Castello Sonnino Education Centre

Castello Sonnino is a historic estate just 20 kilometers south of Florence, Italy, and it is the heart of a working farm that produces wine and olive oil on 150 hectares.

Castello Sonnino is located next to the village of Montespertoli, which lends its name to the smallest denomination of the Chianti wine region in Tuscany. Given its location, Castello Sonnino is well positioned for field excursions and day trips through Tuscany. Castello Sonnino owned for generations by the Sonnino family, dates back to the 13th century. The previous owner, Niccolò Machiavelli was the founder of modern political science. While recognizing the estate as a valuable witness of the past, the de Renzis Sonnino family has expanded part of their estate into the Castello Sonnino International Education Centre for researchers, educators and students committed to preserving environment and cultural heritage for future generations.

For detailed information about Castello Sonnino visit the estate’s website


Castello Sonnino International Education Centre invites scholars, educators and students to experience its unique character as a preserved but functioning agricultural and viticultural family-run operation. Experience living history as a learning tool and a means to sustain a resilient future.

Castello Sonnino is the only operating farm, winery and historic site in Tuscany to offer learning through apprenticeship, on-site experiential learning and research opportunities combined with formal instruction through cooperation with a network scholars from Italian and international universities.

Castello Sonnino offers internship places either on the estate or in collaboration with farms and companies situated in the surroundings.

Castello Sonnino offers classroom space, comfortable accommodation for up to 30 students in apartments complete with kitchens, as well as accommodation and office space for faculty accompanying student groups or faculty on study leave.  The estate houses a historic archive and a private library that can be made available to scholars and students. The estate Enoteca can provide fully catered and serviced meals using local agricultural products from nearby farms and pruduce grown in the estate learning garden, where students, instructors and researchers are welcome to work. On request, experiential workshops can also be arranged on a wide variety of topics including, but not limited to: social, economic and political history of the region; Tuscan language and culture; vineyard management; orchard management; geology and terroir; wine making; wine cellaring; wine marketing; sustainable tourism, agriculture, and food security; ancient grain preservation; and traditional trade and culinary practices. There are seven important archaeological sites on the territory for exploration and a small lake is available on the estate for hydrological study.

Since its inception in 2014 the Castello Sonnino International Education Centre has hosted a variety of university groups and courses from the United States and Canada. The university courses have ranged in length from three weeks to a complete 14-week semester. Course work completed at Castello Sonnino has been interdisciplinary, with visiting students coming from programs like Geography, Wine Geography, Geology, Business Management, Hospitality, Sociology and Agriculture and Food Systems.



Castello Sonnino offes undergraduate programs, graduate programs, adult continuing education in a wide range of topics


•    Rural Sustainability in a Globalizing World
•    Agriculture and Food Systems
•    Wine Geographies
•    Political Ecology and Culture of Landscape Change
•    Rural Evolutionary Economics
•    Environmental Resilience and Sustainability


•    Agritourism in Italy: its genesis, evolution and operation
•    Cultural and historical tourism: art, language, cinema and literature
•    Wine, culinary and terroir tourism
•    Transformative experiential tourism: education, health and wellness
•    Business, hospitality and marketing


•    Europe in the Making: The Grand Tour and Nation Building in Tuscany.
•    Ancient Tuscany: Etruscans and Romans
•    Bishops, Merchants, Pilgrims: Economy and the Via Francigena.


•    Italian language
•    Italian lifestyle and culture
•    Italian political life and contemporary history: Mezzadria, World Wars


•    150 hectare working farm
•    vineyards,
•    olive orchards
•    woodland

•    learning garden (market garden products)
•    experimental preserved ancient grain field
•    archaeology sites
•    small lake and hydrologic system

•    historic buildings, archive and library
•    winery, restaurant, enoteca and wine shop
•    working traditional kitchens


Castello Sonnino has forged relationships with scholars from important Italian universities (Universities of Firenze, Siena, Pisa, Pollenzo) who are available to provide academic expertise to visiting universities in a variety of formats including lectures and seminars for university classes, field excursions and on site estate workshops on a variety of topics associated with the ideals of sustainability and resilience. Many of these scholars are eager to form research and teaching collaborations with visiting scholars and universities. In May of 2015 a group of scholars and educators from the Universities of Firenze, Siena and Pisa gathered with visiting faculties from four North American universities for a two day International Experiential Education Workshop at Castello Sonnino. Representatives from Castello Sonnino and the Comune of Montespertoli welcomed the group and encouraged further collaboration for research and education in the region. The workshop concluded with the establishment of the Sonnino Working Group. The group is comprised of a collection of scholars and educators from across North America, Italy and Spain interested in joint research and educational opportunities based out of Castello Sonnino’s interests in living history for a sustainable and resilient future.

Showcase / Presentation / Poster – by Sonnino Working Group

Culinary and Wine Tourism Conference
2015 October 21-23
Vienna, Austria
FHWien University of Applied Sciences of WKW

Association of American Geographers AAG
2016 March 28-April 2
San Francisco

TEFI Tourism Education Futures Conference
2016 June
Kamloops, British Columbia

XI International Terroir Congress
An Interdisciplinary conference on wine industry
2016 July
Willamette Valley, Oregon
Migration and farm/wine tourism development and protection of terroir with case studies from Sonnino, Chianti and Okanagan

Critical Tourism Conference
2016 August
Muskoka Ontario (Canada)
Donna Senese talked about transformative tourism and the experiential education experience at Sonnino with John Hull.

International Congress on Sustainable Urban Agriculture
Sustainable Urban Farming: Vector for Ecological Transition conference
2017 Toulouse June 6-9
Poster presented by Colleen Myles (Hiner)

European Rural Geographies Conference 2017
The conference “New rural georgaphies in Europe: actors, processes, policies”
2017, 14-17 June
Brunswik, Germany
Poster presented by Colleen Myles (Hiner)

Wine and Food Tourism Futures Conference October 17-20, 2017
Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada
Caterina de Renzis Sonnino is one of the keynote speakers


The ‘Wine and Food Tourism Futures’ Conference will bring together a range of academic and professional specialists to share ideas and practices on the transformative potentials of wine and food tourism. The conference we propose will contemplate the future of wine and food tourism and the communities it serves through a synergy of academic and industry reflection. In this light we can explore avenues for mobilizing wine and food tourism’s potential as an instrument for positive change. The overarching goal of the conference is to promote and increase dialogue, foster communication and increase collaboration between academia and industry on a global scale. Delegates will include tourism, wine and food scholars, educators, practitioners and government officials from regions of wine and food tourism across the globe.
With major support from the British Columbia Wine Institute, this conference will address three broad themes: Resources, Practices and Outcomes. The Resources theme focuses on the cultural, natural, political and economic capital that generates and sustains the wine and food tourism industry including landscape, ecology, tradition and traditional knowledge of food and wine systems. The Practices theme considers service design and delivery, incubators, innovation and diversification of the industries and education for transformation or teaching with terroir. Lastly, the Outcomes theme draws on ideas about the impacts, potentials and realised transformations brought on by wine and food tourism using global examples of the impact of food and wine tourism on the rural experience economy; the rural renaissance and regional economic development; product and market development; sustainable practices, food and environmental security.
Expected outcomes include identification of key areas of potential for transformative wine and food tourism and a global compilation of existing successful best practices for industry and identification of avenues for future research.


The unique geographical position of the estate, adjacent to the village of Montespertoli, provides opportunities for students and scholars to experience farm life, sustainable agricultural production and experience life among members of a Tuscan village.
Montespertoli, a market town and historical trading hub, lies at the gates of Castello Sonnino, which has served as the heart and engine of the cultural and socioeconomic life of the village.

The close relationship between village and estate provides students and researchers with the opportunity for immersion in the environment, culture and economy, not simply the study of it.

Walking distance to Montespertoli

20 km to Florence airport (A. Vespucci)
60 km to Pisa airport (G. Galilei)
20 km from Florence
30 km from San Gimignano
35 km from Vinci
50 km from Siena
60 km from Pisa
1,30 h by train from Rome

Public bus service to and from Florence

1 hrs by bus to Florence airport
1:20 hrs by bus to Pisa airport