Rochdale, England, United Kingdom

Alistair and Barbara Webster

Having spent several summer holidays in Tuscany, we had never visited Cortona, having become addicted to the lovely city of Siena. One year, staying south of Siena, we had seen Cortona in the evenings, sitting on its hill, with the lights of the city shining out through the night. It piqued our interest, which was fortified by reading Francis Maye’s praise of Fulvio di Rosa and his new project at Vagli. So, we booked an inspection visit.As we drove over the pass from Cortona to Pierle, I was wondering what lay ahead. Then we hit the road through the woods to Vagli. There are, it seems to us, two ways of approaching that road, two states of mind: either as an adventure, or, if you are not used to strade blanche, as something which calls for circumspection. But, either way, it’s worth the trip.As you wind through the trees, you keep getting intriguing glimpses of Vagli, sitting on its terraces above you. It looks as if it has emerged, almost organically, from the hillside and the forest.We arrived on a lovely day. The Niccone valley was carpeted with poppies. When we finally arrived at Vagli, the first thing that struck us was the integrity with which the restoration of the borgo and its gardens had been carried out. And that first impression has been confirmed, time after time, over the years.May is a lovely time to visit – everything is fresh, with flowers abundant and vivid greens.And so to the staff: they couldn’t have been more welcoming.We spent three days there, enjoying evenings in the trattoria and days spent exploring the area. Everything we experienced convinced us that this was a place where we wanted to spend a lot more time. But it’s easy to fall for the tuscan dream. What is also needed is a clear eye as to the integrity of the scheme and the security of the investment which one is contemplating.So I wanted to judge the people involved. As a lawyer, I had read the documentation, all of which seemed to be in order, but if there is one thing that you learn – a good contract is essential, but if the other party is unreliable, it can, nevertheless, be a nightmare.A number of things persuaded me that I would not regret buying into the fractional ownership scheme. First, there was the integrity of the work itself. Clearly, a lot of care and commitment had gone into it. It was a work of vision. It spoke volumes of Fulvio. Second, Fulvio himself was fully involved in the borgo, as he continues to be. Having met him, you couldn’t fail to be impressed by his care, enthusiasm and commitment. Third, there was the staff. If you can judge a project by its people, as I believe that you can, then this was an excellent project. The staff were warm and helpful and have, over the years, it should be said, become friends. Fourth ( and these are not in any ranking order! ), Lee Cogher did not try a hard sell. He just let the place itself do the talking – aided, no doubt, by not a little of the fabulous tuscan reds!Another matter you have to take into the reckoning is the people with whom you will be sharing your time there: the other owners and their guests. We only saw a small sample, of course, but they all seemed to share a love of the place and to be friendly and interesting.And so we signed up. One thing which we did not factor into our reckoning was the way in which we have developed firm friendships with people from all over the world who we have met at Vagli. It’s part of the charm of the place.So, no regrets at all. Only pleasure.——As you turn off the autostrada, Cortona, ancient city built into the side of the hill, dominating the plain, looks as though it has just grown out of the rock. Driving along the fertile valley through Pergo, it seems to be a different type of world from the crete and the Val di chiana: fertile, almost somnolent in the heat. And then over the pass, and down towards Pierle, and yet another world as you enter the timeless woodland which surrounds Vagli.It’s easy to romanticise Tuscany and to dream of it as a landscape which has always been as tranquil as it seems today, stretched out luxuriously under the sun. But the very existence of the Rocca at Pierle and the watchtower at Vagli speak of a more threatening past.No threats now, except the danger of not wanting to go home. At whatever time of year, Vagli is a haven: it’s not a place out of time – the internet and other modern developments see to that – but it is a place in which to reflect, to unwind and to give time to the many things which a busy professional life usually blots out.Spending a few minutes watching the sun dappling the floor though the vine canopy; watching the boar families coming for their afternoon rooting on the terraces; listening to the chatter and clinking from the kitchen. No pressure from the clock.Of course, you can find these things in many places, no doubt, but the combination of the place, the people and the care taken in restoring the old hamlet make it unique.Any friends or relatives who have spent time with us out here always seem to leave with a wistful smile upon their faces.There is, of course, a downside: when your guard is down and the wine and food in the trattoria have worked their magic, there is always the danger of a noisy evening doing ( in my unfortunate case ) Monty Python impressions.For which this Queen’s Counsel can only apologise – in the words taken from the Monty Python Italian phrasebook: “My hovercraft is full of eels!”

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