When I made my plans to rent Podere Zingoni in the central Tuscan town of Sarteano, an hour south of Siena, I couldn't have predicted that it would be the hottest June in one hundred years. The road to the villa wound past fields of sunflowers and wheat baking in the 104-degree heat, then narrowed and turned into a dirt track as it began to climb. I was soon rising into oak woods above the cultivated plains. When I finally stepped out of the car, I was greeted by both a fresh breeze and Graziella Dionisi, the villa's cook and housekeeper.
"Vieni, vieni...ci penso io," Graziella said. "I'll take care of things." She led me to the shady terrace, where a leafy green canopy with bunches of purple grapes framed a view right out of a Renaissance painting: a patchwork of fields, a stand of cypresses, a crenellated hill town in the distance.
That afternoon, I explored the house and the grounds while waiting for my friends to arrive. There was plenty of room for all of us: Podere Zingoni, which seems like a smallish stone building from the outside, has five bedrooms and sleeps 10the perfect place for a weeklong house party. After days touring nearby hot springs and the towns of Siena, Montal-cino, Pienza and San Casciano, we'd return to the villa to relax. We'd walk through the gardens and orchards below the house, planted on a series of terraces held in place by ancient stone walls, to reach the slate-gray infinity pool. Later, we'd enjoy Graziella's simple, delicious dinners.