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The Tuscan landscape has barely changed in the last 500 years. The countryside is still dotted with small farms and villages of brick, plaster and terracotta discolored by the sun and, among them, the villas of the ancient aristocracy of Siena emerge , those that were houses of potatoes and cardinals, the headquarters of the power of yesteryear.
One of the most beautiful is Villa Cetinale, built in 1680 by Cardinal Flavio Chigi for his prestigious relative, Pope Alexander VII. This baroque Roman mansion hides, like an enchanted castle, at the end of a long and dusty road full of cypresses.
The first clue to reach it is a jumble of pink roofs and barns. Next, a silver olive grove reveals funny statues, lemon trees and the formality of hedges and flower beds near the house.
Lunch in the kitchen © Villa Cetinale
The iron doors creak when it opens and the villa appears: Italian opulence seeps into every stone and arch, wrapped in wisteria and jasmine, roses and plumbagos.
High above, presiding as a nest of eagles on the top of a hill - which is reached by climbing the 300 steps of the Holy Stairs - is the Romitorio, a small monastery built to process the sins and acquittals of the Cardinals who, long ago, lived here.
The Chigi family was the owner of Cetinale for generations, until 1978, and they made sure that their past was lit up with scandals and rampant hunting parties.
The parade followed when the extravagant and ingenious Antony Lambton, sixth Earl of Durham, and his companion Claire Ward bought the house and began to restore their faded grandeur.
Bedroom Villa Cetinale © Villa Cetinale
The festivities celebrated in the village reached their wild peak in the time of Lord Lambton, attracting rock stars, politicians, philosophers and royalty.
Princess Margarita, for example, was one of her regular visitors. Lambton had gone into exile in this place, leaving a prominent political career after a sex scandal that included a threesome in a brothel and a paparazzi in the closet.
As happened to Lord Byron, the move to Italy only increased its appeal: the town became a place frequented during the summer by his five daughters and friends. Mick Jagger, Rupert Everett and Sophie Dahl also stayed there and organized parties with their neighbors Matthew and Maro Spender and Mark Getty, while several Guinnesses, Naylor-Leylands and Somersets dropped down like beautiful exotic birds.
Image of the pool and gardens © Villa Cetinale
When he presided over those great dinners, Lambton's conversation was impeccably polite, though full of scathing anecdotes. His mind had the precision and cruelty of a rapier, and yet his thirst for good company and his air of carefree perversity kept the house alive with guests and intrigues.
Meanwhile, Tuscany displayed season after (sunny) season, Palio di Siena's career , Chianti wine harvest and the myth surrounding this English lord in Cetinale. The parties did not cease until Lord Lambton became ill and died in the winter of 2006.
However, as in the best stories, the pages continue to grow. Lord Lambton was succeeded by his son Ned. His young family has taken the reins, and now the laughter of the children fills the house and gardens. When Villa Cetinale approaches his 340th birthday, he continues to host meetings, although somewhat different from those of the sixth Count.
View of the gardens of Villa Cetinale from a balcony © Villa Cetinale
At the heart of this new chapter is Marina Lambton, Ned's wife and mother of her youngest children: Stella, six, Claud, two, and a newborn baby. She and Ned have revived and restored the great old house.
“The first time I came I was 14 years old, ” says Marina. “I was staying with my godfather, Jasper Guinness, in his nearby village and we approached Cetinale for lunch. I remember thinking how handsome and cool Ned was, and Tony, his father, seemed charming but with a very perverse sense of humor. ”
Marina remembers that the house was full of dogs (and their hair) and shares her pragmatic vision of why she is so attractive to the fashion people that comes now: “Well, the roof doesn't drip anymore and there are many more bathrooms "
Interior designer Camilla Guinness, Jasper's wife, "has made her incredibly luxurious, " says Marina. Camilla, a friend of the Lambton family, has the ability to combine the contemporary and the ancient, the imposing and the intimate, providing comfort and simplicity in each room.
Marina's instructions were completely optimistic, as she recalls: "I just said, " you have good taste, so go ahead. "
Ned Lambton, with Marina, her sisters and her friends © Philip Sinden
In this way, much of the brightness that Antony Lambton and Clare had injected into the house was restored, restoring textiles and furniture, and adding Marina's personal taste to the mix with new and huge bathtubs, magnificent canopy beds and exquisite draperies.
The house still retains all the foundations of its splendid past: from Chigi's coat of arms hung over the fireplace to the large marble side tables that Antony brought from England.
Marina, who enjoys Cetinale "breathing fresh air and communicating with nature", has brought a special touch to the place. It is she who insists that Czech and Speake's No. 88 incense sticks be lit at night in the glorious first floor hall.
At the time of the cocktail, low dressed in Gucci or Saloni, the fire creaks with olive trunks and dinner, prepared by Cetinale chef Alessandro Berrettini, is a Tuscan food festival.
"It has never served a bad dish, " says Marina. She and Ned are recreated here for much of the year, and their guests are a combination of friends and family, among which there are many children to play with Stella and Claud.
Living room on the first floor of the villa © Villa Cetinale
The party usually includes makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury (who celebrated her husband's 50th birthday with a big event in the villa this summer), Marina's sister, Rose, and her husband David Cholmondeley, Kate Moss, Timothy and Emma Hanbury, the film director David Hayman and his wife, the interior designer Rose Uniacke: the guest book is a fascinating list of names in the creative world.
He even records a visit from former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and a photo in which he appears very pleased with himself and flanked by Rose and Marina, both dressed in pink bikinis.
It is possible that different generations do things differently in regards to the decoration of the house, but the cast of characters that visit it fits into a pattern that was already established in the 1970s by Ned's father.
One of the bathrooms of Villa Cetinale © Villa Cetinale
“There are wild spirits that live inside the trees and are carved in the rocks, ” explains Marina with a mischievous look. He loves the contrast of forests full of wild boars with the aristocratic atmosphere of the manicured gardens and the beautiful and tidy house.
His favorite part of the land is Theibaid, a forest and its lake. "It's a lovely place to picnic." The mossy paths reveal stone animal figures: first a turtle and a snake, then a dragon that lurks on the edge of the dense forest.
They have been here since the 17th century, when the famous Palio de Siena race moved to the village grounds as a result of the riots that overwhelmed the city.
Forests surrounding the villa © Villa Cetinale
The best view is achieved from the monastery, the Romitorio. “It's another awesome place to go hiking and snack something outdoors. Sometimes I drive there in my Fiat Panda, when it's too hot to go on foot, ”says Marina, who feels a natural affinity with the property.
She and Ned have restored Cetinale with great care. Without losing an iota of the atmosphere or the layers of history, they live here peacefully and lightly, instead of with the turmoil of previous generations. Her children are learning Italian and she has started producing Cetinale olive oil.
“We make approximately 1, 500 bottles a year. It is delicious and has a spicy flavor. ” This and the rent of the house when the family is not in it, are shaping Cetinale for the future. A modern epilogue for an epic fairy tale.
* This report was published in number 117 of the Condé Nast Traveler Magazine (May) . Subscribe to the print edition (11 printed numbers and digital version for € 24.75, calling 902 53 55 57 or from our website) and enjoy free access to the digital version of Condé Nast Traveler for iPad. The May Condé Nast Traveler number is available in its digital version to enjoy on your preferred device.