Fontelunga Hotel & Villas, near Siena and Florence, is located among tranquil rolling hills and peaceful olive groves. Vintage Italiana is flawlessly blended with modern Starck and Jacobsen flourishes to provide the perfect mix of style and comfort. The hotel prepares rich, traditional cuisine, served in the beautiful gardens in the summer.
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Drinks for two and a bottle of Fontelunga's olive oil
Eight rooms, and a junior suite in a separate cottage. Three self-catering villas in the area can be booked through the hotel.
11am, but may be flexible, depending upon availability; earliest check-in, 3pm. Reception closes at 8pm, so let the hotel know if you’re arriving later.
Double rooms from £196.49 (€214), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates for all rooms except the self-catering villas include Continental buffet breakfast; guests staying in the self-catering villas can have breakfast at the hotel for €15 each.
Be schooled in la cucina povera (peasant cooking) with a cookery class at the villa. Learn how to make traditional treats including stuffed tomatoes, pasta al ragu, beef in truffle sauce and so on; then toast your new found skills at the celebratory dinner that follows. A session costs €120 a head (for groups of one to four) or €100 each (groups of four to eight). Remember to book your session at least a day in advance.
November to early March.
At the hotel
Gardens, tennis courts, mountain bikes to borrow, library of books, DVDs and CDS, free WiFi in all rooms and communal areas. In rooms: iPod dock, CD player, bottled water. Every room has double-aspect views and the junior suite has a TV and DVD player too.
Our favourite rooms
Fontelunga’s bedrooms are simple and classic, with white walls, terracotta tiled-floors and oversized damasked headboards. The Oro room (a Superior) has wonderful views of the secret garden. Flashed with silver tones, the Junior Suite, Diamante, is in its own separate cottage with a private terrace that looks out across the Val di Chiana.
There’s a sun-warmed outdoor pool amid the olive groves overlooking the valley and the nearby town of Cortona.
Bring an eco sensibility; follow the hotel's lead and only stuff organic, all-natural bath products in your suitcase.
A minimum stay of two nights is usually required. Well-behaved little dogs are welcome.
Children are welcome – there's a cot and highchair and babysitting is available upon request.
The owners avoid pesticides, grow organic produce and produce their own olive oil.
Ask to eat outside in the gardens, and catch the sun setting, resplendent, over the Tuscan countryside. The twice-weekly dinner party is served at a communal table – outside, if the weather permits (and it usually does).
Country-appropriate casual, with a flamboyant frisson.
The guests-only dining room serves up Continental breakfast, and light lunches and dinners daily. Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, owners Paolo and Phillip host a four-course dinner party, including prosecco with fried vegetables and crostini, a bottle of wine for each couple and bottled water. The kitchen is closed on Saturdays.
There is a 24-hour honesty bar and the staff have a nifty way with a cocktail shaker. You can also sit in the dining area with a tipple or two.
Not available. If the villa is rented, a concierge service and grocery shop is included in the rates.
The two closest airports are Perugia and Florence, both roughly an hour’s drive away, but Pisa, Bologna and Rome Ciampino are only two hours.
The nearest train station, Monte San Savino, is 10km away and offers a direct link to Arezzo. For information on trains in Italy, see Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.com).
Villa Fontelunga is half an hour from Arezzo. From the A1, take the Val di Chiana exit, and then turn right after the toll gate signposted Foiano. Without entering Foiano, keep following the signs to Arezzo until you see the left-hand turning to Pozzo. You should already be able to see the blue shutters of the villa on the hill up ahead of you, and will be able to park in the shade of the pine trees. Several important sights on the Tuscan tourist trail are nearby; Montepulciano, Pienza and Siena are all between 45 minutes and an hour away.
Worth getting out of bed for
Amble among the 14th-century homes and ancient olive-tree woodland of Isola Maggiore, the only inhabited island on Lake Trasimeno, half an hour away. The 10-acre patch of land was the site of Francis of Assisi’s hermitage in 1211 and the setting for the saint’s legendary encounter with an over-affectionate fish.
In the pretty hilltop town of Cortona, Pane e Vino on Piazza Signorelli serves hearty local dishes and has an extensive wine list (+39 05 7563 1010; closed on Mondays). Head to Il Teatro round the corner on Via Maffei for pasta and rich meaty sauces (+39 05 7563 0556; closed Wednesdays). In nearby Marciano, book a table upstairs under the painted ceiling at Hosteria la Vecchia Rota which serves excellent pizzas (+39 05 7584 5362). Antico Osteria l’Agania on Via Mazzini in Arezzo is another trad Tuscan joint that dishes up delicious home-made pasta (+39 05 7529 5381; closed Mondays). Try the tagliatelle, and creamy polenta with the classic regional sauces. Il Goccino in Lucignano is a restaurant and brick-vaulted wine bar with a cosy roof terrace (+39 05 7583 6707). A little further afield, Pizzeria di Nonno Mede on Via Camporegio in Siena has great pizzas and super views of the black and white Duomo (+39 05 7724 7966).
Swaying there in the olive groves, the Tuscan sun is beating down on us. A juicy, just-picked fig is melting in my mouth. It’s not your average Friday afternoon. Mrs Smith puts her hands in mine and we consider how long we could get away with staying at Villa Fontelunga before work notes our absence…
We’ve been beaming non-stop since we arrived. Our first sight of this bright sienna-coloured padronale near Cortona inspired our highest-watt smiles, and a smidgen of smugness. Traditional ivy-festooned blue-shuttered villa on the outside, modern interior design magazine on the inside, this boutique B&B makes houses on those flashy property TV shows seem positively dull. Greeted as though we’re old friends of the owners Simon, Philip and Paolo, we soon have a welcoming glass of local red wine in our hands.
Philip whisked us on a personal tour of the property; Fontelunga unfolded as somewhere wonderfully elegant and undeniably Italian. Between massive terracotta plant pots on the gravelled courtyard are old-fashioned tables and chairs. From here, there are views across a faultlessly landscaped garden to valleys that an artist could make thousands from.
A hidden nook is full of Tuscan elements combined with an exclusive LA rooftop feel. If there’s a spot better suited to lounging in the shade, I’d like to know of it. OK, perhaps where I then saw a swing for two… Further snooping reveals a tennis court, and now there’s fresh-fig-eating. A quick game of hiding behind olive trees later (it’s never not funny to jump out and shout ‘Boo!’ at Mrs Smith), we seek out our suite. After grabbing another fruit from the tree and a glass of Chianti from the honesty bar.
A converted dovecote houses our junior suite, and glass bricks transform nest holes into windows that throw magical shapes into our cosy double-sinked, deep-tubbed blue and white bathroom. White-washed walls and farmhousey flooring frame charming lived-in touches from one-time film-set designer Philip. Above the bed hang tiny glass orbs, lighting up the room as they catch the sun. Our bed peers through French doors onto our private terrace, steps from the pool, hills beyond. Taking advantage of free WiFi, we hop onto Spotify and load up some suitable music (think II Trovatore or the Intermezzo Cavalleria Rusticana. Not ringing any bells? Try imagining a slickly shot ad for olive oil or pasta sauce).
Newly revived, we’re back in the main villa following the lead of the cute resident Scottie dogs. This involves flopping on the comfy Barber Osgerby sofa, in an exposed-brickwork sitting room, where design flourishes and coffee-table books remind us we’re in Tuscany. (Meanwhile Mrs Smith sniffs out a few trashy mags hidden in the corner, perfect for poolside reading.)
Soon enough, Philip appears and asks our desires for dinner; quick as a flash he’s made reservations at Osteria del Teatro, a favourite of Anthony Hopkins. We jump in the car and head over the hills to Cortona, just one of the staggeringly beautiful mediaeval town an olive stone’s spit away. Duck breast and courgette-flower gnocchi devoured in a 16th-century dining room, we return home, close our shutters and lower the shades…
Morning arrives and sightseeing calls. We’re barely an hour from Florence and Siena, and even closer to Arezzo, so after a quick dip in the pool, some fruit and fresh pastries and another cup of world-class coffee on our terrace, we head to this most Italian of towns. Arezzo is where Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful was shot. ‘It is beautiful, pigeons fly, women fall from the sky – I’m moving here,’ says its hero Guido. If only we could too. (Although, disappointingly, it doesn’t actually rain Mrs Smiths. Not on the day we visit, anyway.)
After a day pretending to be movie stars – eating gelati, attempting the world’s hammiest Italian accents – it’s wonderful to retreat to rustic Villa Fontelunga. On Tuesday and Friday nights they host a four-course supper, and tonight it’s just us and some Australians. As Mrs Smith can attest, I get bored with stuffy hotel restaurants and this communal set-up is the ideal antidote. Less maître d’, more Come Dine With Me. Minus the badly made meals and ridiculing voiceover, obviously. We drink and make merry, adding our new friends on Facebook (gotta love that WiFi), eating humble, home-cooked food prepared with fresh ingredients.
Post-prosecco and canapés (oh, those zucchini fries!), we settle onto a long table in the open-plan kitchen for a parade of delights. Ravioli, local pork and veg, then a rich chocolate torte. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a dinner party this much – Mrs Smith and I almost forget that this is a hotel. Never has the cliché ‘home from home’ been a more accurate description – it’s like staying with distant relatives. Savvy ones armed with every secret on where to eat to parking your car without paying.
Too quickly our Tuscan adventure is over, and Mrs Smith’s suitcase is closed for the final time. Or maybe not? A final insider tip from our NBFs is that en route to the airport there are fashion outlets for Prada, Gucci, D&G and Armani. The only time I’ve seen Mrs Smith happier than when she finds a skull-patterned Alexander McQueen scarf at 70 per cent off was when she first set eyes on Villa Fontelunga.
Case crammed with designer steals, we head home, fantasising about being back in that king-size bed overlooking olive groves and Val di Chiana vineyards. Jolting me from that daydream is the harsh beep of an airport metal detector. I delve into my pockets to find the keys to our suite. Now really, wouldn’t it be rude not to return them in person?