“Welcome to Jurassic Park,” exclaimed the Oasyhotel general manager as we packed into an off-road shuttle van that brought us up 3,000 feet through dense woods in the Apennine mountains of Tuscany.
Nothing about this felt like Italy. But that’s sort of the point.
About an hour northwest of Florence is one of the country’s unique experiences: an Italian safari stay, complete with wild predators and prey — but bookended with gourmet dining, fine wine and an amazing cause. This is decidedly not a traditional Tuscan getaway; there are no tall, pointy Italian cypress trees here.
Opened this summer, Oasyhotel is a luxury eco-lodge located within 2,500 acres of a protected World Wildlife Fund (WWF) preserve in the middle of Tuscany — and it’s the only one of its kind. Everywhere you look is wild, untouched nature waiting to be explored.
After a 20-minute climb into the mountains, our shuttle van dropped us off at the main lodge, a stone- and wood-laden complex that looks like an Italian villa crossed with an African hunting lodge. The staff gave us a warm welcome and shuttled us to our cabins — isolated hamlets looking out over the woods and mountains, with views of endless sky that transformed into an epic night of stars. The rooms are minimalist but refined, featuring light wood, comfy beds and a complimentary minibar with homemade treats of chocolates and juices to usher you into your experience.
I suggest staying at Oasyhotel for a minimum of three days. This outdoor wonderland has a bevy of activities beyond wildlife searching. You can take electric bikes along four designated wooded paths around the property, kayak and paddleboard on the pristine lake, go horseback riding, bask in a world-class massage, Zen out with yoga by the water and take orienteering classes. You can even help make cheese on the farm.
What to Eat at Oasyhotel
But before you can get your adventuring on, you must eat. The main restaurant at Oasyhotel, dubbed Le Felci, is named after the ferns that dot the surrounding rolling hills. During our al fresco dining, the bar whipped up mouthwatering negronis and a plate of freshly cured mortadella and cheeses from the property’s farm that whet our appetites for the gourmet meal to come. Le Felci is housed inside an old farmhouse, but the Michelin-quality meal juxtaposed the humble setting.
The fare was an elegant mix of Tuscan treats: a mushroom soup that was foraged that morning, a simple homemade pasta with tomatoes three ways, and a rabbit doused in cream. And, of course, the wine — bold Tuscan reds that amplified every dish.
Walking back to my accommodation, I heard a distant howl as millions of stars lit the paths ahead. If you want to see wildlife, you need to wake up early. At Oasyhotel, there are WWF guides who are trained in tracking and take you deep into the woods to find nature’s bounty. The guides trained us on orienteering and organized a scavenger hunt while pointing out wolf and fox prints, deer that had just run through, and watering spots for wild boar.
Orienteering ended at Oasyhotel’s second restaurant, the casual Casa Luigi. A simple trattoria with more Tuscan goodies, Casa Luigi sits in an open field, surrounded by the woods and horses chomping away on wild grasses nearby. The outdoor setting is perfect for the freshly made charcuterie, foraged mushrooms and pasta, and steaks covered in salty lard that warrant drinking more of those bold Tuscan wines.
In between the endless nature of Oasyhotel, there is something else special happening here. Down the mountain, Oasyhotel helps support Dynamo Foundation, which runs Dynamo Camp, an outdoor playground for kids with chronic diseases. The camp brings in the children and their families for free and uses nature to offer education, play and connectedness. The camp also invites world-renowned artists to create one-of-a-kind masterpieces with the kids that are shown in an art gallery on-site and sold at auctions to support the cause.
Later that night, we trekked into the woods again with a nature guide to look for animals. It was eerily quiet, as we had only the stars and a high-powered flashlight to light the way. We were searching for the wolves, foxes and wild boar, and we were assured that anything we encountered would run the other way. I held my flashlight a little tighter as the howl of a wolf in the distance sent goosebumps up my arms.
After an hourlong hike through the dense thicket, we didn’t spot any wildlife, but Oasyhotel was filled with surprises. When we reached the summit, there was a small cabin with a fireplace and a picnic table covered in wines, liqueurs and chocolates waiting. It was the perfect ending to a wild night in the forest.
It was hard to leave this special place. Before venturing home, we had a picnic by the lake with more mortadella, olives, salami and Tuscan cheeses. We kayaked and paddleboarded with nothing but nature as our soundtrack.
A stay with Oasyhotel isn't a traditional escape in Tuscany; it's a mountain retreat, an adventurer’s paradise, a gourmand’s utopia and a philanthropist’s dream.
The name Oasyhotel evokes an oasis, and it couldn’t be more apt.