At Florence’s Il Salviatino, truffle hunting is just one of the many splendid things.
By Michelle F. Solomon
Last October, Oprah checked truffle hunting off her bucket list. She was in Umbria, Italy, which shares its northwestern border with its famous neighbor, Tuscany. For those who always wondered what gathering their own truffles would feel like, a tranquil villa awaits, ready to treat you to luxury at its finest.
At Il Salviatino, just a stone’s throw away from Florence, a truffle-hunting excursion is easily accessible.
The stunning hand-restored 15th-century villa lies on the hillside of Fiesole with views of Florence and the rolling Tuscan landscape. Built by the Salviatino family as a warning to the Medicis, the villa remains intact. It was purchased by Marcello F.M. Pigozzo, a former president for InterContinental Asia-Pacific. He also owns Palazzo Victoria in Verona that consists of three 14th-century palazzos.
At both properties, there are excursions for the well-heeled traveler who is looking for adventure — and not just any adventure, but something that is off the beaten track.
“If you’re into wine and truffles, we can easily do a truffle-hunting excursion, either in Tuscany or on our property in our private park,” says Bart Spoorenberg, general manager at Il Salviatino, during a recent visit to Miami.
“Hunt for rare truffles in Tuscany and then bring your treasures back, and our chef can prepare a meal made with your finds,” says Spoorenberg.
His “service ambassadors” can also create a Chianti and Truffle Tour, where you hunt for truffles in the forests of Tuscany; then it’s off to Chianti to experience wine.
Black truffles, dubbed “black gold” because of their elusiveness, grow a few inches underground; so experienced truffle hunters have trained dogs who are able to sniff out the truffles for them to be unearthed.
Spending a day with a true truffle hunter is a tradition, since many of them have been in the truffle-hunting business for generations.
“White truffles, black truffles — the hunter will come here, and guests can go out with him in the park and find them, or he can pick you up and take you on an excursion. He’ll explain how they grow, what they are,” says Spoorenberg.
The rare diamond of the culinary world, the crème de la crème of the mushroom, infuses flavor into dishes or is shaven on top of food before serving. Their value depends on their rarity and specific aromatic qualities. The very rare Italian white truffle has the strongest smell of all.
If you’re so inclined, share some of the rewards from your truffle hunt with other guests; offer them up as part of the cuisine at the hotel’s Tuscan table night, where easy-going Italian fare is shared home-style at a large table. “It’s about getting to know one another,” says Spoorenberg, furthering the hotel’s personality, which is steeped in an atmosphere that is less formal than most Florence hotels. “We’d like to think it’s luxury unbuttoned and for the discerning traveler who wants something that feels very personal.”
On the terrace of Il Salviatino, take in Florence’s most iconic landmark, the Duomo, one of the finest masterpieces of the Renaissance, built between 1420 and 1435. “As of late March, everything moves outside, and we have this incredible terrace that overlooks the Duomo on one side and Tuscany on the other. This is the best of both worlds — you are minutes from both experiences.”
By train, spend a night or two at Il Salviatino’s sister property in Verona, the historic city founded in the 1st century B.C. and a UNESCO World Heritage Center.
“Verona has a rich history and culture as well as being, in the collective imagination, one of the most romantic destinations in the world,” says Pigozzo, owner of the luxurious, yet historic, Palazzo Victoria — located in the city center not far from where Pigozzo, himself, was born.
Created from three different villas, the hotelier celebrated the historic aspects of the property — even throughout the lobby there are the old Roman ruins that remain from the original villas. The Palazzo Victoria has 74 rooms, with some overlooking the famous pedestrian street, Corso Porta Borsari, paved in marble, known for its elegant shopping.
Of course, there are also culinary treats to be enjoyed in Verona, too. Rent a Ferrari or a Fiat convertible — the service ambassadors can easily accommodate — while you wind your way through breathtaking landscapes, beautiful Italian lakes, and ancient rice fields. Make sure the ambassadors include in your tour of Veneto a visit to olive farms to sample some of the most delicious olive oils from the region.
Or take a chauffeured, guided vineyard tour around Valpolicella, one of the loveliest wine regions in Italy and home to the famed Amarone wines, just northwest of Verona. The best of Valpolicella is in the wines of Allegrini, a family-run estate, renowned in Italy for being one of the country’s most elite Amarone producers.
Back in town and about a quarter mile from the hotel is one of the main attractions of Verona — Casa di Giulietta, Juliet’s House — a 14th century building which was once the home of the Cappello family. Legend has it that this was the model for the Capulets of William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. The tradition continues with lovers writing their names and the names of their beloved ones on the walls of the entrance in an effort to keep their love everlasting.
If you’d prefer not to battle the crowds, Palazzo Victoria has its own “Juliet balcony,” where guests write their names for the chance at never-ending love.
Il Salviatino in Florence closes in January and February for maintenance. After all, it’s a 15th-century building that needs to be maintained. The Verona hotel is open throughout the year.