Truffle Hunting in Tuscany

By Caroline Tapp-McDougall

Left abandoned for 20-plus years after Stanford University closed its Italian headquarters, this 15th-century palazzo, now known as Il Salviatino, has been given a fresh lease of life by its new owners.

Today, it’s a first-class boutique hotel with museum-quality frescos, original high ceilings and windows, gracious Italian gardens and an iconic collection of unique experiences for its guests.

As we were in Tuscany for our daughter’s wedding, the time was right to check in to what we discovered to be one of the most romantic places in Florence.

For grown-ups only

High above Florence in a well-kept residential area, the grand villa-cum-hotel sits majestically in a private, well-manicured, 12-acre park-like setting. Meals are taken at leisure on the terrace overlooking the city—a photographer’s dream vista, with the best view of the famous Duomo cathedral bar none.

Along with its restored gardens, greenhouses and new “under construction” vegetable garden below the pool, there is a bevy of preciously cared for heritage trees. Each tree in the lush woods is numbered and inspected by the town horticulturalist on a monthly basis—but that doesn’t deter Il Salviatino’s resident truffle hunter, Vittorio Del Bono Venezze, and his trusty canine companions. In season, the trio comb the hotel’s own verdant woods for ripe truffles, one of the best ingredients to use in the kitchen. (Apparently, the usual truffle-hunting pigs are both too disruptive with their digging and too gluttonous with their finds for Mr. Venezze.)

If you go down in the woods today

With his inseparable lead dog and a younger pup who’s in training, the legendary Florence native is more than willing to take wannabe trufflers along for an afternoon adventure. He’ll show you and yours how to find ripe truffles, how best to recognize the aromas of the different varieties and how to clean and use each treasure you find, of which there are many in truffle-rich Tuscany. The truffle hunter also shares his family’s age-old secrets for cooking and enjoying the fungi while they’re fresh. Guests also have the chance to board a private air-conditioned minivan and travel to San Miniato woodlands, an area that’s renowned for its rare white truffles.

For those who don’t fancy a walk in the woods, there is also the option of asking the concierge to schedule a balloon ride over the villas of Tuscany, or to call a car to take you to have shoes or a shirt made to measure at a local tailor or for a tour of the artisanal shops in the villages.

An enchanting evening

Chef Stefano Santo is fond of serving Italian food with a lighter touch. Respectful of the environment and attentive to the seasons, he is the new darling of the local purveyors, small producers and wine merchants he prefers to frequent. A nice touch: Every Thursday during the summer, Il Salviatino’s gardens come alive with music while a visiting guest chef prepares a feast for those staying in one of the hotel’s 44 tastefully decorated suites. Local residents are also invited to stop by for a romantic moonlit concert in the park. Che bello!

When you go….

Homefront recommends a relaxing three- or four-day stay at Il Salviatino if you enjoy your peace and quiet, and service that’s more than notch above the ordinary. Plan day trips into the bustling city of Florence to see the sights and then, if you’re so inclined, book a few hours at the hotel’s exquisite