A Tuscan dream, with mod-cons

Nestled amid rolling hills and vineyards, the restored stone farmhouses of the Castello di Reschio estate offer the perfect setting for an Italian idyll. Cheryl Markosky reports
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The Independent Online

At the end of the day, we all probably harbour a secret longing to live in a beautifully restored Tuscan farmhouse, complete with olive trees, Italian cypresses and wraparound views of the hillsides. We want to nibble Parma ham and mozzarella drizzled with olive oil, while sampling a bottle of the local wine, all washed in that light that has inspired Italian artists for centuries.

In the late 17th century, Count Antonio Bolza's ancestors left Italy to serve as courtiers at the Habsburg Court in Vienna. Several years ago, the present Count, his wife and five children returned to re-establish roots in the lush Niccone Valley just north of Perugia. They bought Castello di Reschio, a 2,000-acre property on the borders of Tuscany and Umbria, with the aim of restoring and recreating a historic estate. The wonderfully rustic stone farmhouses are in the process of being refurbished to a tremendously high standard and some are now for sale. Count Antonio Bolza says: "The scenery is historic, the quality is traditional and restoration is key at Castello di Reschio. You are buying more than a house - it is an all-embracing service. I call this country living in noble tradition."

And it is this "noble tradition" - the family live on site to make sure everything is up to scratch - that is a strong selling point, alongside the more practical add-on services on the estate, such as the equestrian centre, the mountain bike and walking trails, floodlit tennis courts and an osteria for when Mamma is not on hand to rustle up some homemade pasta. In other words, you get the crumbling stone, exquisite ancient tiles and lime washed walls in the 500-year-old farmhouses, but modern amenities and back-up.

James Price, from Knight Frank's international department, has sold 14 of the 35 houses and says that, just like life in the Italian sunshine, there is no rush to sell. "The family only wants to do up two or three a year, to make sure everything is done properly."

Prices start from €2.25 (£1.3 million) for the impeccably restored old farmhouses, including the extras: leisure facilities, security, maintenance and management. And if you baulk at such high prices, bear in mind that at least you are getting the personal touch. This project is the Count's life work, the Countess heads up the interior design and son Benedict is in charge of the day-to-day running of the place. "You will easily run into Antonio and his sons while you are there," says Price.

International property experts say that now is a good time to buy in the south of France and Italy. With better transport (Eurostar and cheaper flights from a variety of airlines), demands for a better lifestyle and lower house prices, the British are snapping up villas and apartments on the coast and further into the hills.

James Price reckons most buyers will be "pretty successful individuals from various walks of life from America, northern Europe and the UK". He expects them to use their Tuscan farmhouses on the estate for around two to four months of the year. They can rent them out when they are not there through the estate office (letting figures are yet to be established).

The individual properties average about three acres in size, but you can buy adjacent parcels if you want a larger mini-estate of your own. The 35 farmhouses are scattered round the estate, some near the castle and others tucked away. A huge plus, if you have ever felt overlooked by neighbouring villas at a supposedly dream holiday destination, is that these houses are not plonked down cheek-by-jowl.

Local craftsmen have been employed to restore them using reclaimed stone, antique beams, original oak doors and terracotta tiles. Castello di Reschio's landscape architects will ensure that each individual garden becomes "an integrated landmark" within the estate, while also managing to melt into the rural surroundings.

Some areas might be more formal with terraces and even a parterre, while others are more natural, blending in with the cypress trees and olive groves. Then there are bay trees, lavender, santolina and most important, a variety of kitchen herbs that residents can pick fresh to use when cooking. The oak and chestnut woods are awash with porcini mushrooms and there are even truffles, according to the estate. Reschio even produces its own olive oil.

Swimming pools are designed not to disturb the unspoilt countryside. Stone walls to support terraced gardens are being constructed and each property will have loggias, pergolas, shady areas to escape from the sun and protected areas when it is cooler out of season.

Transport is also good. The nearest airport at Perugia is about 25km away, Corona is 17km and you can get to Rome or Florence up the A1 in around two hours. "You are in an established part of Italy," adds Price. "Prices here have retained a certain strength." Which has to be good news for investors or holiday home owners when it comes time to re-sell.

Castello di Reschio is available through Knight Frank, 020-7626 8171