PIEVESCOLA, ITALY, April 27, 2016 – Relais La Suvera is the stunningly incredible 14th century former Papal palace of Pope Julius II and one of the most fascinating historical five star luxury resorts in all of Tuscany. The home for generations of the Ricci Italian noble family, this fabulous property brings the ancient past into the present with perhaps the most singularly glorious rooms and grounds to be found anywhere.
A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World for the last 9 years, and now celebrating 26 years as a luxury property, this extraordinary unique destination resort combines the beauty of the Tuscan countryside with truly opulent rooms and furnishings fit for a king, or an emperor, or a Pope.
Every corner of La Suvera is filled with antique furniture, paintings, sculpture and the legacy of centuries of family possessions, including uniforms, dresses, and costumes dating from the 16th century.
Each of the 12 rooms and suites in the Papal palace is a museum quality exhibition, an intact masterpiece of interior design transporting the guest into a living breathing part of Italian history.
An additional 24 glorious rooms are located in the converted farm house and stables wrapped around the 16th century church next to the Papal palace.
The grounds are sprawling, with manicured gardens and a small forest with a pond covering acres of high ground on top of a knoll overlooking the village of Pievescola in the rolling countryside of the municipality of Casole d’Elsa.
Walking thru the large gates is to enter the dominion of Popes and the Italian aristocracy, the Papal Villa rising like a colossus against an impossibly blue sky.
A giant screen bell structure covers the fountain in the open courtyard between the castle, the 14th century medieval church and the converted farmhouse and stables, lending a surreal modernist sculptural effect to the courtyard.
Pope Julius II is best known for having been the patron of Michelangelo and Raphael and commissioning the architect Bramante to design St. Peters Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, for which Michelangelo famously painted the ceiling.
A warrior Pope who commanded the Holy See from 1503 until his death in 1512, Julius II was given the ancient palace of La Suvera by the Lord of Siena in order to ensure that he would defend the city against the expansionist designs of Florence.
He then entrusted the brilliant architect Baldaserre Peruzzi with the task of transforming the severe medieval castle into a gleaming Renaissance Villa.
Each room in the Papal Villa is an exceptional statement of grandeur, especially the Maria Gabriella de Savoia Penthouse suite.
Massive beamed ceilings and a four-poster bed fit for a queen adjoin a sitting area right out of the Renaissance, with gilt covered gold mirrors and a glorious air of the 16th century come to life.
The Duke of Genoa Suite, dedicated to Ferdinand of Savoy, is all blues and martial attitude, a massive desk and exceptional dark cobalt furnishings defining an exceptional motif that engulfs the senses.
The Napoleon Room is simply awe inspiring, filled with period furnishings and two chairs that were used by Napoleon and Empress Josephine at their wedding at Notre Dame cathedral.
A grand mural of his campaign in Egypt adorns one wall, an array of Napoleonic uniforms fills a showcase in the anteroom, a collection of tin soldiers of Napoleon and his army fills the bathroom, and it is said Napoleon stayed overnight here on his way to Elba.
The Maria Carolina suite is all reds and the usual array of spectacular furnishings, while the rest of the rooms in the Papal Villa astound and amaze with their singularity, opulence, and attention to detail.
The Superior Room in the farmhouse is simply fabulous, with a sumptuous four poster bed, and a lovely balcony overlooking the central gardens with one of the best views on the property.
A comfortable sitting room with a large period desk extends to a curved paneled wall that disguises a bathroom and closet area on either side that is entered through hidden doorways.
The exquisite 14th century church between the Papal Villa and the farmhouse has been preserved exactly the same as it was when redesigned in 1751 in an Austrian-Baroque style, and is consecrated for official Catholic weddings.
The interior is a stunning array of white alabaster, stuccoes, soaring ceilings and the treasured quietude of an extraordinary private holy chapel with a pedigree unmatched by other properties.
It was visited three times by Cardinal Ratzinger prior to him becoming Pope Benedict, and the history of the Vatican is a constant that is intertwined with every aspect of the legacy of La Suvera.
The azure blue swimming pool stretches out across the area behind Reception, elegantly blending into the countryside around it while an ancient statue of Buddha adorns one side of the pool.
The beautiful dichotomy of modern resort poolside amenities in the shadow of a staggeringly gorgeous 14th century Renaissance Papal palace is the blending of splendor with magnificence.
Designed with style and panache, with a towering view, the pool area becomes an ethereal hideaway for warm summer days where cares are abandoned with pampered elegance.
The Lemon Bar immediately next door is a gorgeously quaint cottage with wood beamed ceilings sumptuously decorated in rustic style by the Marquis himself.
It presents a completely unique relaxed environment perfect for a light lunch, informal dinner, or as an elegant pool side bar for a casual cocktail.
The Spa Balneum is uniquely located in the former dungeons of the ancient castle, with an enticing Turkish bath set into the lower level, and an array of treatment and massages available to pamper their guests.
A private museum on the second floor of the Papal Villa includes an ancient family library, the grand Pope’s Hall, and a serene piano room filled with the sculpture, fine arts, and historical artifacts of generations of the Ricci family.
This is the private quarters and furnishings of the Marquis Giuseppe Ricci Paracciani and his wife, Princess Eleonora Massimo, who graciously allow guests to explore its treasures from 11 am – 8pm.
To walk its halls is to be immersed in the spectacle and grandeur of 500 years of Italian and Vatican history, and the effect is scintillating.
An extended porch in the back looks out over serene gardens and the explosion of hills and greenery of the surrounding countryside.
The Marquis himself is a man grounded in an Italian Papal legacy stretching back centuries, the last of a generation of titled aristocrats, who presides over an historical treasure steeped in the most crucial episodes of the Renaissance that also happens to be his ancient ancesteral home.
He is a genial, serious, learned, affectionally empathetic and engaging man who has seen it all and interacted with the highest levels of Italian and Papal politics for many decades.
For him his life is a matter of course, the steward of a legacy not just precious to himself but to the history of Tuscany, the Renaissance, and the destiny of Christendom itself.
In spite of this he is a surprisingly humble man, a fantastic storyteller and highly engaging as he graciously gives us a private tour and shows us around the impossibly beautiful rooms and family areas which sweep up the entirety of the second floor of the castle.
Now in the twilight of his life he delights in his family, his children and grandchildren, and doesn’t seem bothered that his title will, by law, not pass to the next generation of Ricci’s.
We chat expansively as he discourses on Vatican intrigue, Italian politics, and his place in the eternal firmament with a level of knowledge and precise articulation that is both astonishing and enlightening.
He opened the gates of La Suvera as a luxury resort in 1990 as a means of restoring and maintaining this magnificent property, the likes of which is nowhere else to be found.
He will be the last Marquis of this extraordinary estate, but is exceptionally proud of what he has accomplished here, as he should be, and thankfully will pass it on to his children, and they to his grandchildren.
The Ristorante Oliviera is the former olive mill where the harvest was pressed between two large grinding stones that adorn the center of the main dining room to this day.
Seldom has form and function blended and transformed the ancient on site processing center essential to castle life and the village economy into a modern, elegant, beautifully charming resort restaurant, while maintaining the character and charm of the original structure.
Dinner is a royal Tuscan countryside vision of sparkling romantic atmosphere, superb service, and innovative cuisine, the entranceway ablaze in the evening lights that lend a mystical golden glow to the old olive mill.
Inside is exquisitely furnished, sumptuous draped chairs and banquets set off against thick beamed ceilings and the ancient press at the center of the room.
Executive Chef Simone Acquarilli is a rising culinary star whose panache and expertise already sets him apart.
Just 29 years old, expect him to be the holding of one or even two Michelin stars someday, judging from his discreet and inventive use of foam in several courses.
His passion for and commitment to cuisine without regard to the need for the accolades of Michelin honoraria almost ensures that it will be bestowed on him.
A brilliant staff, many of whom are more like family, and indeed have been a part of the fabric of La Suvera for decades, help create an extraordinary evening of exceptional cuisine in a magical setting.
Unique destinations and extraordinary experiences are the guiding principle of grand excursions, and La Suvera provides a singularly spectacular creation in its own special place in the universe.
Time flows by in a river of sensations, each moment engulfed by the next, until all too soon, in the blink of an eye, it is time to leave, and yet somehow time stands still in our mind while reflecting on the experience.
Somewhere out there, on the bluff above Pievescola, in the far reaches of Casole d’Elba, La Suvera awaits, weaving its magical spell on a succession of guests who cannot help but depart enticed, enthralled, enraptured, and far richer for the experience.
Classic Rooms in the Farmhouse or Stables start at about $320 a night, Superior rooms are around $360, Junior Suites begin at $425, and Suites will run about $500 per night.
Deluxe rooms in the Papal Villa can be had for $425 a night, Suites start at around $600, while the Maria Gabriella de Savoia Penthouse Suite is about $760 a night.
Small Luxury Hotels of the World www.slh.com @SLHLuxuryHotels
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles. @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal