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Luxury is a somewhat elusive and definitely subjective adjective. I have just returned from four nights at our culinary vacation, “Cook Under the Tuscan Sun.” The property for this program is a Relais & Chateaus hotel with a Michelin star restaurant. So, there is no question that the word “luxury” would apply. But, it is not the pristine luxury you might find at the Four Seasons or the Peninsula: it is a property many centuries old that has been turned into a hotel and cannot supply what many would define as luxury. It is more defined by the exquisite setting and authenticity of this lovely estate and its understated elegance, qualities that made it leap to mind when I was asked by NBC Extra’s Mansions and Millionaires program to help them plan a special episode on cooking in Italy.
When you arrive at the Falconiere estate, you are first struck by the sheer beauty of the setting and the vistas. It is quite spectacular. The property is from the Sixteenth Century and has been in the Baracchi family for many generations. The present owners, Silvia and Riccardo, turned it into the hotel Il Falconiere. This elegant and historical estate is vast, covering almost 30 acres (and if you include all of the vineyards, it is even larger). The lovely Silvia Baracchi is the chef of the Michelin restaurant and also oversees the cooking program. She often will do the classes herself, and you are assured of lots of laughs. The debonair Riccardo’s domain is the winery, of which he is deservedly proud. His wines have won fine accolades, including high scores and recognition by such arbiters as Wine Spectator magazine. And, I can tell you from personal experience, they are fabulous. I tasted all their wines: the premier sparkling, the crisp and fruity whites, the bold and deep reds and, finally, the vin santo with cantucci.
The Baracchi family has recently opened a bottega in Cortona, operated by their son Benedetto. This is the hottest seat in town, particularly a table on the terrace. But equally as charming is the dining area downstairs in a twelfth-century vaulted cellar, surrounded by an astonishing collection of wines. The food is a bit fusion, absolutely great, and a delightful addition to the Baracchi empire.
In short, there are many definitions of luxury. I have always been drawn to those places that give me all the comforts I desire, but maintain a uniqueness and historical quality that make me feel like I’m living in a dream. The Relais il Falconiere is just such a place.
By Karen Herbst
The “Mansions & Millionaires” episode featuring The International Kitchen’s Cook Under the The Sun vacation aired on NBC Extra in Fall 2014.
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Originally published August 14, 2014.