Imagine Tuscany and perhaps you’ll picture a battle-worn gladiator or the sleek, curved body of a 1950’s Ferrari 212. The landscape, however, always remains the same.
If Rome is the heart of Italy, then Tuscany is its soul. Celebrated as the birthplace of the Renaissance, the region is world-renowned for medieval treasures. Yet step away from the great cities like Florence and Siena and you will discover that Tuscany is equally abundant in natural wonders. From the Carrara marble mines to the exquisite vineyards at Avignonesi, some of the finest produce in the world springs from this stretch of earth between the Ligurian Sea and Umbria.
Undulating olive-green hills, proud poplars lining ruler-straight Roman roads, and rows of lush vineyards thriving under eternal sunshine. Conjure a picture of Tuscany in your mind’s eye and it’s likely to look a little like this. Tuscany’s agricultural heritage is intricately bound with rural society, shaping the landscape for thousands of years. Dive into the infinity pool at Castello di Casole, A Belmond Hotel, Tuscany, and cast your eyes across the view. Even today, you will enjoy the same charming provincial vistas that existed long before the Romans arrived. We have one little-known ancient civilisation to thank for this enduring influence on the landscape—the industrious Etruscans.
Compared to the later Romans, the Etruscans are not so widely understood, but we know they were masterful engineers and evident wine-lovers. Around 800 B.C. the Etruscans rose to great prominence across Southern Europe, amassing enormous wealth from the trade of farmed goods. Towering aqueducts and complex irrigation systems carved vast swathes of farm land into orderly rows of vineyards and olive groves. If the earth could be easily cultivated, then goods could be easily traded. However, the enterprising Etruscans didn’t just trade goods, they also swapped knowledge and ideas.
Etruscan society perfected the art of wine-making. They developed a unique technique for crushing grapes, using limestone blocks set with grooves and a spout to collect the juice. The wine was flavoured with herbs and spices and proved to be a popular export. Makers decanted the liquid into ornately embellished clay ‘amphorae’ to be transported throughout Europe, showing a level of reverence for their wine.
Remnants of these ancient vessels uncovered in Southern France suggest that the Etruscan’s passed a knowledge of wine-making to their French neighbours, teaching them about different grape varieties and flavours. For the Etruscans, good wine was to be savoured.
Today winemaking continues to thrive in Tuscany, home to the iconic Chianti region. Explore the rolling countryside surrounding Castello di Casole and be swept up in the rows of grape vines stretching into the horizon. Today our wine cellar has been reimagined as a soothing space for spa treatments and relaxation, but you will discover the art of winemaking right on our doorstep with exclusive wine tours and events.
Our knowledge of Tuscany’s earliest society comes from the prehistoric treasures and engineering relics left behind. Several artefacts have even been discovered in the grounds of Castello di Casole including a beautifully preserved woman’s head (now safely on display at the Museum of Casole D’Elsa). Eventually, the Etruscan civilisation was consumed by the Roman Empire, but their mark on the landscape remains.
Their hard work is evident in the unique, arable beauty of the region and the blending of their original namesake ‘Tusci’ into ‘Tuscany’. Although long gone, at the hotel we continue to honour the Etruscan passion for quality produce and fine wine. You may even say it’s in our bones.
by Olivia Maclean
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