Roman Saturday: delightful De Russie

September 9, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (0)

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Dining in the garden

The place to be in Rome on a Saturday is the garden of Hotel de Russie. For buffet lunch. Not just for the food, tables groaning cold cuts, antipasti, and desserts and a pasta station.

The real charm is tables under the trees in gentle breeze, in a restaurant tiered up one of Rome’s seven hills. Cute legs marched past in dressy shorts, among those who would see and be seen, cool on a hot day.

This garden is one of the reasons for the hotel’s oasis reputation, another is the spa bubble bath. It is fabulous I was told by a guest as I peered in to see, and it is free (to guests).  We were merely lunch guests.

The highlight  of the meal (for us) was the charming Mario, who came with the renowned Italian charm up to me and held two tomato pasta’s (pasta pommodoro) in front of me with an arm on each side. Which do you want, he asked. This one is made with love, and this one with tomato. I did choose love…

Hotel de Russie lies in a fashionable street Via del Babuino near Piazza del Popolo. It has 122 rooms.  We were shown round a few rooms, in the style that its loyal guests love  with marble and mosaic bathrooms, understated demure colours and a hint in some of classic romance. The only brightish colour I remember in the deluxe rooms and deluxe superior rooms we saw was the case of the TV.


Heat & Roman history

August 25, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (0)

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Can any city be such a transection through time?

There is the modern Rome, like via Condotti, or the road streaming traffic past the monument to Vittorio Emmanuel (and shaking it and other monuments). There is also Romanesque Rome, Renaissance Rome, Baroque Rome, Neoclassical Rome still standing.  And then there are the cracks. As if modern Rome is being peeled and the old revealed….

Crumbling, peeling, cracking to reveal pillars, foundations, carvings of classical eras.

Like Trajans market. And here and there, and everywhere…a chip of plaster off and THERE is an old column.

Not so many cracks and revelations of the classical near Hassler. But very Roman.

The Spanish steps, a happening place. A place to celebrate. Who goes to Rome without climbing the 136 steps, or sitting on them, posing on them, collapsing on them.

Fearsome heat, 32 to 36 degrees all week. But yesterday was a cool day at 28. Rising to 29 tho much more in the sun.

Beating the heat was our main object in sightseeing. Crossing streets to edge along shady walls. The heat beats you, you beat the heat…a heat dance.

And then the shady park. Hot too but with a gentle breeze.

Hot space. The square feels empty by virtue of its sweeping space, but queues of people  for hundreds of metres round to St Peters entrance, crawling like ants.

Comments written in Rome in July(on hard copy) – blogged only now


Hotel Hassler: original glam & charm

August 12, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (1)

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Half the panorama

Hassler lies at the top of the Spanish Steps with some of the best views in Rome. Most people who visit the eternal city climb at least once up the 138 pale worn steps or just sit on a step among many others. Like we did just absorbing the atmosphere.

One can fancy that the footsteps of history have passed here many times.

The US Army chose Hassler as their headquarters after World War II while in a lighter vein Grace Kelly chose it for her honeymoon, Tom Cruise chose it for his wedding according to my informant, and Woody Allen over and over for the panoramic views.

History seems to float in the air when you sit on Hassler’s terraces, with the domes and spires of Rome in the haze, or just palely glowing among the lights of night. You also drink in the view along with choice wines in the Michelin-starred Imago restaurant, with two sides of glass facing Roman magic. The corner table at Imago may have witnessed more marriage proposals than any other spot in Europe – it has views forever and back into time. There is another contender for romance in two deep red velvet seats tucked away in Imago.

The owner Roberto Wirth comes from a Swiss hotelier family. He is a hands-on owner and loves to linger around reception and greet guests. Mr Wirth is deaf and immediately explains simply: I am deaf, I lipread… A philanthropist who does a lot for deaf children, Wirth is a distinguished man with beautiful white hair and noble look, so I felt touched and deeply honoured when he came up and shook my hand, explaining about his lack of hearing and making conversation showing he had read up who I represented.

Wirth’s independence as hotelier is one of the charms of the hotel. With the help of his wife’s designer eye, it is so totally original through and through, so “uncorporate”. With a quirky charm, personality and glamour that brings people back. “We have many customers that come because their parents loved it,” said sales manager Barbara Ankin. “It is a generational hotel.” Many are from the USA.

Once called Hassler New York, the hotel is an eclectic mix of styles and tastes. There are zooty touches that go back to the jazz age. Glittery glam lounges. Refined velvety lounges. And simply staggering terraces, which must surely have the best views in Rome. We have sat in silent awe up there on the public terrace, enchanted.

Then here in this courtyard (where I am writing) you have an ancient wall of earth on one side, the edge of one of Rome’s seven hills. It is embedded with very old Roman objects, mossy urns, vases and sculptures. But in front is a flauntingly modern brand new bar, a glassy shell hovers over the counter (blue shell, silver counter) in the process of becoming a water feature. Water is due to run down the sides.

The rooms are all different with many different styles. Our deluxe room was renovated two years ago, plenty of wood, all white and bright. Pale marble bathroom. Delightful and fresh in feel. Another room (Junior Suite) we were shown was mostly black with black furniture and black marble bathroom – but had the advantage of one of the rare terraces. Another (Classic Suite) was newly attired in pale muted colours. Others newly designed were in red, black and white with waves and checks, a kind of new art deco.

The Presidential has been newly decorated with this playful flamboyance (by the owner’s wife). The Penthouse suite also flashes with vivid red. The main feature about this suite is its totally amazing unbeatable terrace. Huge…and with views to mesmerize. All the magic of Rome is there with domes and spires rising from the haze. What is more it has a roofed area on the terrace with a TV and grilling place. The Penthouse suites size, charm and status invites high society and celebrity weddings. Up to a hundred guests have been present at weddings here.

There is another public terrace adjoining the spa and the free gym where an American family of two generations was hard at work training (a former football trainer and two kids who looked like they played something pretty hard). There is a shortage of terraces among deluxe rooms – only two – but if you book really far ahead and have a good reason for asking for a balcony, you just might be lucky. You have to take a suite to get a terrace. Our Deluxe room had a view of Iglesia Trinita de Monte seen though a gap between two wings of the building. We had the best possible changing room, as there is plenty of place for two suitcases on a built in platform at convenient height (no bending over) plenty of drawers and hanging spaces. Marble bathroom. Nice amenities.

Altogether there are 95 rooms of which 13 are suites. Plenty of connecting rooms, deluxe to grand deluxe, grand deluxe to grand deluxe, and a kiddie’s programme. There can be fun for kids in Rome. Barbara Ankin mentioned a museum that taught the history of Rome to kids – Museum of the Roman Civilization. Of course kids can enjoy seeing the Colosseum, the Catacombs too and driving those fun bike/car things in the Villa Borghese park.

One very popular adult activity is unlikely to please the kids though. Window shopping in Via Condotti which starts only 138 steps down from Hassler and perhaps 50 more. Just to name a few brands that jostle side by side on a short stretch: Bally, Burberry, Bvlgari, Cartier, Damiani, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Hermes, Valentino, Vuitton, Prada, Ferragamo, Trussardi. An exception The Ferrari store will have some appeal for boys of all ages and is quite an exciting red.

See next blog about Roman Sunday.

Images (c) Per-Olov Broddeson


Roman Sunday, what Romans do

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Parrott in Borghese park

A  Sunday in Rome. “Shopping”, eating, Borghese gardens…

Window shopping is one of the prime pastimes of Rome.  Via Condotti starts below the 138 Spanish steps. Just to name a few brands: Bally, Burberry, Bvlgari, Cartier, Damiani, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Hermes, Valentino, Vuitton, Prada, Ferragamo, Trussardi.

Sunday is definitely a day for Via Condotti and people jostle for place in the narrow street – though most shops are closed. The story circulates that Madonna asked for one Designer outlet to open one Sunday – they reportedly refused. The Burberry store looked very open on our Sunday window shopping, but it had a very elegant man standing in the doorway looking coldly well dressed and tall, as if to intimidate those who cannot afford to buy.

Sunday is not the recommended day for tourists to visit the Vatican because of queues. We did though,  a long long walk down via Cola di Rienzo which needed  a stop in a street market to get linen trousers to beat the heat.

Though the huge paved piazza looked vast and empty with the locals fleeing the heat of July & August, there were still very long queues to get into St Peters.

On the other hand if you want to do what the Romans do. Sunday is the day for Borghese gardens. Everyone was there with their dog, their babies, or even their parrots. It was relatively cool under the trees and breezes reach this park on the hill (but still around 32 deg in the shade). We decided to walk though tempted to take one of the wheeled alternatives (our map cut off the park so we did not dare to risk not getting back within the hour). They all looked so happy whizzing past. But we were too.

Happiest though were the dogs that let off the leash jumped illegally into the fountains. One could see it was a Sunday routine. Other happy souls were rowing on the small lake and watching the little turtles swimming. The Borghese Gallery is a worthy destination over the other side of the park, though quite pointless to go there if you don’t have a booking.

Just getting to the park from the top of the Spanish Steps is a lovely experience, definitely to be recommended. The street Viale Trinita del Monte skirts along the edge of the hill and you have gorgeous views over Rome’s ancient rooftops and domes. One of the ways down from the park is from Piazza Napoleone with its triumphant columns to Piazza del Popolo, next to Hotel de Russie in cia Babuino.

The reverse direction might be better – first walk DOWN  the Spanish steps and then along via Babuino to Piazza del Popolo and proceed along a windy road up to the park (via Babuino is good for window shopping but also for pizza). That way we would have avoided our fourth walk up the 136 Spanish steps. We actually went down and up the Steps again that Sunday night. Destination was a place to dine in Piazza Mignanelli. I had a marvellous salad with smoked swordfish. The oranges added much sparkle: Price 13 euro – certainly worth it.

Note: I actually wrote this on a Sunday in late July 2012.

Images by Per-Olov Broddeson


Rome…what can one say?

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Fontata del tritone - a ncie surpise when walk not knowing where

 “I never want this day to end, I love Rome…”


Villa Spalletti: home in Rome

August 8, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (0)

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Villa Spalletti drawing room

Peaceful. Breezes drift in the open window with balustrades. You can see people breakfasting under canvas in the garden.

Croissants, homemade jam, organic jam, home made cakes and bread rolls, organic yoghurts, freshly squeezed orange juice, fruit juices, cornflakes, musli, ham, parma ham, cheese,  buffalo mozzarella, bruschetta, fresh fruit, cappuccino, freshly cooked hot items, omelette, poached egg, fried egg, pancakes…

When we arrived in Rome it was overwhelmingly hot. We dropped our car at FCO airport and took the train, then mistakenly walked – the lady at tourist information at Termini station told us our hotel was walking distance. It probably was but a tough walk with luggage at 36 degrees C.

We passed the garden yesterday on the way to our garden suite apartment. Even here in Rome you hear a chorus of cicadas above the hum of aircon and an occasional breakthrough of car sound. Its a peaceful street ,via Piacenza. Opposite is a shadeful park. Shade is treasure in Rome in July and August.

This hotel too is a treasure. A home in Rome.

Not a common or garden home though it has a garden. This is an aristocrat’s home with the feel of boundless hospitality arising from the free minibars and the open bar – free drinks 5 to 8 pm every day. Though of course it is a hotel, a small and exclusive one.

There are only 10 rooms in the villa and the two new garden suites/apartments. But there are big reception spaces with inviting settees / suites, so you can find your own quiet corner to sip your chilled prosecco. Perfect thing for a Rome evening after a crushingly hot Rome afternoon.

Among the antiques, velvet sofas and giant tapestries, family photos are generously or carelessly placed. Two drawing rooms with colour and yet an antique sobriety. Just plain classy and not prim boring new…

And  a seriously leathery comfy time honoured library.

Our suite though is an interesting mix – eclectic. The sitting room is dominated by a very contemporary black glass island sporting an entire kitchen worth of facilities in it. But otherwise there are items of painted antique-looking furniture. Bedroom, marble bathroom, not quite uplifted beyond is apartment days I guess.

But we love being here. The best thing is the terrace. Though its still warm in the evening, some 31 degrees C, we sit here quietly just being.

Not far down the way we find an almost tropical Rome, with tall palms waving in front of old stone towers. We eat there. Beer 4, pizza 5.50, aubergine parmiagano 7, water 2 eur. He tells me it costs 27. When I ask for the little slip he says sorry…I gave you the wrong price. Its 22. Then he gives me the wrong change… 

I simmer a bit. But then we drift down to a crossroads and Rome flows over us from different times.  More later…

Images by Per-Olov Broddeson


Tuscany: more than food & wine – history

August 5, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (0)

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San Gimignano medieval towers

In late July, harvested wheatfields are deep gold. Medieval stone towns cling to hilltops presenting the challenge of climbing up in burning heat. But they are worth it, full of little trattorias offering Tuscan fare.  Pizzas and pastas. Piazzas and duomos. History…

We drove up from Rome on the A1, then crossed hilly Val d’Orcia from Chiusi via medieval Montepulciano and Montalcino (park and climb)  on an entrancing winding route to the remote Castiglion del Bosco, and then drove a less exciting “fast” route chosen by our GPS,  bypassing Siena on the autostrada towards Florence and then turning south east towards Casole d’Elsa and Castello di Casole.

Both hotels (Castiglion and Castello) are well placed for exploring cultural treasures. Castiglion: Montalcino 15 minutes, Siena 40 minutes, San Gimignano 1 hour 20 minutes. Castello: Siena 60 minutes, San Gimignano 40  minutes, Florence 1 hour 10 minutes. 

We enjoyed the proximity to Casole d’Elsa when staying at Castello di Casole for its narrow stone alleys, and choice of less expensive dining venues with typical Tuscan fare.  And then we made a visit to San Gimignano. Again you are forced to park low down and walk in crushing heat  (unless you have can afford to just take a limousine or taxi).

As you climb you get closer and closer to what must have seemed a miracle in the middle ages. The tall austere towers around the Duomo…


Sleeping with Tuscan dreams: Hotel Castello di Casole

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Amazing pool of a 4 bedroom villa

The castle is just one wing of Hotel Castello di Casole – there are more buildings in rough hewn grey stone around it with the austere charm of a medieval village. Originally in the castle days there was a small village up here to serve 200 tenant farmers. Now the buildings house a medieval family crypt, a chapel, a serious gym, a spa (to open in September), some villas and various accommodation types.

Our favourite was a suite in the annex Tinaia, where the grain used to be kept. Bedroom and lounge looked out over the steep drop to the rolling hills and valleys and the lounge had a SKYLIGHT bringing gorgeous light (no balcony or terrace). Same same but different with perfect wrought iron details and heavy beams.

The wing Limonaia facing the restaurant Tosca contains duplexes creating a smaller more cottagey feel, with the advantage of small gardens – not yet private, as the gardens at Castello di Casole are still being developed including an amphitheatre. Limonaia is where the lemons were kept.

Nine new suites open soon with panoramic terraces, promising to be “highly contemporary and super sexy”, in the words of sales manager Laura Fiore. Bringing the number of rooms & suites up to 41.

On top of that there are the 14 magnificent villas (wonderfully renovated Tuscan farmhouses) spread round the estate – these are under fractional private ownership (but can be rented through the hotel).

Interesting to compare Castello with our last destination Castiglion del Bosco, another former castle and hill village in Tuscany, like Castello di Casole also renovated to deliver top luxury, with magical views, recreated borgo village (as used to surround the castles), own chapel, own wine labels and vast estate offering animal and truffle hunting and harvesting activities. By contrast Castiglion del Bosco has its own golf course for club members (offering limited golf to hotel guests – 4 rounds a year at 220 euro per round), and also has a winery actually on the estate. Castiglion’s castle is a picturesque ruin, while Castello’s from the 10th Century offers this legend on its name plate: Built DCCCCLXXXXVII (AD 998), Transformed to Villa Borghese MDCCCXI (1811), Restored MMXII (2012).

During our July visit Castello seemed livelier than Cdb, a little more a place to see and be seen, dress up in the evenings – and if not floating around in the breezes and gazing at sunsets reflected in the infinity pool – well situated for dining locally in the nearby town. CdB felt more exclusive with restful hideaway feel, somehow more wrapped in nature and its 20 or so rooms more spread out. Make no mistake both resorts have luxurious top suites with tasteful hand made details but at Castello they have more original flounce and flourish, while at Castiglion they are lusciously demurely classy and well rooted in the artistry of Florentine artisans. At Castello di Casole perhaps due to high occupancy we were not shown any suite to equal our CdB suite Vigna Alta with its own vast terrace. There is a prime suite with big terrace overlooking the hotel courtyard but it counts as a villa under private fractional ownership.

The owners of the Castello di Casole estate are Timbers Resorts (USA) who specialize in fractional villa sales at boutique resorts in the USA, Caribbean and elsewhere, with a strong philosophy of authenticity rooted in the destination. Before completing renovations of the castle and launching Hotel Castello di Casole, the resort had already marketed villas spread far and wide around the estate on a deed of fractional ownership usually one tenth or one twelfth ownership. These are put in the pool for renting when not occupied but judging by the haunting Tuscan charm of the 4-bedroom villa we saw they will be in such demand that one would be plain lucky to get a week’s rental for 8 to 10 people for 4200 euro/villa/week. The villa had perfect rustic décor, and infinity pool hanging out over a clifftop with stunning views, surrounded by vineyards, and endless living rooms. All hotel facilities included in the rate.

Cdb has 9 villas, 3 in the borgo area with more on the way; while Castello di Casole has 14 restored villas, 14 more to restore or create in Tuscan style.

Perhaps a common phenomenon, in both cases the owner’s wives were major contributors to the design and décor. Castello di Casole’s design also involved an American interior designer J Banks of South Carolina.

For Castello di Casole a major challenge in the European market will be its US ownership even though it feels more Tuscan than the Tuscans. They guess that 50% of customers are from the US and the rest from Brazil, UK, Northern Europe and South Africa.

Castiglion del Bosco has the advantage of the illustrious Ferragamo name giving it high fashion and highly Italian status – though the Ferragamo owner in this case is actually the son who lives in the USA. It was prior to opening a private club.

PS flashback. Our Maps programme in the iPhone steered us to Casole d’Elsa apparently through lack of information on the new hotel address. We drove up hill and down dale in the area looking for signs, but saw none. We had approached from an unusual direction, as it is signposted for driving from Florence or Siena and we drove over fabulous Val d’Orcia from Castiglion del Bosco. Phonecalls to the hotel proved fruitless as the staff new to the area could not imagine where we were phoning from in Casole d’Elsa so kept sending us in wrong directions. The proper address given by someone at the hotel fed into our iPhone programme advised us we were 50 km from our destination…so who knows what went wrong there. Certainly not Telia.

It was the petrol station attendant who put us right in the good old style.


Brand new hotel, 10 centuries old: Castello di Casole

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Stone structures from the 10th century

The petrol attendant in Casole d’Elsa pointed across the valleys: “There it is”. Finally we could see it after two hours of searching with our GPS. The brand new hotel Castello di Casole stood like a fortress village on the highest hill of its vast estate, amidst a panorama of rolling Tuscan countryside.

We were met with five-star grace, our car parked for us, and our luggage delivered to our corner suite in the exquisitely renovated 10th century castle. Friendly staff sympathised over our GPS troubles (see note below) apparently rooted in the newness of the hotel, open only on July 1 after 5 years of restoration.

It was now early evening and the air held a gentle buzz of expectation in the lobbies and courtyard, with trendy long dresses, high heeled sandals and bare shoulders in a play of see and be seen. Both the trattoria and the fine dining restaurants had tables out among the potted lemon trees. Candles were lit along the rim of the water feature and a balmy breeze cooled after an awesomely hot day. In fact outside the piazza/courtyard it was quite windy which is why they had moved tables into shelter away from the usual panoramic terrace.

Castella di Casole is indeed a romantic spot perched up on the hill with views all round. The fine dining terraces overlook the sunset and infinity pool and across the valley to the quaint medieval town of Casole d’Elsa, easily reached to provide many more Tuscan dining options. We had two top class breakfasts with the buffet choices supplemented by a la carte items and foamy cappuccinos. In addition we dined at the trattoria which held a very high standard offering authentic Tuscan fare, pizzas and pasta – with the sophisticated edge of vegetarian options. My vege lasagna was memorable.

Everywhere Tuscan ambience has been taken to the ultimate with perfect imaginative details, antique or customized; decorative wrought iron bedsteads and light fittings with twirls and flourishes, heavy dark beams, pictures from antique markets. Our suite was delightful, and the attractive wrought iron created a medieval flavor as befits its position on the 2nd floor of a 10 th century castle, and yet had the artistic flourishes of its artists and designers. I particularly loved the bathroom with views of the cypress lined drive from one side and Tuscan hills on the other (though over the parking lot).

We were given a welcome bottle of Castello Wine in the room, which we drank in the bath tub (with its reflections in fancy mirrors over the double vanities, separate shower cabinet and toilet/bidet nook).

It was a very delicious wine we sipped with flavours of perhaps chocolate and berries (I am no wine expert).The estate – 4200 acres of it – has 30 acres of olive trees for own olive oil production and 80 acres of vines producing its own wine, created in a winery off the property. They use the same winemaker as Sting.

See next blog post for more about the hotel.

PS flashback. Our Maps programme in the iPhone steered us to Casole d’Elsa apparently through lack of information on the new hotel address. We drove up hill and down dale in the area looking for signs, but saw none. We had approached from an unusual direction, as it is signposted for driving from Florence or Siena and we drove over fabulous Val d’Orcia from Castiglion del Bosco. Phonecalls to the hotel proved fruitless as the staff new to the area could not imagine where we were phoning from in Casole d’Elsa so kept sending us in wrong directions. The proper address given by someone at the hotel fed into our iPhone programme advised us we were 50 km from our destination…so who knows what went wrong there. Certainly not Telia.

It was the petrol station attendant who put us right in the good old style.

View across to Castello di Casole from medieval Casole d'Elsa

Far in the distance is Castello di Casole, seen from a pleasant trattoria in Casole d’Elsa

 

Narrow roads and passage ways in Casole d’Elsa – and some washing

Castello di Caole:

Built DCCCCLXXXXVII – AD 998

Transformed to Villa Borghese MDCCCXI – 1811

Restored MMXII – 2012


Peace, comfort and Tuscan safaris: Castiglion del Bosco

August 3, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (0)

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Infinity pool in the balmy evening

Famous for its deep red Brunello di Montalcino (takes 5 years to mature), Castiglion del Bosco charges 70 euro for a tasting session at its own winery; and its own golf club charges 220 euro for 18 holes (golf cart extra), limiting the number of rounds to non members to only 4 per year. Yet  the resort is all so understated, so natural.

Celebrities come here to “earth” themselves. With nibbles of celery straight from the large veggie garden. With hiking and mountain biking. With forests full of wildife. Even wolves roam those woods – and among activities like cooking courses, harvesting, and truffle hunting you can even go on safari.

The villas – beautifully restored Tuscan farm houses with private pools – cost from 3500 euro per night for a 3-bedroom villa to 5000 euro per night for a 5 bedoom villa, three by the hotel and six perched on hills somewhere on the 4500 acre estate. Rack rate on the borgo rooms from 620 euro per night including breakfast.

A veritable fortune and years of restoration turned the medieval village with its church and ruined castle first into a highly exclusive club and then a hotel, owned by Massimo Ferragamo, actually resident in the USA. He is the youngest son in  the illustrious Italian family Ferragamo. A name that sparkles in Italy.

Simplicity is refinement but can include very expensive details. Everything is antique or custom made.  TVs and minibars in leather cases. Four poster beds fashioned in wrought iron by craftsmen in Florence, the Renaissance city. Pictures from antique shops. Rows and rows of them, beautifully placed.

Though never flashy, the size of some its suites is something one might boast about. Like our suite Vigna Alta in the borgo village “main street”, with massive lounge, massive bathroom with tub and shower including stone seat, dressing room, extra bathroom and the best of all a spacious terrace with sunbeds, dining table, sofa and views of Tuscan hills.

We also got the chance to see two borgo rooms with terrace (some do not have terraces). The room Fontaccia alta has stairs down to a suite  that opens out into a garden with a pizza oven. There is a little kitchen so the two can be rented together as a villa.

Of course the resort has a spa and a gym – and a kids  club (25 euro per hour)  – and families are made very welcome. The trattoria/Osteria is perfect for kids, very low key, with plenty of pizza and pasta naturally. We dined there deliriously – not just admiring the real taste of pizza with flours mixed according to the chef’s secret recipe, but the real taste of crisp freshly picked salad. 

Technology up to date, but some of its best features are its oldest – the church with its 12 century etchings, the belltower on the former priest’s house – now the bar and trattoria Osteria La Canonica where you can taste the full Brunello range. The magical ruined castle where you can watch even deeper red sunsets.

Other old treasures of Tuscany can be seen on excursions. Siena is about 40 minutes by car and Florence 1 hour 30 minutes. Montalcino is two hilltops away (and two valleys) – my memory is it  took us an hour on its unsurfaced road, but other reports say 15 minutes.  The hotel charges 50 euro per way for a trip to Montalcino so it can’t be too far. See the images in the gallery above and in the previous blog.