An Old Hamlet and Its HistoryOnce there was an old farm belonging to the great-grandparents of the Masi family, dating back to the late Nineteenth Century, whose origins even date back to the late Middle Ages. Now this is where the property of Borgo San Benedetto with Restaurant Casa Masi and Villa Sestilia Guest House are located. Follow our lead back in time and discover the ancient atmosphere of an authentic Tuscany, permanently imprinted in every element.
Casa MasiWhere the magic of old things echoes. If left to dust they seem sad and fruitless, but if groomed with love they give all their energy back. – Luciana Masi"
The houses of Borgo San Benedetto constituted the central part of the great-grandparents farm, expanding and prospering at its most in the time between First and Second World War, producing wheat and tobacco leaves.
reat-grandparents Pietro and Sestilia used to live in their big house, now known as Villa Sestilia, along with their five children, while the other buildings where home to those families working for them. By that time there was in Tuscany a special contract called "mezzadria" (= sharecropping): owners made houses and fields available to those working for them. In return, farmers were committed to them, including livestock and their lands sharing the half of each single harvest. There was no subordinate work the way it is intended nowadays, half crop was considered the right way to settle a rental fee, including terms protecting both parts in case of damage due to unfortunate weather conditions or any further trouble. This used to grant a good level of wealth for those living our countryside, except for the poor soil characteristics of this area – mainly constituted by clays and sands, lacking humus therefore not suitable for several types of cultivation – let alone the hard work, exclusively manual at that time. Game hunting was a great source of sustenance though: the great abundance of wild boars, deers, hares, woodcocks and pheasants helped heads of families feeding everyone. Rifles belonged to every young male legacy. The great variety of game also attracted people not living in this area, including some renowned characters such as Renato Fucini, writer and great friend of Pietro, or even Guglielmo Marconi – yes indeed him in person, the telegraph inventor.
This is how the farm of San Benedetto not only became an economical centre but also a place where to gather with friars, humble people and women in despair – as well as meeting point for literature classics readings, political debates, religious lectures lead by San Vivaldo friars, and last but not least being home for grand banquets any time a stranger would come visiting.
Nowadays considered as great gift from nature, by that time truffle was only appreciated for some good omelettes to be shared on a family table, barely treated like an ordinary potato and sometimes cooked just because there was nothing else to eat. Then World War Two came and, as it happened everywhere, caused countless disasters and considerable changes. Great-grandfather Pietro died of a bomb splinter in May 1944. Farmers abandoned the hamlet; its houses were first rented to new hunters coming from time to time from bigger towns of the area. Later on some were sold, some others completely left vacant. Silence, brambles and nettle. If fields were left untamed, woods was left to wilderness. Even wild species suffered from partial extinction caused by indiscriminate hunting during the Sixties of Seventies of last Century. Then we came – or actually we came back, bringing this place back to life with great love and dedication.
The key to our recent history is 1995, where we started restoring our wine cellar, the olive press and the storage rooms around them, now known as Casa Masi and home to the Masi Family.
he building was showing a complete state of desertion, and it came clear is was made of a peculiar room complex, where one was added after another in different times as the farm was growing, in need of new spaces and services. A new wine cellar and a small archway extension to the existing stables, a lodge for rural tools, the blacksmith's room, the carpenter's room and the olive oil mill were all added to the original central body built in the Eighteenth Century. This though, likewise, was constructed against a stone wall presumably belonging to a mill rooted in the medieval chronicles. The walls with bricks showing were cleaned and plastered with patience opting for chalk-based materials, without employing any colour whatsoever. Old bricks were also recycled for restoring floors with the ancient method called "a salto di gatto" (= "like a cat leap"), already used for the storage ceiling. Bricks, beams as well as other materials were all recovered and hand-cleaned with brushes of different kind and later treated with bee wax. Luckily no trace of woodworms were found, beams and wooden, humble furniture had been strengthened by decades (or centuries?) of bonfire haze, keeping temperatures steady and letting wine fermenting, warming men after hunting trips and women on their daily household routine including nuts and olive harvest storage. The was no fireplace in the rooms, fires were lit directly on the floors. The farm was based on such an economic balance where even the minimum waste was not allowed.
"Farm" is the name we gave back to the area of apartments located in the back of the restaurant, where every unit now brings back to life the old atmospheres of those who lived them in the past centuries. On the ground floor there was a big kitchen, a small slaughterhouse where game and farm animals were butchered, full of pots as big as cauldrons always on the stove for stewing vegetables or preparing soups, sausages, cured meat and superb roasts. On the first floor, the area where all domestic matters were conducted. Ironing, embroidering, mending and taking care of the priest during his visits: he used to sleep in the only room equipped with fireplace and a private bathroom, and during his stay he was in charge of confessing observants, playing orations in the month of May and during Lent as well as during Christmas time. On the second floor instead, the place entirely dedicated to maids: young women who left their homes to work somewhere else, as their families had too many mouths to feed. Therefore, they worked in other farmhouses in change of hospitality, hoping to get married also. This made our borgo a small "court" in the country, where adventures and misfortune were quite common, as well as jokes and folk songs:
Ho seminato una campo di carciofi, giovanottino, mi son bell’e nnati , ma carciofi come te non mi son venuti
Ho seminato un campo d’accidenti, se la stagione me li tira avanti ce n’è per te e tutt’ i tu’ parenti.
In 1997 we regained the so-called farmhouse of Ripanova, the Villa and the Hut along with all fields around. This property used to belong to the original San Benedetto hamlet, and the vineyards around it were employed in the production of grapes for vinsanto, the traditional Tuscan sweet wine, while within the property there was a well highly rich in water. In 2007 finally the complex of Borgo San Benedetto appears the way we see it today: this is when the old house belonging to great-grandparents Giglioli, built around 1910, became Villa Sestilia. Its regular and elegant architecture designed by an engineer from Castelfiorentino, maybe a bit too strict in his vision, following the standards of that time. A central stone stairs connected the four ample rooms downstairs to the ones upstairs. Beautiful decorations on the walls and ceilings in Art Deco style. This is where Lorenza was born and lived in the Camera Rosa, until she got married in Florence in 1936. Her mother Sestilia has a passion for gardening and a small one was built, à la italiana, all surrounded by boxwood bushes and peonies. A little less ground for agriculture, but a great outdoor space to rest and work on embroideries, while children played. Do not hesitate to take your shoes off and walk barefoot: we reassure you, this is the best to reconnect with life.