When people ask me about my weekend at Agricola Maraviglia I answer: “I lived an unexpected Liz-Gilbert-Eat-Pray-Love experience”. Although mine will not become a worldwide best-seller, the time there still holds the same inexplicable fulfillment, an intimate sense of joy and uplifting sweetness that I can still feel during the unbearable canicular Milanese days.
After jumping on the fast train to get to Florence, Lorenzo, another guest at Maraviglia, picked me up for the car ride. He told me about his life between New York and Bologna and about his passion for running which led him to write a book dedicated to the New York City marathon. And guess what, he found the peace to write it at Maraviglia, where he goes every once in a while to reconnect.
While approaching Monte San Savino, where Agricola Maraviglia is located, I found myself in staring down one of the most astonishing views I have ever seen in Tuscany: the gentle Arezzo hills, the colors of the dry soil of Val di Chiana, its cypresses and olive trees and its soft breeze coming from the near Lake Trasimeno. Later, I wasn’t surprised when Francesco Piattelli, the founder of Maraviglia, told me that a few decades ago his American mother hosted Under The Tuscan Sun’s author Frances Mayes in their historical rural house in Cortona. It’s impossible not to feel the sense of wholeness in this part of Italy.
When I arrived I subconsciously embraced the philosophy promoted by Francesco Piattelli and his partner Francesca Gambato (aka Fra&Fra): a place for the seekers, for those who want to live the present and disconnect to reconnect with themselves.
Francesco’s childhood home is immersed in an olive grove that encloses a powerful healing energy, the same that he sought while living an overwhelming and frenetic life in New York. The intention was to put into practice a new lifestyle dedicated to a positive change for him, for the community and for those who are looking for the same kind of magic: “home-cooked meals with produce from the garden, a breathtaking landscape, meditation and best of all, total silence”.
Maraviglia became something more and I realized it while eating Fra & Fra’s pici with aglione flowers during the plant-based dinner they served after the first 45 minutes of yoga practice and meditation session. I figured that nothing is left to chance at Maraviglia: to serve pici is a normal Southern-Tuscan way to introduce traditional cuisine. To serve them with aglione flowers with your own small-batch, organic and sustainably-made olive oil is a statement that describes a neat and clear research and a holistic lifestyle concept. Francesca leads the culinary experience and the well-being part at Maraviglia: her inner and outer beauty manifests itself through her knowledge as a University of Gastronomic Sciences alumna and a certified yoga instructor.
Francesca co-developed, along with Francesco, the overall concept beyond Maraviglia: true luxury is authentic quality within simplicity, a belief they put into practice through every meal and every morning hour-and-a-half yoga practice. Francesco made this concept tangible through the production of EVOO he sells all around the world. One of the biggest features of Maraviglia: their 4.5 hectares of olive trees in the heart of the Toscano IGP denomination.
“Growing up, I would climb on olive trees and I would always participate in the seasonal olive harvesting. It is a common practice around here: you harvest your own olives and then bring them to the nearest oil mill so that you have enough olive oil for the year. When I came back here, even if at first I wasn’t really interested in the process, Tullio – a very knowledgeable local farmer – helped me through a mind shift from wanting to get rid of these olives to wanting them to produce the best oil possible”.
The best lessons Francesco learned during the first two years of producing olive oil is that living in the countryside leads to an everyday reality check: everything depends on nature. No school nor strategy will lead you to a successful result. “Secondly, you have to keep a humbling mindset towards older generations in order to learn and absorb their knowledge: at the oil mill, the youngest miller was twenty years older than me. Therefore, I took the opportunity to listen to more experienced people, to test different approaches until I understood mine”.
Francesco envisions producing ultra-premium olive oil at a fair price. He is guiding a collective effort with the local community and helps to take over abandoned olive groves and give the owners financial support to take care of them. The ethical value of “glocal” is crucial for the overall concept at Maraviglia, where Francesco brings out the best from his 250 year old olive trees. The product’s success speaks for itself: Maraviglia Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a Slow Food presidium and has a Grande Olio Slow, it’s part of the 2021 Selezione Leone d’Oro – the oldest and most selective olive oil competition in the world – and the 2021 world’s best olive oils at the prestigious American NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
Fra&Fra’s passions are entrenched within Maraviglia: they make the place a real-life dream. At the end of my stay at Maraviglia, I felt sad, like last-day-of-summer-sad. At the same time, I knew that it would not be my last time there and that I would find a way back, to reconnect with this unique piece of land, a piece of our amazing country, exactly like Lorenzo and other guests do on a regular basis. This great project has many exceptional traits to give to those who understand what real luxury is: a precious and happy moment of present life.
Photography by Katie McKnoulty