Nestled amongst undulating green hills in Tuscany, the incredible 700-hectare vineyard, Il Borro, feels like it’s situated in the middle of nowhere, when in fact, it’s just an hour’s drive from Florence. A second home for the outdoors-loving family of Ferruccio Ferragamo, this spectacular property, with a 1000-year-old village in the centre of the estate, is everything you’d expect from the breathtaking Tuscan countryside and so much more. Ferruccio, the President of luxury Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo, bought the property in 1993 from the Duke of Aosta to spend his weekends hunting boar. This particular 10-bedroom villa is Il Borro’s main standalone building and where Ferruccio’s family – his six children, their partners and children – gather when they visit on the weekends.
In the world of designer shoes, the Salvatore Ferragamo brand is a star. Ferruccio’s father Salvatore became famed when he moved to Hollywood in the 1920s and made bespoke shoes for film stars – has fitted the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn to name a few. Since then, the Ferragamo family have built a luxury fashion empire, released books, opened a museum and branched out into hotels and restaurants. Best known for their luxury footwear, the brand’s portfolio has grown over the years to include ready-to-wear clothing, silk scarves and accessories.
When Salvatore returned to Italy from the US in 1927 trying times followed when he went bankrupt after the war in 1929 but the shoe designer went on to reach success once more and in 1936 bought the Palazzo Spini-Feroni in Florence – which is still the brand’s headquarters today. Back then it was a revolving door for actresses visiting Europe. “I had the fortune to meet some of the actresses,” Ferruccio – Salvatore’s eldest son – explains. “I saw them in the cinema and then I was shaking their hand. It was absolutely quite exciting.” Since Salvatore sadly passed away from cancer in 1960, aged 62, his wife Wanda, (now aged 92) and six children have been keeping his dream alive.
“I am not so crazy for modern. My style is more classic.”
Although Ferruccio first fell in love with Il Borro because of the time he spent here hunting, he saw that the estate had much more to offer. “I can see there is a potential business here for hospitality,” Ferruccio told his family back in 1993 when they bought the vineyard. At that time the focus was on restoring the medieval village, and its 30 apartments, into a resort where people could stay and experience agriturismo rather than producing wine. It is not a luxury resort with mod-cons, rather the Ferragamos have retained the soul and spirit of the place. It’s one of Ferruccio’s eldest twin sons, Salvatore (who works here full time), who was passionate about producing wine at Il Borro. “He was very keen on starting the wine and today it is one of our major activities,” his father enthuses. And with the majority of Ferruccio’s time spent focused on the fashion house it is Salvatore who is instrumental at Il Borro he says. As well as planting all of the vines and spearheading the restoration, Salva – as his father affectionately calls him – also “looks after all of the alternative energies,” which includes two large solar panels and a house on the property which has zero utilities and no bills to pay.
As I am walked around the private residences I am in awe. From the pink and yellow exterior to the green and white striped awnings, this gorgeous villa, encased in a manicured plush green garden complete with a water feature, is breathtaking in its beauty. From the Turkish bath to the vista over the medieval village, the views also take in much of the grounds of the 700-hectare property and induces a-ha moments and instant relaxation, and we haven’t even stepped foot inside yet.
With a welcoming smile, Ferruccio takes me inside. Instantly imparting a rustic ambience of a bygone era, the villa is awash with earthy Italian colours – mustard yellow, burnt orange, midnight navy, olive green, walnut brown and creams too – creating an instantly warm and inviting space that feels as though it has years of hundreds of years of tales to tell. Bombed by the Germans during World War II, the villa, which can be hired, was rebuilt brick by brick by the family. Most of the homeware throughout, Ferruccio says, “was found at auctions, mainly in Italy.” Favouring a traditional look, the father of six explains furniture has to be comfortable. “Yes, the eyes are important,” he admits, “but decoration has to be functional, and comfortable.”
From the entrance hall with a grand staircase, through the drawing room, 10 bedrooms, billiard room and fitness and pool areas, this space is awe-inspiring in its beauty and attention to detail. Speaking of the expert craftsmanship of the era in which it was built, the details – including the Vatican-worthy ceilings, elaborate wallpapers, ornately carved woodwork and structural elements – are magnificent. The bedrooms complete with four-post beds, quaint chandeliers, matching wallpaper and upholstery also have an area to sit down and paint a picture straight out of a movie.
It’s the vast drawing room, decorated with one of Chopin’s pianos, in which Ferruccio spends most of his time with his family. With comfortable sofas, a fireplace and traditional Italian rug, the space beckons one to relax and put their feet up. If the family are not outdoors enjoying the many activities on offer, Ferruccio says “In the evening we have an aperitif in here which is nice. A father could not ask for any more than to be surrounded by his children.”
When Ferruccio is not spending his weekends here, he is at his other home in Florence. However the majority of his time is spent at Palazzo-Spini Feroni – the Salvatore Ferragamo headquarters which looms over the Ponte Santa Trinita, the bridge where Italian poet, Dante Aligheri, met his true love, Beatrice.
There’s a romantic quality in the air surrounding the atmospheric 13th-century palazzo, right down to the muted-gold tassels that draw back the faded curtains in each room. In fact, every inch of this exquisite space – which used to be “the city hall when Florence was the capital of Italy” – exudes bygone elegance and vintage glamour. With a Ferragamo museum on the lower-ground level and retail shop on the ground, the above levels Ferruccio says “are showrooms and offices. We have rooms for meetings, board rooms and my mother’s office”. But this is by no means your ordinary head office, rather, it’s like a fairytale castle come to life. There are beautiful rugs in each room, aged but stunning tables and chairs, gallery-worthy artworks and tapestries adorn the walls, chandeliers glisten from the ceilings that look as though they have been painted by Michelangelo himself.
“My favourite room is the boardroom. I remember seeing my father sat on the couch with many movie stars.”
Walking through the long, palatial-like hallways and taking in the beauty of the stunning furniture – floor-to-ceiling bookcases, lamps, sideboards and chairs – and different rooms (like the chapel where, I am told, shoemakers used to make shoes and pray years ago), the setting is very poetic and like stepping into another era. One can’t help but think but imagine the excitement these walls have seen over the years – Hollywood starlets and the making of a shoemaker who is accoladed the world over for his innovation with shoes. Including having created more than 20,000 original shoe models, Salvatore also designed the 11cm stiletto, cork wedge, ballerina and invisible sandal as well as “being forced to use unusual materials [such as fishing wire and chocolate wrappers] during the war when he could not find skin leather,” Ferruccio says.
With a father who he describes as “a great person, generous and with a lot of charisma,” and a mother who at 92 still comes into the office every day, it’s not hard to see why all these years later many members of the family are behind the fashion house. “Family is in our DNA,” Ferruccio asserts. “Mummy has lived her life for the business and she did very well to keep us all together.” And if they are not running into each other here, I am told, “Every occasion we can we put the family together at mummy’s house which is not far from here.” Despite such success Ferruccio is a very humble, kind and welcoming man. “I think we are normal,” he says. “We are lucky, so there is nothing to show off from. It was always my father and mother’s philosophy to never rely on the past. Challenges are always there and it’s important to remain grounded – I feel like that is the right approach.”