities.
Kids will love the vast lawn area and swimming pool (not to mention the endless indoor options for hide and seek) while adults will love the option to participate in on-site wine tasting and the ease of staff-provided meals.
Family Traveller was lucky enough to enjoy a stay in Villa Santa Gelsa – here’s what parents, children and grandparents can look forward to during a Tuscany holiday in this idyllic Italian hotspot.
Villa Santa Gelsa accommodation: Spread out and roam free in this Tuscany holiday home
The biggest advantage of this 12-bedroom villa for your Tuscany villa holidays is that it’s well, big – and in all directions, too; bedrooms are substantial enough to cartwheel around and high ceilings plus large windows lend a light-filled, open airiness.
All rooms come with vast en suite bathrooms, some with baths and even spa showers. A couple of rooms even have their own living room – so you can truly feel like a Medici Duke. Insisting visitors wait to be admitted to your quarters is optional, but the beautifully painted ceilings and ornate bed frames certainly add to this regal feeling.
Beds are comfortable and serve as twins or doubles. If your kids are bunking in with you – a popular arrangement for many families – then extra beds or cots can be provided.
The stately layout means different families can easily spread out for privacy, or even have a wing each! Plus, there are key-cards to lock rooms, and grandparents (or anyone lugging a suitcase) will appreciate the lift.
Soak up amazing views from your bed
E.M Forster’s superb novel A Room With A View hinges on having and not having a vista during a stay in Tuscany. Let me assure you, guests don’t need to worry about the latter here.
Every single window in the property affords a stunning view – whether that’s the sun rising over rolling green fields, the neighbouring pretty, terracotta town of Torrità di Siena (more on that later) or the sparkling blue of the swimming pool with olive groves and vineyards in the distance.
Talking of novels, you’ll find a book in every room, which is a nice touch. As luck would have it, mine was precisely the one I wanted to read next – don’t worry future occupant, I left it for you to enjoy as well. No reading is provided for children, unfortunately.
Villa Santa Gelsa dining: Be waited on by staff or cater for yourselves
The villa comes fully staffed, with breakfast served every day and dinner three times a week – the cost of ingredients is extra. This makes a family holiday infinitely easier as you never need to worry about stocking up on yoghurt, pastries and whatnot yourself. Instead, they simply appear at your chosen breakfast time. Sometimes there are fresh tomato bruschetta, cheeses and hams as well as cakes. However, the owner Cristina and her staff are always happy to take requests.
Dinners are good too and again take the stress out of the holiday and pressure off any designated drivers! While you’re far from the middle of nowhere here, the town of Torrità di Siena really is very small with few restaurants, so in-villa dining makes evenings easy.
Villa staff whip up very tasty local dishes indeed and you can choose from a menu selection in advance so you know what you’re getting. We enjoyed everything from delicious parmigiana di melanzane and succulent Florentine steak to a scrumptious tagliatelle with a duck ragu.
Tuscany villa holidays: Indulge and let the staff do the work for you
To really take the faff out of your villa stay, there’s even a shopping service offered at an extra cost. You simply have to let the concierge know in advance what you want for the fridge. That said, if you do need to pop out for supplies there are supermarkets within driving distance.
But back to food. Meals can be eaten in the grand dining room complete with an enormous table to fit the whole gang – and keep that Ducal vibe going. Alternatively you can eat in the more relaxed loggia. There are also tables just outside the house that are perfect for an aperitivo. And further down the garden is a large, cushy swing plus comfortable outdoor chairs and tables.
It’s worth pointing out that should any lasagne or red wine spill, you can pop any washing into the laundry. We’re told this has proved to be a much-loved room in the house among families on Tuscany villa holidays!
Villa Santa Gelsa activities: Keep the whole family entertained with rural fun
Whether it’s food, sport or relaxation you want, there’s always something to keep everyone happy.
Villa company Tuscany Now & More, through which Villa Santa Gelsa can be booked, works closely with tourist company TAOLS. With these guys, you can book hot air ballooning, ice cream and cycling trips, cooking classes, cultural tours and lots of other family activities.
Spend the afternoon truffle hunting to keep everyone happy
We jumped at the chance to try out truffle hunting. Our guide was gloriously enthusiastic about all things ‘tartufo’ (impressive to sustain after decades of experience) and the translator helped eradicate any language difficulties.
The kids will love hanging out with the very cute doggo for the morning and they’ll like the challenge of spotting the delicacies as the pooch scrabbles at the earth. Grown-ups may be more interested in learning all about the science behind the funghi and the commercial side of the industry, as well as the distinction between the various types of truffles. First and foremost, they are absolutely nothing like the chocolate ones. So it might be worth warning kids about that.
Acquiring truffle wisdom is an impressive souvenir
A key takeaway of mine was that truffle oil has rarely even so much as seen as a real truffle. So be careful when purchasing truffle products that you’re getting the real deal rather than just clever chemicals! I was also amazed to hear that any breed of dog can be a truffle hunting dog. Although, before you get too excited about retraining yours, some dogs are infinitely more skilled than others.
We succeeded in finding, or rather, our four-legged friend Millie found, an array of black and white truffles during this fun and authentic experience. Most of these were the size of walnuts but sometimes truffles can be real whoppers. Our guide once found one which weighed in at 600g! They can also sell for a small fortune. In fact hard-to-find white truffles go for as much as €4,000 per kilo.
Sadly you don’t get to keep your earthy treasures on this excursion, but you do get a taste of truffle at the included lunch. We tucked into salami and truffle-infused cheese, truffle-topped bruschetta and spaghetti with grated truffle. Thankfully dessert was funghi-free.
Tuscany villa holidays: Why not stay at your villa and let the fun come to you?
If you’d rather enjoy activities at your villa on Tuscany villa holidays, then there are lots you can choose from at an extra cost, including on-site truffle hunting. Pizza and pasta making classes can be arranged for kids and adults can even indulge in on-site wine tasting.
We went for the latter and were treated to the expertise of a real wine master who, by all accounts, is a Big Deal in the Italian wine world. We sampled local vinos made by the owners’ family, and our pro knew pretty much everything, from how to pair wine with food to the correct way to taste wine. Sadly for us, the expert’s advice on hangovers stops at “know when to cease drinking”. Really no help when we were suffering at 10am the next day!
Sore heads aside, this was thoroughly enjoyable. It might also be a good activity for older teenagers to introduce them to the sophisticated side of the grapey drink – and possibly get some cool parenting points.
Everyone in the family can relax to the max
There’s also lots to do at the property on Tuscany villa holidays without spending extra money. The vast garden is ideal for lawn games, and the swimming pool area leaves room for oodles of splashing fun, plus it comes equipped with a number of inflatable rings. Pool races anyone?
Head for the professional ping pong table if you really want to ramp up your competitive spirit. And golfers will be pleased to know there’s a course nearby.
Just want to relax? The villa is perfect for lazing in the sun on the many poolside loungers, all with a spectacular backdrop of Tuscan countryside. In the evening there’s a very comfortable lounge inside with plenty of seating: ideal for chilled family get-togethers in all seasons.
It’s worth noting there isn’t much indoors to keep kids occupied at the villa. However, there is a TV room so it might be worth bringing some of your own fun supplies to quell “I’m bored” moans.
Tuscany villa holidays: Make the most of the beautiful region with the family
You will definitely need a car to explore the surrounding area. We rented our vehicle from Avis using Avis Quickpass for a free, efficient and contactless pick-up process at Florence airport. Luckily there’s plenty of room for multiple vehicles at the villa. And local road trips are very rewarding as you’re spoiled for choice with picturesque local towns and splendid scenery here.
Torrità di Siena, although minuscule, is charming to walk around. There are also several churches to pop into, and if your kids have a taste for the gruesome be sure to visit the one with the very creepy Jesus.
Hungry? I highly recommend the restaurant Giosteria. It’s within walking distance of the villa and creatively serves antipasti on a tree – salami hanging from branches and everything. Plus, the owner, Giovanni, is every bit the archetypal warm Italian host.
A word of warning, this is far from a buzzy spot. This is particularly true on Sunday and Monday when “dead” doesn’t really do the town justice. At one point there were so few people about, we wondered if we’ve missed warnings of an apocalypse!
Visit the nearby towns to really get a taste of Tuscany
For a livelier town on your family Tuscany villa holidays, don’t miss Montepulciano. It’s postcard-perfect at every turn and there are lots of free wine tastings available. Pienza is also delightful and Twilight fans may well recognise some filming spots from the vampire trilogy!
San Gimignano is another picturesque option. Although Harry Styles’ lovers might be tempted with a trip to the magical Civita di Bagnoregio: the singer owns a property here and can sometimes be seen around the place! There are also thermal baths nearby if you fancy something a bit different.
Big cities to visit in this neck of the woods are Siena and Florence – where you can brush up on the Medici and maybe pick up some tips for your own regal act! Even Rome is doable from the villa, however, all these trips do involve a drive of an hour or more.
Planning a family break to Tuscany
How to get there
Direct UK flights to Florence take from just over two hours with either Vueling or British Airways.
Torrita di Siena is about 1 hour, 20 minutes drive from Florence Airport. Family Traveller rented a car via Avis.
Where to stay
Family Traveller stayed at Villa Santa Gelsa. The 12-bedroom property sleeps up to 24-guests and is available to book with Tuscany Now & More.
What to do
Activities can be booked via Florence-based travel agency TAOLS.