Discovering Tenuta Di Murlo: where medieval farmhouses become luxury villas

Surrounded by beautiful countryside, and boasting six villas brimming with heritage and sophisticated design, Tenuta Di Murlo is a luxury escape in the heart of Umbria, Italy.

Accessible only by rocky mountain roads and through a series of mechanical gates, there aren’t many Italian estates more exclusive than Tenuta Di Murlo. Owned by the Carabba Tettimanti family for generations, the estate lies half an hour outside of Perugia – not only Italy’s ‘chocolate capital’, but the capital of the country’s subtropical, land-locked region, Umbria.

Less well known than its famous neighbour Tuscany, Umbria has just as much to offer when it comes to culture, history and the arts, and nowhere is this more evident than at Tenuta Di Murlo. In 2006, the family-run country estate opened its doors to guests and has been running a successful holiday-let business ever since; spread over hectares of olive groves, woodland, fields and lakes, the only thing that comes close to beating Tenuta Di Murlo’s location is the heritage and design of the estate’s villas.

Scattered across the expansive estate, the holiday villas were originally medieval farmhouses, left abandoned when the tenants who lived in them moved to larger towns and cities. With over 80 of these dwellings falling into disrepair across the estate, the current owner decided to do something about it, and began to restore some of Tenuta Di Murlo’s most extraordinary properties.

When the estate first opened with its single villa, only current chatelaine Carlotta and her husband were onsite to run the business. Over ten years later, the team has expanded to include groundsmen, cleaners, catering staff, a concierge team, drivers, and more. The estate has grown into a thriving collection of luxury holiday properties, including six villas, apartments and cottages, a row of deluxe rooms, and even an on-site restaurant.

Each of the newly transformed villas have original structures that date back to medieval times – one of the oldest properties, San Savino, was built in the 14th century. Only one villa was renovated at a time, ensuring that full focus went into creating an authentic design, and Carlotta has overseen all of the work. The historical features of these villas were the cornerstones for her design decisions, with each of the restored villas blending modern amenities into their original frames. They bring history to the fore while satisfying the needs of 21st century guests.

Architecturally, the villas remain true to their medieval construction: they have stone floors and fireplaces, heavy wooden doors that latch, wooden beams that stretch across ceilings, and vibrant terracotta roofs. Though they might be similar in their materials, each villa’s heritage also creates a unique selling point, telling stories through their structures.

For example, Villa Torre was once a defence tower, and is the only property with a private roof terrace. San Savino, meanwhile, includes a building that was previously a church. Now deconsecrated and turned into a second living room and large bedrooms with high ceilings, the building still hints at its past – one wall features an original alcove that once held holy water, with a mural of the surrounding hills and sky painted inside it.

Carlotta’s carefully curated interiors enhance each of the villa’s unique qualities, creating a delightful mix of rustic elements and modern touches. Furnishings and artwork have been handpicked to fit in each space, with some pieces being made bespoke by local artisans. She has also designed the villas to reflect their lush surroundings, using natural materials including wood, wicker and stone, and rich, natural colour palettes.

“I’ve travelled a lot and decided to choose pieces from different shops in Italy and abroad,” Carlotta says, discussing her choices for each villa. “I’ve selected pieces from Flamant, Becara, Ralph Lauren, Artwood and more, along with some antique items and paintings from Italian artists. The fabrics are mostly French, Spanish and Italian.”

Throughout her travels, Carlotta kept in mind what might work within the villas – she has always been wary of the properties ever looking dated or out of touch, so often touches up the interiors to make sure they stay refreshed. “I was always on the lookout for classic pieces but with something original as well,” she says. “It had to perfectly combine with the atmosphere of the villa, the garden and the original materials. I also like to work with colours!”

As each villa has been designed individually, over the years, their styles have slowly changed as Carlotta – who has no formal training in interiors – began to learn what would be best for each property. Some villas feature light woods, a shabby-chic aesthetic and neutral colours, while others include rich velvets, bold colours and patterns, and dark furnishings.

Though the villas’ styles may differ, Carlotta’s ambition for the properties has never wavered. “The vision always had to portray the idea of passion, love and charm in the houses,” she explains. “They have to be seen like a private villa owned by someone who loves the countryside, with harmony in the proportions. They had to be rich in charm and colour. This is the only way to make them feel like a home-away-from-home and not a branded, standard holiday resort with little soul or personality.”

Designing and restoring each villa was a labour of love, and Carlotta still leads the team, personally managing all aspects of the holiday lets. In fact, she mentions that the latest property, Penna, will be the last villa the team restore for the foreseeable future, to ensure that Tenuta Di Murlo keeps its exclusive, home-away-from-home feel.

Opened this summer, Penna is the most modern of all the restored villas on the estate. Considered the estate’s ‘crown jewel’, for Penna’s design, Carlotta chose to move away from the rustic feeling she had developed in the previous villas; instead she opted to inspire guests with details and textures taken from the latest design trends.

“It was time for change,” she says of the decision. “We quite liked the idea of contrasting the old stone, medieval hamlet and windows in the villa, with more modern furnishings - but always with a more classic touch, colourful beds and headboards, and curtains.”

Whether guests choose to stay in the newly designed Penna or one of the estate’s more rustic properties will be down to personal choice. Either way, visitors to the estate will be pleased to note that all the villas feature large living and dining areas, fully equipped kitchens, private gardens and an infinity pool (or two) with breath-taking views that overlook the lush countryside and mountains that surround the estate.

The estate offers a range of bedroom options, with couples or single occupants able to book a one-bedroom cottage, or one of the deluxe rooms next door to the on-site restaurant, Il Caldaro. The smallest of the villas have three bedrooms, while the largest – Subtilia – can accommodate up to 18 guests.

With outdoor spaces for weddings and parties, and a range of activities for adults and children alike, it’s no surprise that guests often have family and friends clamouring to join them at Tenuta di Murlo. After all, with the estate’s stunning landscape and the villas’ rich heritage and comfortable, chic design, where else would you rather be?

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