An Organic-Biodynamic Holiday in Tuscany

Please note that this is an independent personal review and is not sponsored by Fattoria La Vialla.

Organic, biodynamic, tasty foods and wines from products that have been pampered by the Tuscan sun, what more could one ask? For quite some years we’ve been online customers of the award-winning Fattoria La Vialla with their delicious offerings of pasta, ragù sauces, olive oil, biscuits, wines, vinegars, cold meats, cheeses, etc.

We first encountered the brand when we inherited a brochure/product list from a friend …

Credit: La Vialla

… but should you wish to order La Vialla products for yourself, you can request a product book and price list here and obtain plenty of general La Vialla information from their website. Don’t be put off by the quirky typeface used for all product labels and promotional material – its use dates back to the handwriting of just one person who, in the early days, personally wrote out every label individually – and anyway, it does exude a certain artisanal charm and gives the business a more homely, hand-crafted feel!

We just l-u-u-u-r-v their white Balsamic Vinegar!

Despite most of their supplies being grown and produced on-site not far from the Tuscan village of Castiglion Fibocchi, the boxed order always arrives within just a day or two (there must be a depot in the UK). Note that their prices are not budget supermarket prices but all their produce is Organic-Biodynamic and so carries the appropriate overheads for guaranteeing the required farming methods and the approved quality.

La Vialla is a commercially successful business, a family farm owned and personally run by Gianni, Antonio and Bandino, the three Lo Franco brothers, who, with their parents Piero and Giuliana, have been producing top-quality sustainable foodstuffs since 1978. The farmland, in total 1300 hectares (3200 acres or ~5 square miles), stretches from a flat, fertile plain up a wooded hillside encompassing a large area of olive groves (over 25000 olive trees), vineyards, corn fields and vegetables, including tomatoes, onions, artichokes, etc. La Vialla is also well-known for its wonderful Pecorino cheese from its flock of over 1,000 Sardinian sheep which are milked in situ in the pasture!

As part of the organic/biodynamic process, their land is never intensively ploughed; much use is made of green manure and animal waste with cow horn which has been stored in the soil for several months turning it into mineral-rich compost. As well as recycling all their water, photovoltaic solar panels have been installed resulting in La Vialla‘s whole enterprise being 100% carbon neutral.

Despite its size and success, the farm is not big enough to satisfy all its customers’ demands so it’s become necessary to franchise registered organic and biodynamic farms and businesses elsewhere around Italy. For example, their grapes are also sourced from Puglia, Marche and Sicily. Their salt, too, comes from Sicily, from the Trapani salt pans at the west end of the island (for more, see our post, The Salt Pans of Trapani)…

Trapani salt pans

Over the years the family has acquired an agglomeration of several, adjacent smaller farms with their abandoned farmhouses, all of which sit in the delightfully idyllic Tuscan countryside with a number of them nestling within the trees on the wooded hillside.

As well as turning those outlying farms organic/biodynamic too, La Vialla has restored and converted the dilapidated farmhouses into over 20 holiday lets, becoming available as part of La Vialla‘s thriving March to October agriturismo business. So, as regular customers – and booking well in advance – we decided that a week’s stay was in order! Hiring a car (absolutely necessary, and a Fiat, naturally) we headed off from Florence towards Castiglion Fibocchi to find Fattoria La Vialla.

From Castiglion Fibocchi to the farm is a short drive where, as you drive along the Via Meliciano, even the road signs become noticeably more individual – and familiar!

We turned into the cypress tree-lined drive to the main reception area-cum-cafe …

… to partake of a light lunch and some liquid refreshment – straight from the cellar!

Finding the office to register, we were allocated our accommodation and given all information necessary for our stay.

We were surprised in the office when we were addressed in – i.e. immediately assumed to be – German! OK, they do have quite a number of UK visitors, but the greatest number of their visitors are from Germany or Holland. Their boxes sell well there and many of the awards for their produce are from Germany.

We knew that farm holidays here are self-catering, but La Vialla does offer two bookable evening meals each week and breakfast all available at the main farmhouse (not far from the main yard). Available also around the main farmhouse area is a tour of the working farm.

This main yard contains the shops where you can buy your daily provisions, many La Vialla products, for your agriurismo kitchen. What you can’t buy here, it’s a trip to Castiglion Fibocchi.

… there are other provisions, of course!

Even in their rural settings, a number of agriturismi nowadays try to place themselves alongside hotels with all ‘mod cons’. At La Vialla a stay is more of a rustic experience. With the conversions of their old farmhouses to tourist accommodation much of the original charm has been left and if we had come to anything different, we would have been disappointed. So don’t expect jacuzzis or swimming pools, cocktail bars or lavish entertainment, internet or television, even

– but at least you won’t have to share a bathroom with anyone else!

With so many of their agriturismo farmhouses dotted around, it is almost ‘Hobson’s Choice’ as to whether you will get one easily accessible out on the plain or one of those way up the tricky track in the woods! Ours was a 2.8 km (1.7 mile), 10 minute drive up a metalled road followed by a walk up a track of 500 metres. There are some much further out deep into the woods up unpaved, winding dirt tracks (with something of a precipice off the trackside in places!). You can drive them, but if you don’t want to take your own car, La Vialla will provide one (self-drive) for you. Out in the main yard we spotted this one and thought, “We’ll take it!” …

Unfortunately, this wasn’t for general use being something of a La Vialla icon since it is used in some of their promotional material.

Our farmhouse was charming and somewhat remote – a rural idyll! We had the upstairs, our friends the downstairs …

… in the kitchen-cum-diner we found a welcome basket of La Vialla goodies (pasta, bread, ragù sauces) laid out for us on the table and a refrigerator containing cheese, fruit and veg – enough to see us through the first day or two…

The bedroom was a touch spartan, but clean and comfortable.

.. and plenty of room out at the back to while away some very pleasant hours in the Tuscan sun …

For those wishing to explore the area surrounding La Vialla, there’s always the lake …

… or perhaps wander up to one of their other farmhouses …

This one more of a ‘country house’ rather than a farmhouse!

… or use any of La Vialla‘s bikes free of charge (but don’t try the rough paths up the hillside!)

But we wanted to see where the produce in our boxes came from and how they were made. Hence the tour of facilities down at the main yard, beginning at the bakery …

Most of the organic-biodynamic corn grown here is stone-ground and bagged to make the bread and biscuits …

.. some eventually arriving in the biscuit making section (shown below is the forming of the individually hand-made Viallini biscuits containing pine nuts – yummee!) …

A little further on the sterilised glass jars are being prepared …

Apologies for the reflected glare off the perspex partition!

… to take directly the ragù sauces being prepared over low heat in the large vats …

A trip around a working farm isn’t so good if there aren’t any freebies to try …

Mmm, Sugo di Rosmarino! One of my favourites.

A trip round to the olive press was a little disappointing because at that time of year (April) there weren’t too many olives to press! However, in the season during late October all olives are stone- mill pressed within 12 hours of being picked.

… with plenty of certificates and awards on the wall!

However, things were happening out across the yard in the substantial wine cellar …

… and a visit to the cellars wouldn’t be complete without a taster …

Needless to say, plenty to buy …

Notice the certificates and awards on the wall

… but you’d need deep pockets for these!

Of course, staying at La Vialla wouldn’t be complete without enjoying their culinary hospitality, including open-air buffets …

… outside the main farmhouse …

… and in the farmhouse for an evening meal.

To finish our week’s stay we visited La Vialla‘s own Museo della Casa Contadina

… with its display of farm machinery from yesteryear …

… and within the house, displays and a layout that focussed on the way of living back then …

But what better way to finish a museum tour than out in the Tuscan open air with La Vialla‘s cantucci dipped into La Vialla‘s Vin Santo!

Grazie mille!

We enjoyed our stay at La Vialla. We enjoyed the conviviality. We enjoyed the food and the wine. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery – even on the overcast days!

Overlooking the plain containing hectares of vineyards

But even in such beautiful surroundings, we couldn’t stay in the area without taking trips out to visit such places as Arrezzo, Caprese and Anghiari – but you’ll have to wait for the blog on these trips!


3 thoughts on “An Organic-Biodynamic Holiday in Tuscany

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