The medieval tower that sits atop the castello seemed to beckon us as we drove up the mile-long path from the entrance gates of Tenuta di Spannocchia to the main house of this centuries-old agricultural property, which lies just outside of Siena. This property offers something special to families traveling to Italy in high season, education programs designed specifically for them around history, sustainable agriculture, and cooking.
If you are looking for an authentic, cultural experience in Italy with kids on a working farm, Spannocchia is a fantastic experience for all ages.
The rich and influential Spannocchia family once owned the property, which dates from medieval times, and in 1925, it was sold to Delfino Cinelli, a Florentine aristocrat and writer who briefly lived at Spannocchia with his American wife and their children. In 1958, Cinelli’s son Ferdinando established the non-profit Etruscan Foundation and used Spannocchia for archeological research.
Today Tenuta di Spannocchia is managed by Ferdinando’s daughter Francesca and her husband Robert, the 3rd generation of this Italian-American family to live there. The property is part of the Spannocchia Foundation and Associazione Castello di Spannocchia, created to continue the educational and research activities on ecological and cultural history at Spannocchia.
Our accommodation for the week was Casa Dami, one of the farmhouses on the property. The 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house sleeps six, and offered plenty of space for my family of four, as well as beautiful views of the vast olive grove on one side, and on the other, the castello.
The cozy eat-in kitchen was the perfect place to have breakfast, and also for making delicious Italian meals using olive oil and drinking wine produced by Spannochia, while the arched loggio was ideal for enjoying alfresco, candle-lit dinners, as we often did over the course of the week.
Other days we took advantage of the opportunity to have meals in the Castillo dining room and socialize with other members of the community, which consists of guests, the owners of the property and the interns who are at Spannocchia to work the farm and for educational purposes in an effort to “sustain the landscape for future generations”.
The commitment of the Spannocchia Foundation to education was evident to me before we stepped foot in Italy. Several weeks before or trip, I was contacted by Spannocchia’s director of education, Katie Phelan, who wanted to know who I was traveling with and what our particular interests were so that she could access which of the many tours, tastings or classes would best suit us.
Olive Oil Tasting and Pasta Workshop
We ambitiously signed up for every class offered that week: a pasta workshop, olive oil tasting, wine production tour and tasting and an historical tour of the property. The classes might not have been specifically kid-friendly, but Katie sure was, and she always made it a point to engage Paris and Vanessa. During the olive oil tasting, Paris and Vanessa listened to Katie as intently as the adults did, as she discussed the history and the process of making olive oil. They then eagerly joined in as we examined, sniffed, tasted and touched – yes you use your fingers in an olive oil tasting- a variety of olive oils to determine the quality of the liquid.
My daughters also quickly went to the head of the pasta-making class. While we all participated in making the dough, in the end it was Paris and Vanessa who had the honor of putting the dough into the pasta maker and cranking out tagliatelle, which Katie combined with a couple of varieties of sauces, for a delicious lunch enjoyed by the Spannocchia community.
Wine Production Tour
The history of the property came alive as we climbed the tower for a panoramic view of the Tuscan countryside while learning about the Spannocchia family who once controlled much of that area. The historical tour then morphed into the wine production tour as Katie took us from the top of the tower to the cellar, which houses the 500 year-old wooden vat that is still used during the wine fermentation process.
The facilities aren’t grand or impressive-looking and they don’t need to be. Spannocchia produces three wine products; red wine, white wine and Vin Santo, as well as a grappa. Everything from the growing of the grapes, to the bottling, labeling and corking of the wine is done on the property.
Approximately 8,000 bottles of wine are produced annually. Though a small amount is exported to the United States, most of the wine is sold at Spannocchia or consumed by guests staying at the property. The red wine is similar to Beaujolais and is not a wine that will age, but is meant to be drunk young. My husband and I found that both the red and white wines were perfectly suitable for drinking on the loggio of our farmhouse while watching Paris and Vanessa play in the courtyard.
Insider tips for visiting Spannochia and the area
Not only is Spannocchia outside of Siena, it is also in close proximity to Florence, Chianti and a number of other small Tuscan towns, making it the perfect base for exploring the region.
Go to Siena and visit Piazza del Campo, the big piazza in the center of the city, climb the 400 steps of the Torre del Mangia, the bell tower of Palazzo Pubblico and don’t miss the black and white stripped ceiling in the Duomo. If you’re there during the summer, the famous bareback horserace, il Palio, is an unforgettable experience.
When visiting Florence with kids, be sure to go to the world-renowned Uffizzi Gallery. If your kids aren’t old enough to appreciate the experience or if you don’t want to wait in line the hour or more it takes to see the real David, going to the piazza surrounding the gallery with the life-sized replica of Michaelangelo’s David might be a good compromise.
Get your grown-up cultural fix, while keeping the little ones entertained at the Children’s Museum at the Palazzo Vecchio, which offers a kid-friendly history lesson on how the Medici lived and rules and at the statue park Boboli Gardens where you can admire the statuary and the kids run around at the same time.
For interested in less cerebral pursuits, the luxury outlet, The Mall, is just outside of Florence and makes for a great day trip, as does a drive through Chianti, Italy’s famous wine region.
Monique Rubin blogs at MoTravels.com. Head there for more great articles about her experiences in Europe with kids.
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