Tenuta di Spannocchia is nestled in the Tuscan hills. A windy road leads through the forest and back in time before opening up onto a group of century-old stone buildings. Randall and his wife Francesca live in one of the stone houses next to the main tower, all of which exhude the history and serenity of the Tenuta. A place that aims to salvage traditions and a way of life that is fast disappearing, the Tenuta di Spannocchia has the 4Cs – conservation, community, culture and commerce - at its core, from protecting species that are close to extinction and creating a community of their own whilst engaging with their neighbours, Spannocchia is simply standing the test of time.
A family tree: from hats to hills
Randall Stratton and Francesca Cinelli have more of an American twang to their Italian than an accent to their English, yet they are no new-comers: the Tenuta di Spannocchia has been in Francesca’s family for several generations and the couple took up permanent residence here with their children in 1992.
Randall tells the fascinating account of Francesca’s family history, explaining the different Italo-American steps that led to Spannocchia coming into her family in 1925 and them eventually taking it over in 1992.
The American connection
Going back a couple of generations, Randall explains how Francesca’s grandfather, Delfino Cinelli, was working with his family’s immensely successful straw hat company near Florence when he met his American wife. Frances Hartz, from Detroit, fell in love with him on a trip from New York to Italy, marrying Delfino in 1915 and moving to Florence. In 1925, Delfino Cinelli purchased Spannocchia and left the hat business to become a respected writer, publishing numerous novels, a biography of Tolstoy, translations of Edgar Allen Poe, collections of children's plays, essays and short stories. When he died in 1942, his wife Frances returned to the US, and their son, Francesca's father, inherited the property.
After the Second World War, Francesca Cinelli’s father left Italy to help his mother Frances manage the medical supply company she had inherited in Detroit, and, just like his father before him, ended up marrying an American Detroiter. The family returned to Italy on a number of occasions before Francesca Cinelli decided it was time to move to Spannocchia permanently in 1992 when the farm manager who was running the property whilst they lived in the US retired. Today, Francesca and her husband Randall Stratton are at the helm of the Tenuta.
Preserving the essence
A family unafraid of challenges, Francesca, Randall and their children took on the huge endeavour of reviving a way of life that had been largely neglected for half a century. They rolled their sleeves up and little by little turned the place around. With a strong focus on preservation, they set out to save the buildings without neglecting the surrounding landscape. “To salvage the traditional landscape that we had around us,” notes Randall, “we had to start farming again, getting the olive groves back and replanting the vines.” They also wanted to get traditional animals back, so went out looking at what species were originally farmed in the area. They found a number of traditional breeds that were no longer of commercial interest and therefore declining rapidly.
The Stratton-Cinellis contributed to the revival of the cinta senese pig (they made their first cinta prosciutto in 1993) and the calvana cow that they now sell for meat. To keep all this and more going, the Stratton-Cinellis engaged with the local communities, bringing them in to work at their Tenuta. In the long run, this paid its dividends, with the farm being back on its feet today and offering some amazing home-grown and bred products.Overall though, Randall and Francesca’s main aim is to preserve the essence of what the Tenuta once was. “In the modern world, we have lost too many of the old ways!” exclaims Randall.
Tourism as an after-thought
Neither Randall nor Francesca was particularly keen on running Spannocchia primarily as a tourism business. “Tourism per se was not enough to inspire us”, explains Randall, “so we decided to do tourism by linking it to educational and cultural activities that were already taking place.” One of their more original ventures is their Etruscan kiln, rebuilt as they once were in pre-Roman times, some 700 years BC, and fully functional today. But wherever you turn in Spannocchia, each activity seems to reach into every aspect of conservation, community, culture and commerce, interlinking each with ease.
The Spannocchia Foundation
Created in 2002, the Spannocchia Foundation seeks to encourage global dialogue about sustaining cultural landscapes for future generations through the example of the Tenuta di Spannocchia. The Foundation is behind the education programmes and other activities, such as painting, yoga, walking or ceramics workshops, that take place on site, whilst the farm is a separate legal entity, giving rise to produce that are sold locally and to guests. “The agricultural side of things was set up to be self-sustaining!” explains Randall. “What we are trying to do with the Tenuta as a whole is to create a new type of community, where we have primarily local employees and guests from all over the world that come to learn and understand what this place was and is all about.”
The Tenuta di Spannocchia demonstrates that there is another way to live. “Calm down, take it easy, work hard but work at something you enjoy, go out in the fresh-air,” Randall explains. “People need to step back and think about their lives and Spannocchia offers that space.” The interns that come to stay and work at the Tenuta are often transformed, as are the guests. The beauty of the landscape and the history of the Tenuta seem to converge and draw them in regardless of their backgrounds.
Jumping through the hoops
Although the Tenuta is idyllic in many ways, Randall and Francesca have faced a number of problems in bringing it back to its former glory. For one, dealing with the Italian bureaucracy and tax system has often proved challenging, as has the immediate need to generate enough income to cover the expenses incurred mainly by restoring and maintaining the many buildings as well as running the farm. One other hurdle the Stratton-Cinellis have faced is finding qualified local personnel for leadership positions, but this has given them an appreciation of the importance of good management.
A word of advice
“Don’t get yourself into something like this unless you are really passionate about it,” stresses Randall. “And once you have made up your mind, really go for it, without compromising on your core ideas and values. I am the guy who says no to things that would compromise on our philosophy,” he chuckles.
“... something that can be sustained, that can continue in the future. It is as fundamental as that. In this kind of context it means saving something for future generations.” Randall Stratton
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