By Louise Roddon
A new breed of elegantly restored castle villages is springing up in Italy, offering high-end lifestyle experiences.
Just when you thought you knew Tuscany, a new breed of rustic-chic accommodation looks set to reinvent the region. Topping the bill is a clutch of impeccably revived castle-villages encircling Siena — hidden from prying paparazzi, and offering guests a high-end rural lifestyle experience, spanning wild-boar hunting in private game reserves, wine-making courses and saffron harvesting, to pampering in organic-themed spas. This is all about accommodation in a sensitively restored castello or characterful albergo, with a kicked-back glamour.
Best for rural pampering Hotel Castello di Casole
A restored Etruscan castle, the all-suite Hotel Castello is an enclave of rural calm. It dominates a pristinely refurbished hill-top hamlet within one of Italy’s largest dollops of privately-owned land, and is the newest addition to Timbers Resorts’ sprawl of high-end “casali” farmhouses. The mix works well without feeling intrusive, with villa owners joining hotel guests on the terrace of its elegant Ristorante Tosca, or for dips in the sleek infinity pool.
Fourteen of the hotel’s 41 suites are set in adjoining properties to the Castello, with private gardens or terraces. My advice is to opt for the less pricey and spacious junior suites in the Castello itself. You won’t get a separate living room, or outdoor space — but my bedroom, with its butter-coloured walls and sumptuous fabrics, was beautifully baronial; far better suited to the hotel’s flamboyantly-sized antiques. It also gave me fabulous views over the estate’s corduroy-neat vineyards and olive groves.
Castello di Casole makes its own wine and oil for guests’ use only, and both feature in the creations of chef Daniele Sera’s (formerly of Rome’s Michelin-starred Mirabelle). I enjoyed his daintily-portioned tasting menu —but you could opt for more typical Tuscan tastes spanning artfully fashioned veal cheek, saffron carnaroli risotto, or wild boar.
Castello di Casoli began life under the illustrious Bargagli family. But as interesting is its colourful jet-set past, when Luchino Visconti lived and partied here — reputedly housing his mistresses in the surrounding farmhouses. Whether true or not, the handsome coffered-ceilinged Visconti Bar has some gorgeous photographs from that era that are well worth a peek.
Best for boutique charm Villa Armena
“Luxury is time and space,” pronounced Edoardo Giacone, owner-manager of Villa Armena in the heart of Tuscany’s Crete Sinesi region; “and we haven’t compromised on either. We are less a hotel —more a house-guest concept.” It was to prove an apt description of my stay here, for this handsome terracotta-toned mansion, designed by the Renaissance architect Baldassare Peruzzi, is highly relaxing, with ten sizeable bedrooms exquisitely furnished by Edoardo’s Conran-trained wife, Elena. The young couple opened their property in April, and are joined by Edoardo’s sommelier mother, Laura, and 24-year-old chef, Christian Meloni Delrio. The villa feels very much a labour of love, and the family’s enthusiasm for delighting guests is palpable. Even their pets — a friendly British bulldog, and a slinky cat — felt a welcome bonus to my stay.
Huge attention to detail is the keynote, from the high-tech noiseless light switches, (installed, because Edoardo wants to ensure total peace for guests at all times), to the textural travertine bathroom walls and chrome-therapy walk-in showers. These enormous state-of-the-art bathrooms contrast nicely with the Rococo flourishes of her fabrics and gilded furniture. Christian proved an accomplished chef, and I devoured his tender tartare of wild boar and exquisite fish soup on the villa’s chic terrace, while drinking in the view of cypress-studded hills that seemed straight from a Leonardo da Vinci painting. Buonconvento — one of Italy’s 100 most beautiful villages —is a 40-minute hike, or take advantage of Edoardo’s activities programme, spanning truffle-hunting to patisserie-making classes.
Need to know
Louise Roddon was a guest of Western & Oriental, which can arrange a four-night break at Hotel Castello di Casole from £947pp, including easyJet flights, car hire and B&B accommodation in a junior suite. (based on travel July-October).