Every hill seems swathed in vineyards and crowned with a castle while the mediaeval such as the medieval fortress of Scarperia, are haven's of history, music, art and gastronomy.
For an area so rich in culture and so popular with tourists, the shortage of golf courses has long been a cause for surprise. But slowly golf is destined to become as important to the future as the nearby Ferrari racetrack has been to the immediate past.
Out of the 35 courses in Tuscany, Poggio dei Medici in the rural heart of the beautiful Mugello region - south of Bologna and north of Florence - provides more than a little added value.
Poggio dei Medici, which (roughly translated) is a small hill named after the family which ruled Florence during the Renaissance. This rolling, wooded estate overlooked by the 16th century Villa di Cignano is home to the Ladies Italian Open and offers a hotel on- site.
The course opened in 1992 and the magazine Il Mondo del Golf quickly nominated Poggio dei Medici as the best course in Italy in 1996. As with most modern designs, the undulating greens have been constructed to United States Golf Association standards and present putting surfaces as true as any on the tournament circuit. From the very back tees, Dassu and Fioravanti's layout stretches to 7,139 yards although for players in the Ladies' Italian Open it measures around 800 yards shorter (visiting women, no doubt, will be reassured to learn that the yardage from their regular tees only tots up to around 5,700).
Nearby Ugolino, at Grassina in the Chianti region, is well established and staged the men's Italian Open, won by Bernhard Langer, back in 1983. Other 18-hole layouts around Florence include La Pavoniere and Montecatini to the north-west and Casentino to the south near Arezzo.
Le Pavoniere is a notable Arnold Palmer creation which opened in 1986. The course winds around a succession of pools and streams which were shaped during the Renaissance, more than 500 years ago, and its elegant grandeur extends to the 18th century villa-cum-clubhouse.
Stretching well over 6,000 yards from the back, the number of holes on which water is not an issue can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The club has comprehensive practice facilities and in view of the demanding nature of the course, these no doubt prove to be more than useful.
Montecatini is another club which is built on a site with a rich history, and is surrounded by the breathtaking, unspoilt Tuscan hills of Valdinievole. The clubhouse is built on Etruscan and Roman settlements, the original framework of which has been carefully restored and integrated into the existing building.
A difficult par-72 layout running 6,525 yards through the rolling terrain, this course does not offer so many water hazards, but with olive groves framing many of the early holes in particular there is often little room for error.
Casentino is a par-36, nine-hole course which is positioned on one side of a valley and with scenery to match the other fine courses in the region. With water features playing their part on a number of holes, golfers should be particularly prepared for the steep undulations on this meticulously manicured layout. However, even though it's certainly
good exercise, Casentino is one of those nine-holers that one doesn't mind playing twice.
Palazzo Arzaga, amongst the northern lakes, offers just such an opportunity. A 13th century monastery has been converted into a friendly, comfortable and luxurious hotel set in grounds which boast a Jack Nicklaus 18-hole course and a 9-hole layout designed by Gary Player. Located north of Bologna and towards Verona - of Romeo and Juliet fame - the hotel has retained much of its original decor and character, providing a typically Italian feel to the resort.
Steeped in historic tales of land battles and noble families, the romantic vine-filled courtyard and the fading glory of the fresco-ed walls create an air of relaxed luxury that is reflected by the modern, but understated, additions to this five star hotel. And, as if that isn’t enough, the rooms all look out onto the fairways that undulate across the estate, then to the snow-capped mountains that fringe the horizon.
Ingeniously, the golf clubhouse has been built into the basement of the building without succumbing to the mock ‘character extension’ that would have come so easily. Airy, contemporary architecture compliments the original structure with walls of plate glass that allow you to monitor proceedings on the course while enjoying a delicious post-round feast of carbonara and chianti.
There are two courses at Arzaga, each with their own unique signature hole, and each equally beautiful and challenging. The eighteen-hole, par 72, course was designed by Jack Nicklaus II (and is thus rather more American than European) and - with the addition of five artificial lakes - mirrors the natural, undulating landscape that cradles the Palazzo, bordered by an ancient forest. From the back tees the main Arzaga course would challenge any golfer, but move forward and the game becomes pleasurable for an enthusiastic amateur.
The nine-hole course, designed by Gary Player, is perhaps more a test of accuracy than distance and its style will be more familiar to British golfers. Deep bunkers and elevated greens add challenge to the enjoyment of a course that incorporates a castle on the first and a distant church spire on the third tee as aesthetically-pleasing aim points.
And once you’ve deposited your clubs back at the caddy-masters’, a visit to the hotel’s Saturnia Spa, which offers traditional Tuscan therapies from facials and mud wraps to a wonderful massage specially devised for golfers, is in order. Then of course, no day is Tuscany is complete without a glass of Chianti and a review of a day’s hard work on the course.
Where to play
Where to Stay
Sonesta Resort and Country Club Tuscany
can arrange golf packages to Tuscany and other regions of Italy.
Apart from a plethora of food, wine and shopping, Florence has a wealth of museums, galleries and palaces, not to mention the incomparable Ponte Vecchio bridge over the River Arno, while Pisa, of Leaning Tower fame, and Siena are not far away.