by Natasha Wolff | August 5, 2015 10:09 am
Of all the rooms in which to spend one’s time at Il Palagio, where sumptuous sitting areas and fireplace-adjacent settees seem to appear around every corner, no place beats the kitchen. From before the first cup of morning espresso lands on the farmhouse table until the last bits of dessert are cleared away at night, none of the rooms in this 16th-century villa, situated among the picturesque hills of Tuscany, seem more alive.
While the buzz around the kitchen could easily be attributed to the staff—a house manager who was born on the property as well as a duo of cooks who seem intent on feeding anyone, hungry or not, who crosses their path—or the guests lounging by the fireplace, what really gives the room its energy is Il Palagio’s chatelaine, the actress, philanthropist and producer Trudie Styler. The villa comes to life when Styler—who’s often joined here by her husband, Sting, and their four children—is in residence. It’s no surprise, seeing how she brightens when talking about Il Palagio, the site of countless gatherings, family vacations and memorable moments. It was after Styler’s daughter Eliot was born in 1990 in Pisa, Italy, that the family decided to set down roots in the area. Finding the perfect place, however, was no simple task.
“We took a long time to find Il Palagio; it took a lot of searching,” Styler says, warming herself by that open fireplace. “The perception of Sting is that he’s a big star—that Signor Sting would want a grandisimo palazzo—and that’s not what he’s like at all.” Sting and Styler, it seems, were after something that had more charisma than curb appeal.
The couple searched extensively for a home in Tuscany—“I’d imagined a house of our dreams, but I didn’t think it existed in real life,” Styler says—and had almost given up hope when their real estate agent informed them there was one place left to see. “I said, ‘Let’s just forget it and go have a drink,’ ” Styler recalls, “but Sting said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”
When they showed up at Il Palagio, which was built in the 1500s as a hunting lodge for Italian aristocrats, Styler knew she’d found what she had been looking for. “We arrived at the house and suddenly it was like the sun came out,” she says. “It’s the closest thing to paradise that we were going to get.”
However, sometimes even paradise could use an upgrade. Since Sting and Styler purchased Il Palagio in 1997, the house, the 900-acre grounds and the three guesthouses have been extensively renovated, and while there’s no lack of rustic charm on the property, there’s also no modern convenience that the estate does without. Upscale improvements were necessary since, beyond being just another exquisite hideaway for a world-famous family and its glittering parade of weekend guests, Il Palagio does something few other grand homes do: It earns a living.
In addition to producing a portion of the food prepared by the kitchen, the grounds at Il Palagio are home to grapes, olive groves and a healthy population of bees. This means that the estate yields four varieties of wine, three types of honey and one very good cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil—all under the Il Palagio name—that are enjoyed on the premises but are also available worldwide at gourmet purveyors including Eataly in New York. According to Styler, working with the land isn’t as foreign to her as it might seem. “I am a farmer’s daughter, so the idea of growing things isn’t alien to me,” she says. “It’s actually something I have in my blood.”
If taking in Il Palagio by the glass isn’t quite enough, the entire estate—which can accommodate up to 49 guests—is also available for private rentals; Styler herself has used the grounds to host retreats for the likes of Sean Parker and Sir Bob Geldof.
But Styler’s not counting on a career as an innkeeper to occupy her time. In addition to maintaining homes in New York and London, she’s becoming something of a movie mogul. As a partner in the production company Maven Pictures, she’s worked as a producer on films including Still Alice and Ten Thousand Saints and is currently trying to bring Khaled Hosseini’s best seller A Thousand Splendid Suns to the big screen. (On-camera work hasn’t been frequent, but Styler has appeared onstage in London and New York in recent years and doesn’t rule out the possibility of making it a more regular gig.)
More than anything else—more than movies or wine or her work in South American rain forests—Styler says what really drives her is family. She currently logs only a few weeks a year in Tuscany, but claims she’s hoping to change that, to get her entire clan there for a whole month each summer. The idea is so appealing that Styler says it’s the closest thing she can imagine to heaven. “When I die,” she says, “I want to spend eternity at Il Palagio, sitting around a table with my closest friends and family, eating amazing food, drinking our wines and laughing.”
Sitting by the fireplace in Styler’s kitchen, that doesn’t sound like such a bad plan at all.
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