In the summer of 2019 – which, by current standards, seems a good decade ago – I was on a whirlwind tour of Tuscany. I say whirlwind but Tuscany doesn’t really do urgency; life prefers to unfold at the pace of a Piero Piccioni score. Anyhow, there was wine, there was pasta, there were rolling hills and terracotta-topped towns and fields of wild flowers and just-bailed hay. But just beyond the borderline laid what quickly became the real treat of the trip.
The Umbrian estate of Reschio already proudly sported an equestrian centre of the highest pedigree, a crop of elegantly outfitted private homes and villas, and acres of prime countryside. Its centrepiece, though, was the thousand-year-old castle sat atop its highest peak, peering back over Tuscany. At that stage it was abuzz with builders, labourers and craftsfolk – it’s transformation from faded fortress into haute hotel was well underway.
I’d arrived via a stop at the converted tabaccaia, now the estate’s operational HQ: an artful essay in modern elegance which prompted severe office envy (remember that?). At its rear, past an impressive array of period artwork, was the office of architect Count Benedikt Bolza (hailed by Architectural Digest as one of the 100 best working today) who owns and runs Reschio with his family, and fashions most of its bespoke furniture.
Such industry couldn’t be interrupted for long, of course, but hearing a brief synopsis of this passion project was just the thing to give context to the subsequent tour of the castle. A few finished suites were bedecked with that – invitingly tactile – handcrafted furniture, well-placed windows peered out over verdant slopes, the ramparts were dotted with romantic nooks freshly reclaimed from pigeons, a pine-shaded pool was taking shape. It was a wowing spectacle, even in its state of relative undress.
Without wanting to dwell too much on the intervening obstacles, this summer Hotel Castello di Reschio was finally able to add that most vital of ingredients: guests. And it’s been deservedly documented, in glowing terms, by every right-thinking glossy title since. As that first proper summer season begins to turn, I asked Count Benedikt (below, with his wife Nencia) to reflect on the estate’s evolution. He kindly obliged…
Obviously Reschio is so much more than a hotel. It seems, at once, a very modern, more immersive, take on hospitality but it also harks back to the idea that ‘it takes a village’. How do you like to describe it to people who’ve never been?
We started nearly 30 years ago transforming abandoned farmhouses into one-of-a-kind private homes, many of which are now rented throughout the year. Over the past 10 years, we have also turned our attentions to the 1,000-year-old castle in the centre of our grounds, which launched earlier this year as a meticulously restored 36 room hotel, Hotel Castello di Reschio.
We have invested in an excellent service team to be on hand for all of our guests and homeowners, including concierge, in-house chefs, not to mention planting vineyards and making wines for some of our house owners. With each house (and for the hotel), I designed bespoke furniture that was required and designed to fit into their space with a perfect sense of proportion and, from this, B.B for Reschio – my furniture, lighting and accessories design arm – was born. All of these items are made by local artisans and finished off at Reschio.
With 1,500 hectares of land, we have a bio-dynamic and organic farm that is constantly evolving. Horses, too, are an intrinsic part of Reschio – stunning Spanish horses that are world-class dressage performers. We have a stud stable and every year have a couple of foals born, still a source of great excitement.
The transformation of the castello was always a dream, but we knew that it had to be done correctly and at the right time. It took almost four years to complete the work and now it too sits within the estate as the cherry on the cake. We are so proud of all the local people that we employ, constantly training and allowing them to develop. Reschio as a whole, never stands still, as every element constantly evolves.
I know the conversion of the castle itself had been long in the planning but during the work did you uncover any secrets or bits of history you weren’t previously aware of?
It was so exciting to discover some Roman coins and to uncover the cave. We think this had probably been the original icehouse as it maintains temperature perfectly, so today we use it as a tepidarium in the bathhouse and it constantly remains warm.
Given we’ve had the traditional idea of a ‘season’ somewhat interrupted of late, we’ve been talking a lot about the joy of stays beyond the standard ‘summer’. What are your favourite things about the estate in autumn?
Undoubtedly autumn is my favourite season of the year, we have chilly mornings and evenings at Reschio, when fires need to be lit and during the day we have gorgeous warm days. After the first rains, things begin to green up again and it is almost a second spring. Really autumn stretches into December, as we do not have frosts until January. Spring is glorious, always such hope. When the violets start to bloom, you know there will be an explosion of flowers in the meadows. The birds start to return and gradually, everything starts to emerge. It is a stunning time of year.
It’s not just guests that have been flocking though; lots of native flora and fauna have also returned to the estate. How important is it to you to maintain that balance with nature?
We preserve the wilderness, look after the wild animals, manage the ancient oak forests and constantly ensure that nature is at the foundation of all we do. It is vital that we continue to preserve and protect what we have here.
My wife, Nencia, has been mapping the estate, marking out where all the wild flowers are, the ones that are good for foraging and those areas that need to be left for a season to spread. The fallow deer, wild boar, porcupine, hare and rabbits have really multiplied as well as the bird and butterfly population. It is fabulous that guests at the hotel can experience these encounters with nature and to see the impact that this has on them.
Do you think, as the world begins to restore some normality, that the way we travel and the things we appreciate will have changed for the better?
It is difficult to see why travellers would not adapt. I have really designed the hotel to encourage guests to slow down, spend time in their suites and rooms, walk through beautiful landscapes and to enjoy living in the moment, which I think is really what today’s traveller is looking for.
Slow, meaningful travel experiences that really connect them to the heart of a place. We have also been so inspired by the number of Italian guests that have come to explore, travellers that in previous years had gone further afield and now they are seeing the beauty of their own country and that is very reassuring.
To hear more from Count Benedikt and Donna Nencia on their vision for Reschio, listen to the latest episode of our new podcast series, made in collaboration with Change Makers