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Lifestyle

As you gaze out of your villa window at Tuscany’s dreamy rolling hills, it might be hard to believe you’re holidaying in a trendsetting hotspot. Yet Tuscany is home to a group of designer outlets known as ‘Fashion Valley’, where you can pick up a piece by one of Italy’s top couturiers at a knock-down price. Find out more about this bargain bonanza where you can save, save, save. Ever thought what it must be like to own a beautiful villa in the Tuscan countryside? Margherita Piliero, owner of Le Pratola, tells us how she transformed a 400-year-old cluster of stone buildings into an exquisite five-bedroom contemporary property that features in in our villa collection. And for a truly memory-making moment, we’ll show you some stunning settings for popping the question to your beloved. A holiday in Tuscany can be life-enriching as well as relaxing.

Lifestyle

Calling all fashionistas: Tuscany is designer-outlet heaven


Fashion fans, it’s time to put down that glass of Chianti and hit the shops because the countryside around Florence is one of the world’s best designer discount-shopping destinations. This is where many of the top luxury houses (we’re talking names such as Prada, Givenchy & Jimmy Choo) have their production facilities. And at their factory shops, you’ll find pieces on offer from previous seasons with a whopping 30 to 50 per cent off the recommended retail price. But it can still be pricey – don’t see it as a cheap-and-cheerful bargain, more an investment for less. This is the moment to crack open the savings and splash out on that designer bag or wallet you’ve always wanted, a Dolce & Gabbana dress you’ll still be wearing in a decade, or to stockpile some classic Armani suiting.

Make sure the following are on your hit-list:
The Mall
This vast, open-air space contains the biggest selection of fashion labels – including Valentino, Moncler and Saint Laurent. For the best discounts on pieces, go for the Italian labels. Number one on your list should be the huge Gucci outlet. White-hot since creative director Alessandro Michele took over in 2015, the pieces here have now caught up (until fairly recently, they were still clearing the last of previous designer Frida Giannini’s collections). And there’s a queue to match, with a tightly controlled entry system letting very few people in at a time. Expect to wait half an hour to enter, even if it looks quiet. Inside, make a beeline for the accessories – snap up leather belts with the GG buckle and any of Michele’s hit bags, such as the Dionysus (especially in the classic Gucci monogram leather). If you find Ace trainers on offer, don’t hesitate – they’re a modern men’s classic. Elsewhere, the best buys are Made in Italy standards. Head to Marni for artsy prints and chunky resin jewellery, Armani for Giorgio’s signature slim-fit, two-piece suits, Ferragamo for classic ladylike quilted pumps. A Moncler down puffer jacket and a pair of Tod’s Gommino loafers will add some Italian polish to any wardrobe.
The Mall Luxury Outlets Via Europa 8, 50066 Leccio Reggello (Florence). Tel: +39 055 8657775 Web: https://firenze.themall.it/
The Space
The Italian fashion giant Prada has its own dedicated outlet a few minutes from The Mall, selling both Prada mainline and Miu Miu. Prada runway pieces featuring each collection’s key prints become instant classics, so keep your eyes peeled for standouts such as a jacket or T-shirt emblazoned with feminist cartoons from SS17. There’s also a huge selection of bags and small leather goods – quilted leather Miu Miu wallets and iPad cases make brilliant presents.
Space PRADA Outlet Loc Levanella, Via Aretina 403, 52025 Montevarchi (Arezzo). Tel: +39 055 9196528 Web: facebook.com/pages/Space-PRADA-outlet
Versace and Alexander McQueen are among the global brands on sale at The Mall
Dolce & Gabbana
This label is known for turning out an extensive commercial collection in every conceivable colour and variation, making rich outlet pickings for fans. Every product category has its own area at this dedicated outlet – there are rails of blazers, racks of skirts, a whole section for jackets, and so on. Dolce ode-to-Italy prints never date, so treat yourself to a 1950s-style sundress or a weekend shirt in a colourful oranges-and-lemons pattern. The design house also excels at va-va-voom evening attire – one of its tuxedos or a corseted black lace dress will see you through years of parties and functions.
Dolce & Gabbana Factory Outlet Via Santa Maria Maddalena 49, 50064 Incisa Val d’arno (Florence). Tel: +39 1300 055 833.
Barberino Designer Outlet
Part of the McArthurGlen outlet chain, this mall offers mid-market casualwear labels, including Tommy Hilfiger and Gap – although the discounts on US brands here aren’t particularly good. Instead, check out Italian contemporary labels such as Pinko and accessories brand Coccinelle for cool, dressed-down pieces with a twist.
Barberino Designer Outlet Via Meucci, 50031 Barberino di Mugello (Florence). Tel: +39 055 842161 Web: mcarthurglen.com/en/outlets/it/designer-outlet-barberino
Valdichiana Outlet Village
Valdichiana has less of a selection of recognisable fashion labels. but is worth a stop for homewares. Pick up kitchen essentials such as an espresso machine from Bialetti, and treat yourself to some pretty napkins from Borgo Tessile. There’s also a Calzedonia store – Verona’s answer to Victoria’s Secret – which offers well-priced lingerie and hosiery, and colourful swimwear.
Valdichiana Outlet Village Via Enzo Ferrari, 5, 52045 Foiano della Chiana (Arezzo). Tel: +39 0575 649926 Web: valdichianaoutlet.it/en
Ferragamo puts Tuscany’s colours on the catwalk

The Tuscan countryside has provided the inspiration for the spring-summer 2019 collection from Salvatore Ferragamo, which hit the catwalk in Milan in September. The Italian fashion design house, which is based in Florence, drew on Tuscany’s rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves for its palette of earthy shades of brown and green with dazzling accents of emerald, tangerine and violet. The new, sophisticated, utilitarian look for men and women majors on solid colours, apart from a signature plant print, and features handkerchief-hem skirts and dresses, flowing trousers and trench coats, with tactile satin and leather adding a luxurious touch.

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Five Chianti Classics in Tuscany’s world-famous wine region


We’ve picked some of our favourite sights and activities in the world-famous wine region that we call home. Our trail is a real mix, to suit all tastes. Whether you try just one of our recommendations or tick off all five, you’ll be sure to enjoy memory-making experiences among these ancient vines.
1. Art and music at the Chianti Sculpture Park
A woodland gallery of sculptures and installations created by artists from around the world – we’re not sure which we like best at the Chianti Sculpture Park, the art or the natural setting. The exhibits are weird, wonderful and thought-provoking – among our favourites is The Labyrinth, a maze made from aquamarine glass bricks by UK artist Jeff Saward. This is also the location of La Fornace Art Gallery, a collection of more than 200 contemporary works by Asian, African, South American and European artists, housed in a former pottery. And if you’re around on a Tuesday in July or August, catch one of the open-air concerts in the marble and granite amphitheatre.
2. Walk, run, ride or cycle on the Dievole Natural Path
Byways once tramped by share-croppers, who toiled in the Chianti vineyards, have been given a new lease of life as a ‘Natural Path’. Step back in time along more than 27km of these ancient routes on the Dievole Estate, restored to provide a hilly playground among the vines and olive groves for walkers, runners, cyclists and horse-riders. The paths are clearly marked, with beautiful landmarks highlighted, such as an 18th-century stone aqueduct. Along the way, there are some glorious views, which will reward your efforts and get you reaching for your camera.
3. Star-gazing at Osservatorio Chianti
Reach for the stars at Chianti’s observatory. On Friday evenings, the research centre hosts special star-gazing sessions, with English-speaking astronomers on hand to help you explore the constellations through their telescopes. Children are welcome, too.
4. Fishing at Lake Quornia
Fall hook, line and sinker for a spot of fishing at Lake Quornia. This peaceful little lake can be found amid the vineyards between Castellina and Monteriggioni. Just follow the signs to Ristorante Vallechiara, where the owners hire all the equipment you’ll need to reel in the carp, sturgeon or trout that inhabit these waters. (At weekends, a man supplies kit on the lakeside.) 
5. Wine and art at Castello di Ama
Serious wine buffs shouldn’t miss a trip to one of Chianti’s premier wine-producing estates, Castello di Ama. You could spend a whole afternoon here visiting the vineyards and cellars and sipping wines – the Chianti Classico Vigneto La Casuccia and Vigneto Bellavista are world-renowned. But don’t miss the extraordinary contemporary art collection that’s also on display, with works by such luminaries as Louise Bourgeois and Anish Kapoor. 

For superb places to stay in and around the Chianti, explore our villa collection

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The best places to propose in Tuscany, Italy


What could be more romantic than to propose while on holiday in Tuscany? There are so many beautiful places in which to ask your beloved for their hand in marriage and we know some of the most magical.
On the Ponte Vecchio
If you are happy to brave the crowds in Florence, the Ponte Vecchio at sunset or the Piazzale Michelangelo, with its sweeping views of the city, are two memorable places in which to propose. For a little more privacy, a quiet walkway in the Boboli Gardens could provide a pretty scene.
At the top of the Torre del Mangia
For a grandiose statement, there’s nowhere better than Siena’s Piazza del Campo, one of Europe’s most impressive medieval squares. Or climb to the top of the bell tower, the Torre del Mangia, to declare your undying love against the backdrop of Siena’s rooftops and the gentle countryside beyond.
At Brolio Castle
Take a walk around the grounds and gardens of this medieval castle, a splendid confection of battlements and turrets presiding over the vineyards of Chianti Classico. We suspect you’ll know when you’ve found the right spot to get down on one knee.
On route 222
Prefer a more thrilling setting? Hire a sports car or Vespa and ride the Chianti 222 highway. Once you find a great view – and there are plenty along this road – well, the rest is up to you.
In a vineyard or beneath an olive tree
Sip some fine wines (before or after) and take a stroll through the vines to find the perfect place to ask the question. Alternatively, pack a special picnic and set it out below an old olive tree for a lovely low-key proposal.

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