It’s autumn in Tuscany. The sun casts a brilliant copper glow over lush meandering hills, and makes orange foliage crackle, as if each leaf is made from light. Pillars of evergreen cypress trees punctuate the plowed fields, and shroud sprawling estates with grand stone buildings from peeking eyes. Drinking in this scenery – along with an earthy double espresso – it’s difficult to see what has changed here over the past several centuries.
Tuscany’s authenticity is a key part of its appeal as a meetings and events destination. Timeless, beautiful and culture-rich, it epitomises the Italian dolce vita that the rest of the world covets.
Smoky, cherry-like Chianti in abundance, indulgent, meaty pasta dishes and fragrant truffles to be unearthed from the ground like treasure, it has the components for hosting VIPs (or making employees feel like them).
Too often, travellers to Italy focus only on its cities, joining the queue to see Michelangelo’s David, or pretending to prop up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And of course, an afternoon in one of Tuscany’s major cities – Florence, Siena and Pisa – would be a wonderful addition to a corporate itinerary, to combine a walking tour with a team-building activity, or having a meeting overlooking Florence’s swoon-worthy cityscape. But factoring in some time to experience rural Tuscany is frankly essential, when there are so many memorable, one-off experiences to enjoy.
The region is peppered with repurposed medieval buildings – many of them “borgos”, formerly entire villages – and the quality of the five-star resorts that now occupy many of them is incredibly high. One of these is Toscana Resort Castelfalfi, which underwent a significant renovation last year. Already home to a four-star boutique hotel housed in a former tobacco drying factory, with gorgeous terracotta ceilings and restored beams a five-star hotel was added last year. Offering 120 rooms, II Castelfalfi, a TUI Blue Selection hotel also has a fine-dining restaurant with a panoramic terrace facing dreamy rolling hills. There’s a 1000 sqm subterranean spa, two inside and outdoor heated pools, and a contemporary meeting space for up to 180 delegates.
“Thanks to the unique offering of the resort, we’ve had the pleasure of hosting business trips with meetings and team-building activities, incentives, product lunches for different kinds of companies – especially car brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Peugeot,” says Isidoro Di Franco, general manager of Toscana Resort Castelfalfi. “For instance, thanks to our special partnership with Mercedes-Benz, in 2017, we hosted the final tournament of the Mercedes Trophy 2017, one of the most important amateur golf circuits in the world, which brought to Castelfalfi numerous top-luxury guests and VIPs from all over Italy and Europe.”
In 2016, Castelfalfi was the host of the Peugeot Drone Film Festival. Effectively the equivalent of the drone Olympics, eight finalists from across the world (narrowed down from 400) were invited to Castelfalfi to take part in a four-day programme of drone workshops with tech company DJI, culminating in an award ceremony to announce the winner. It’s interesting to imagine eight drones buzzing and leviating over the sun-drenched stone walls of Castelfalfi’s village, but it’s a great example of the region’s ability to pair its historic charm with fresh, innovative attitude to staging events and conferences.
Tuscany’s attraction as a corporate travel destination may be enduring, but as a whole, Italy is not relying on its incredibly legacy to keep winning new business. It is continuing to move with the times and experiment with new strategic ways to work with corporate visitors to benefit local communities (see below) who cannot thrive off historical riches alone. All in all, Tuscany marries outstanding heritage with a forward-thinking approach to welcoming groups from across the world, and the global brands will keep on coming as long as this continues.
GIVING SOMETHING BACK
In the Tuscan town of Limestre (a one-hour drive from Florence) lies a very special place for children in need of some serious fun. Russ Watts, facilitator at Dynamo Academy explains how corporate travel groups can help them continue their good work.
“Dynamo Camp originates from the Paul Newman set of camps, now called the Serious Fun camps (seriousfunnetwork.org). It was created to serve kids with grave illnesses – some terminal, some chronic – and to provide these kids from seven to seventeen years old and the families surrounding them, with the chance to be kids, based on the principal of recreational therapy. No child or parent pays for anything ever at the camp.
“Dynamo Academy [our corporate offering] organically came about when our CEO and founder of Dynamo Camp said, ‘We’ve heard so many business owners say that what we do would be amazing for their organisation and that they want to use our location.’ And so, about five years ago, they began to provide the services we offer for corporate groups.
“We provide the location, tools, games, sometimes facilitation, sometimes consulting, depending on what the client needs. It’s almost always customised, as all clients are different. We can do anything from a four-person event to a 500-person event, and we even have an event planned for 800 people this coming year.
“We can either take our Dynamo staff off-campus and come to your location, or, for the eight or so months of the year where Dynamo Camp is not being used by the children, we can host groups there – we’ve had thousands of people there for events, though 150 people is probably the maximum if you’re planning on using it as an intense work or team-building space. We’ve got surrounding hotels, a theatre and a deluxe cafeteria dining facility as well as our outdoor areas, so we have space to host discussions or breakout sessions.
“We give delegates a break from the office – a chance to enjoy Tuscany and to enhance relationships with colleagues in a different time and space, with both fun and strategic elements of dynamic communication based on the activities that we provide, or, based on the more business facilitation and corporate consulting that we bring to those events.
“All of Dynamo Academy’s earnings – aside from the expenses it take for Dynamo Academy to survive – support Dynamo Camp, so we can continue to offer a better place for the children to be hosted.
“A big reason why corporate entities come to us, is because it feels good. It’s not like they’re lining the pockets of a corporation that is simply providing a service in a beautiful location – instead, they’re enabling the future joy of families and kids dealing with severe disabilities and illnesses. It benefits the society around our organisation, the recipients, and the corporate, so it’s a triple win. It’s an infectious time in Italy right now for Dynamo Academy – we’re experiencing incredible positive growth, and I hope that continues.”
TOP PLACES FOR A MEETING/EVENT
TOSCANA RESORT CASTELFALFI
Set amid 1,000 hectares of woodlands, olive groves and vineyards, this five-star resort comprises a renovated medieval village, a castle, three restaurants, a 27-hole golf course and two separate hotels. As well as extensive meetings facilities, delegates can take part in group activities such wine tasting and cooking classes, or explore the extremely good-looking estate on foot or by bike.
BORGO SAN LUIGI
Wandering around the five separate blocks of this repurposed 17th-century borgo, it’s hard to believe the original buildings of this former village now houses 73 elegant rooms and suites with free wifi and air-conditioning. The resort’s large outdoor pool and terrace is a standout feature, and for groups, it’s possible to arrange a medieval banquet, with lively entertainment and a spread of delicious Tuscan classics.
A member of Leading Hotels of the World, this spectacular restored monastery perched atop a hill transports you to a calm headspace as soon as you arrive. The menus of the resort’s two restaurants were created by Gordon Ramsay – with seven Michelin stars between them – and the sleek contemporary spa is housed in two former farmhouses. Ferrari 458s can be rented for the day to explore the region’s stunning scenery, and truffle hunting expeditions can be arranged, where adorable, enthusiastic dogs lead you to the precious funghi.