As an Italian man living in London, Italy is never far from my thoughts. So strong are the memories in my head of summer holidays spent on the Ligurian coast that, when I land, I can tell I’m in Italy even with my eyes closed – maybe because of the background noise, our disorganised way of joining queues, or the yelled invitations from the illegal taxi drivers as soon as you step out of Arrivals.
Surrounded by green in all its colour-chart graduations, our two-hour drive from Florence airport takes us to the emerald lawns of Castiglion del Bosco through a slideshow of what Italy is today: rural farmhouses, vineyards, warehouses at the side of the motorway, railway crossings – and the magnificent and eternal hills of Tuscany. Castiglion del Bosco appears at the end of a dirt track; not just a hotel, but an ancient village. An entire borgo has been transformed into a luxury resort and golf course.
‘So, who’s the owner?’ I ask. I’m answered in a hushed voice, their way of respecting someone who doesn’t want to show off: ‘Il Signor Ferragamo.’ They’re referring to Massimo – the son of Salvatore Ferragamo. Soon I see how obvious this is, from the injection of luxurious leather throughout: on the furniture, finely moulded onto edges of plasma screens, on the phone in reception, inserted into the wardrobe’s panels – precise, sophisticated, tailor-made by the same hands that had created bespoke shoes for stars from all over the world. Every detail, such as the impossibly soft bedlinen, or
the beautiful stone in the bathrooms, is an expression of respect of traditional crafts and lifestyles, but also a refinement of modern luxury – as the Italians do best. I can’t help but be patriotic sometimes.
We start our tour of the estate, and as they speak to me in their central-Italian accent, it’s as though I have Roberto Benigni at my side; every ‘k’ endearingly becomes an ‘h’, and kindness is never a formality. There are nearly 4,500 verdant acres to explore; we tackle just one tiny corner, passing by a small 12th-century church with spectacular Lorenzetti frescoes reminiscent of the works of Giotto. As for the infinity pool, it has a view of the Tuscan hills overlooking Montalcino that’s worthy of a masterpiece. I cannot resist taking a picture. The lifeguard coaxes me to dive right in: ‘You must try it! It’s heated at 28 degrees.’ We add swimming and horse-riding in these hills to a fast-lengthening to-do list with ‘spa time’ right at the top.
The Daniela Stainer Spa is located in a dedicated building and after a short walk from our room, we are left in the hands of its superb and professional staff. A magically peaceful place, the spa offers unique therapies based on organic and exotic ingredients. We start with a steam sauna before treating ourselves to a ‘luxury couples massage’, during which a melted mixture of natural oils is drizzled on the skin and combined with a relaxing and unwinding full body rub. I don’t think there is anyone in the world who wouldn’t love this spa.
And now to our suite, which is in a centuries-old building, formerly the stables. It is furnished and decorated in perfect harmony with the style of the rest of the property: ochre-yellow walls blend perfectly with pale, rich fabrics, and the vermilion-red leather mirrors the majolica tiles in the bathroom. The interiors throughout are shot with mouthwatering seasonal hues: cream, khaki, apricot, tomato and grass green. Though this hotel is beautiful enough to justify doing absolutely niente during a stay here, there are plenty of lures to get even the laziest sybarites out of bed and espresso- or Brunello-sipping. Castiglion del Bosco is also a members’ club; to keep its VIPs happy, the estate comes with a cookery school, spa, golf course and dedicated concierge service, which can arrange activities from Jeep jaunts to bike rides.
This hotel is not just a feast for the eyes, though, and our minds soon drift to dinnertime… for this, there are two restaurants awaiting. For high gastronomy, there’s Ristorante del Drago, but we’re in a more relaxed mood. Ambling through the butter-toned buildings into a tiny piazza we seek out what was once a priest’s house and is now Osteria la Canonica. We start – of course – with a Brunello di Montalcino, produced by their own vineyard; the estate is one of the five biggest producers of this stand-out Italian red. Deliciously rounded by the barriques, our powerful tipple is the perfect match for simple but superb pici con ragù di manzo and vegetables plucked from the hotel’s own organic garden.
On our last afternoon we visit the mediaeval village of Montalcino, just 10km away. Here, I stare at the faces of the inhabitants, their Etruscan noses, the deep wrinkles etched in by cold winters and torrid summers. Another glass of Brunello warms our souls. A herd of fawns crosses our path. Are they real? Or is that Brunello playing a trick on me?
At the airport, awaiting our flight back, I turn to Mrs Smith and say. ‘Let’s buy it.’ She raises an eyebrow. ‘Let’s buy what?’ she asks. My answer: ‘A return ticket, so we can come back again. Soon.’ Castiglion del Bosco is not only a hotel to recommend, it is a quantum leap, and an experience for all your senses...