Travel

Cast Away to Castelfalfi

A medieval village in the heart of Tuscany, where centuries-old ruins have been brought back to life, is becoming renowned for its eco-considerate luxury and unspoilt, sweeping views

 By Cheryl Caira

Whisper the words, “I’m off to Tuscany” and most people will stare at you with barely concealed jealousy. Blessed with dreamy topography and on the top of every foodie’s list, the central Italian region stretching from the Apennines to the Tyrrhenian Sea needs little introduction.

Beautiful locations are hardly slim pickings here, so settling on somewhere that’s both stunning and tranquil-feeling can take some time. Step in then, an all but abandoned medieval hamlet, which has been zestfully reanimated to its former Tuscan glory.

Perched on a hill in a ravishing bucolic setting, with a castle looking out over reams of swaying cypress trees, vineyards and olive groves, Castelfalfi’s almost uninterrupted views are a rare find within the region. When mass movement to the cities started in the second half of the 20th century, Castelfalfi’s population followed suit. The 800-year-old estate, once owned by the Medici dynasty, lay untouched by tourism for decades, until Anglo-German company TUI bought and restored the dilapidated village in 2007.

Castelfalfi’s medieval borgo set into the hilltop

Just about equidistant from Florence and Pisa, with the also lovely Montaione village nearby, Castelfalfi’s handsome castle was built in the 8th century, presiding over the valley of the river Roglio. It was completely renovated in 2014, with its petite but perfectly formed borgo also revived. Beginning at the Romanesque church of San Floriano, the main walkway leading to the castle is lined with shops and taverna opportunities: a purchase of truffle oil and local delicacies here, a glass of chianti there, and suddenly the Tuscan afternoon has flown by.

Five-star hotel Il Castelfalfi has been a one-of-a-kind for the area. Opened in 2017 and blending into the landscape with a design that prioritised having minimal impact on its surroundings, nature and sustainability is given centre stage here.

The hotel is laid-back in attitude while still having top-notch, friendly service, with its 120 rooms sporting earthy, calming neutrals and accents of colour. The verdant hills and fields gently tumble into view from the hotel’s balconies and outdoor areas. Guests gather to watch the famous Tuscan sunsets with an aperitif on the grassy terrace, while the evenings are all about cocktails by lantern light and olives straight from the groves.

There’s an outdoor swimming pool you can lounge in for more view-gazing, before you up your relaxation levels at the hotel’s La Spa, which has an indoor pool, sanitarium and Finnish and bio saunas. The spa also recently partnered up with Bocelli Wines to offer guests some vinotherapy in the form of facial and body treatments.

Having a day of exploration at the resort could take several directions. Those keen to tee off in the sunshine may want to navigate the 18-hole golf course, the largest in Tuscany. There’s also a nine-hole lake course and a new, larger clubhouse on its way with a high-end restaurant in tow, to keep pace with the keen interest from golfers internationally. There are tennis courts to check out if your serve is better than your swing.

You can get more of an idea of the resort’s scale by cycling, horse riding or simply following one of the many walking routes round the wildlife reserve. The old farmhouses ­dotted around the estate – now countryside villas that you can rent – were built back up brick by brick, and restored with furnishings made from reclaimed local materials.

The Tuscan larder is undoubtedly one of the world’s finest, and truffle fiends have come to the right place. Different varieties of the coveted ingredient grow all year round here, and the resort offers truffle hunting experiences, with specially trained dogs who sniff out the local black and white ‘tartufaio’. There are also guided tours of the vineyards – abundant in the Sangiovese grape – and tastings of the estate’s four reds and recently added white wine back at the wine cellar.

Gourmet cuisine at La Rocca

There are three restaurants to try out at Castelfalfi: gourmet restaurant La Rocca, the hotel’s La Via del Sale with its Italian dishes with a twist and traditional trattoria, Il Rosmarino, where pizzas fly out of the woodfired oven.

La Rocca is a treat that fits into the special occasion category effortlessly. Housed inside Castelfalfi’s castle, the interiors and lighting give the feeling of a fine-dining setting, and Bergamo-born head chef Michele Rinaldi gives traditional Tuscan cuisine and seasonal ingredients major flourish. You can sit outside on the castle terrace for extra moonlight romance.

There are several tasting menu options, which expert sommeliers can pair with innovative wines to match the creative ingredient combinations of the dishes. Local truffles, fish and meat are a delicious theme. You can also embark on a cooking class with either Rinaldi or La Via del Sale’s executive chef Francesco Ferretti. Creations such as prawn panzanella and ricotta-stuffed ravioli are whipped up before your very eyes, and you can devour it afterwards, before taking some superb culinary knowledge home with you.

Rates at Il Castelfalfi, a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, start from £277 per room per night. For further information or to book visit castelfalfi.com

Watson Hogg