Castello di Reschio has a fairytale quality about it. It is a private estate of 2,000 acres of Umbrian countryside, scattered with ancient watchtowers, a castle and stone farmhouses, amid the vineyards, olive groves and oak and chestnut woods on the border with Tuscany, a short drive from Perugia and Cortona.
It is where three generations of the Bolza family have lived in remarkable style for 16 years, painstakingly turning the derelict buildings of an abandoned hillside farming community into beautiful homes that showcase their extraordinary design skills.
The story of Reschio began in 1984 when Conte Antonio, a Hungarian refugee, returning to Italy after making his money in publishing, and his Austrian architect wife Angelika bought a home on church land surrounded by the estate.
Conte had spent his adult life working in Germany and the UK, at one time working with Egon Ronay on the Good Food Guide. In search of a home to establish firm roots for their five children, the couple bought a bell tower in Umbria's Niccone Valley.
Their timing was perfect. Derelict Italian property was plentiful yet unpopular both at home and abroad: a dilapidated farmhouse in 10 prime acres could be snapped up for £30,000. With energy and flair, the Bolzas set up a business buying and renovating property throughout the valley.
By the early Nineties the couple planned to spend more time in Italy, and to protect their surroundings they tried to buy a derelict castle beside their house. The owners refused but suggested instead that the Bolzas bought the entire Reschio estate: 50 derelict farmhouses and an 11th century fortified Castello.
Their eldest son Benedikt, a 37-year-old London trained architect, also married with a spirited young family, recalls his father's moment of decision. "It took my father 15 minutes to drive from our house to meet the owners of the Castello and over three hours for him to drive home, frantically touring the estate, weighing up the possibilities of this land. He had no idea how my mother would respond."
He needn't have worried. Angelika was instantly supportive, and in 1994 they bought Reschio with a shared vision to restore the estate and turn it into an idyllic and exclusive second home retreat for wealthy owners searching for the Italian dream.
They poured all their considerable artistic style and imaginative flair into their creation, showcasing interior design, fabrics, furniture and the skills of local craftsmen. The family produce their own oil, rosé and pasta - and homemade bread by Marco, their chef, is delivered daily to your doorstep.
Buying a Reschio farmhouse
Farmhouses, most 500 years old, are offered unrestored and freehold with 2.5 acres of land. The owners then have all the fun of planning their interior design, decoration and architecture with the Bolza family who will then build it for them in the style of the owners' choice, using skilled craftspeople.
Owners share all the services and sports available on the estate, including tennis courts, an equestrian centre with 30 pure-bred Andalucian horses, boar hunting, lake fishing and an intimate restaurant where Chef Marco cooks up Italian culinary perfection.
Homes with tall ceilings and decorative terracotta stonework are luxurious and spacious, with four to six bedrooms of polished marble and stone, twisted metalwork and exotic staircases, majestic doors opening on to lavender-scented patios with infinity swimming pools, wine cellars, pool rooms and guest houses.
A five-star concierge service will arrange all travel details and stock fridges with local products.
Just as owners can leave all the inevitable Italian bureaucracy and hassles of restoring property to Reschio, day-to-day bill paying, gardening and house maintenance are also taken care of.
The average cost of the service contract is £53,950 a year, yet this level of service is a large part of Reschio's appeal, says Benedikt, Reschio's chief architect.
To date, 23 properties have been completed and many sold to high-earning UK and American businessmen. A further 10 ruins are for sale. The family plans to restore and keep a further 13 to offer as rental holiday homes.
Benedikt is adept at putting a modern twist on a centuries old structure and, with his mother, sourcing homeware and furniture from European antique centres and furniture manufacturers. Like his parents, he and his wife Donna Nencia, a Florentine princess and classically trained artist, live at Reschio with their five young children.
"We manage the design right down to the door handles," says Benedikt, who uses a loyal team of local craftsmen. "Italy is full of estates that are slowly rotting but families find it difficult to sell them as inheritance laws mean estates were divided up.
"It is unusual to find an estate the size of Reschio." Prices for a completed project are for those with deep pockets, starting from £5.8 million, though a tour of finished homes makes it clear that some owners have spent considerably more.
Some stay all summer and enjoy the culture and festivals of July and August in Perugia, Siena and Assisi. Even in mid summer Reschio is tranquil, surrounded by the unfolding green hills of the Niccone Valley.
Palazzo is a five-bedroom villa in the centre of the estate with its own swimming pool and tennis court which rents for up to £23,380 a week. Inside, the 8,504sq ft living space includes an exquisite solid travertine semi-spiral staircase. The steps were individually numbered and hand chiselled before being installed.
Nearby, Casa delle Suore is a four-bedroom villa with two one-bedroom guest houses and the Bolza's first spec project - restored without being first sold - for sale at £6.7 million.
Interiors feature sandstone fireplaces, mini-domed ceilings and a beehive shaped basement wine cellar.
*Castello di Reschio 00 39 075 844 362; reschio.com
*Cluttons 00 39 075 8450 100; cluttonsitaly.com
*Knight Frank 020 7629 8171; knightfrank.com
Interior design and a family business
The Bolzas' talent for design is evident throughout Reschio. Old stone basins found on the estate are carefully placed in state-of-the-art bathrooms, high-sided rectangular fire baskets are made by the local blacksmith and floor tiles, rescued from a Roman Palazzo, are reused.
Benedikt and his mother Contessa Bolza design furniture in-house, combining antique market finds with modern materials.
A carved wooden panel discovered at a local market has become a wooden sideboard, topped off with green marble from Vaselli Marmi near Siena.
An 18th century Venetian door frame found at Birgit Israel in Fulham Road now frames a massive mirror. Many antiques come from L'Isle-sur-Sorgue in Provence - a favourite hunting ground.
As well as mixing her own organic paint colours and painting frescos in several houses at Reschio, Donna Nencia oversees the Osteria restaurant and its organic gardens, and runs a small Bottega shop selling Venetian silk slippers, jewellery and linens from Florence and crockery marked with the Reschio crest.
Property in Umbria
Umbria is no longer the poor relation to Tuscany, says Rupert Fawcett, of Knight Frank, and especially not in the Niccone Valley. "Reschio is an exclusive enclave that is not showy but has set the standard for restorations in the area," says Fawcett. "It combines Italian country living with a bespoke house, built to order, with all hassle removed for buyers." Farmhouses near Lake Trasimeno start from £809,300 and in the Niccone Valley from £1.34 million. Elsewhere in Umbria prices are 30 to 40 per cent below pre-2008 highs with plenty of available stock.
The best value is close to Le Marche in the east and along the Tiber Valley south of Perugia, says Cluttons' Roger Coombes. "American buyers like Todi, the lovely countryside in Central Umbria and the historic and artistic heritage of Assisi," he adds.