Palazzo di Varignana Gives New Life to Town Outside Bologna, Italy

More than a decade ago, Bolognese entrepreneur Carlo Gherardi created an ambitious plan to build a sustainable development outside Bologna, Italy. What was once a jumble of small holdings and tumbledown houses is now an expansive agricultural resort, planted with an incredible 170,000 olive trees and located on the same land where the ancient Romans grew their olives centuries ago.

Today, with its six meticulously restored villas and 150 rooms, apartments and suites, Palazzo di Varignana offers travelers an environmentally friendly stay in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

Palazzo di Varignana
Suite 608 offers a separate living room, a wide terrace,king bedroom and 1.5 bathrooms. (Palazzo di Varignana)

Aside from the largest olive grove in the entire region, Varignana cultivates grapes on more than 125 acres and, while their young wines haven’t yet peaked, the winery is a high-tech marvel and the vintages are only getting better. The award-winning extra virgin olive oil is pressed from a several varietals and is available in several ways. Held in an evocative olivewood-lined tasting room, the tastings of wine and oil are professionally presented and accompanied by locally produced cheeses and salumeria.

The 45,000-square-foot Varsana SPA and a nutrition-oriented restaurant are guided by Dr. Annamaria Acquaviva, who has written extensively about nutrition and longevity. Dr. Acquaviva develops specially designed health tracks for guests, with bespoke menus and programs designed for a three-to-six night stay.

Villa Amagioia
Villa Amagioia has a total of five bedrooms. Its adjacent ornamental gardens are a part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani network. (Palazzo di Varignana)

There are four specialty restaurants on the property, including the royal train car that was the model for the Italian king’s private railway carriage—which now has become a unique dining experience for a limited number of guests. Other eating spots include La Marzoline Trattoria, with its zero-kilometer menu and Michelin-listed Il Griffone Fine Dining, in addition to the Aurevo Ristorante, which is olive oil-focused, and the recently developed nutrition-based dining area. Emilia-Romagna is known worldwide as one of the best food regions in Italy and these restaurants reflect that distinction.

The six restored villas are spread across the property, giving visitors the option of almost total privacy or the opportunity to be adjacent to the main resort area. We particularly liked the hilltop Villa Santa Maria Maddalena, a 14th-century house and chapel with a view of the surrounding countryside from 65,000 square feet of private garden. There is an infinity pool, five double bedrooms, and the availability of a private chef. The 4,500-square-foot villa is about 750 yards from the main resort complex.

Palazzo di Varignana
The royal train car, which was the prototype for the Italian king’s private railway carriage, serves as a restaurant at Palazzo di Varignana. (Palazzo di Varignana)

Villa Amagioia (Love and Joy), on the other hand, is only 50 yards from the main resort buildings and is about 4,000 square feet. The 12 acres of mature gardens surrounding the villa and adjacent ornamental gardens are a part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani network. The villa has a total of five bedrooms, including two on the ground floor, five and a half baths, and a massive two-story library. There is a primary bedroom on each floor; the ground floor primary bedroom has its own private conservatory overlooking the gardens. The nearby helicopter pad allows for private arrivals to the resort.

The stone Villa Tamburina has five bedrooms and a double-edged infinity pool. Located at the edge of the Varignana property, the villa offers privacy and serenity to guests. Two of the bedrooms can be connected, which may be attractive to families traveling with young children.

Among the seven buildings containing rooms and suites, La Logge is the newest. Like all of the buildings in this cluster, it is connected to the main building, spa and restaurants by a broad underground hallway. Suite 608 offers a spacious separate living room, a wide terrace, king bedroom and one and a half bathrooms. Other possibilities are the Duplex 619, an executive deluxe, and Room 620, which is one bed/sitting room with a private terrace.

Palazzo di Varignana
The resort has the largest olive grove in the entire region, with over 170,000 olive trees. It also cultivates grapes on more than 125 acres. (Palazzo di Varignana)

Across the drive is Le Terrazze, the contemporary building that contains the Presidential Suite. The suite has one bedroom and includes two terraces, a sauna, and a large private whirlpool bath.

Inspired by the EVOO produced on the farm, country house Oliveto sul Lago offers 12 rooms and can be booked in its entirety for weddings or special events. All rooms contain either a ground floor terrace or an upper floor balcony.

Palazzo di Varignana is a member of Serandipians, Johansens and The Leading Hotels of the World. Advisors can contact Cecilia Bortolotti ([email protected]; +39-347-644-1448), who is the corporate PR and communications manager, and Maddalena Riva ([email protected]), the sales director.

The winery is a high-tech marvel. (Palazzo di Varignana)

For car-lovers, in fall 2023, the resort unveiled the first of a planned annual Concorso d’Eleganza Varignana 1705, with some of the best cars ever produced. For sports enthusiasts, there are expansive walkways and hiking trails through the vineyards and agricultural areas.

There are a variety of other activities available at the resort, including a driving range, tennis and paddle courts, and a basketball court. Plein air art installations punctuate the landscape and an outdoor theater seats 250 people for concerts and movies.

An experience at Palazzo di Varignana illustrates that excellent hospitality can go hand in hand with developing a responsible travel experience that reduces the environmental footprint.

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