Ciao! I went on a little trip to Tuscany last month and it was wonderful. I hadn’t been to Tuscany for almost twenty years (the last time was a school trip when I was fourteen, we did a big tour starting in Florence and ending down in Sorrento, via Rome and Pompeii and Naples) and I had forgotten how utterly beautiful the countryside is. Just breathtaking. Mr AMR and I started our Tuscany trip at a lovely little hotel called Poggio Piglia; I was reviewing it for Mr & Mrs Smith and you can see my write-up on that here. I’ve done a few bits of secret reviewing for Mr & Mrs Smith now – I really enjoy it. I have to stay anonymous until checking-out time, at which point I reveal my true identity, along with some jazz hands “ta-dah!” style waving, and hope to God that the hotel do me a nice discount on the bar bill. (Joke. Though it is usually quite a big bar bill… )
After Poggio Piglia, we drove across the Tuscan countryside to Castello di Casole, a luxury resort just outside of Siena, but I have to say that the journey itself was one of the most spectacular parts of the whole trip. The scenery was amazing! We drove via Montepulciano (above and below) and Pienza and played the soundtracks from Gladiator and The English Patient as we went along, because both films were shot in the area and I do like a location-appropriate soundtrack. (Batman in Chicago, Amelie when I’m pootling around Paris, you get the picture. Everyone does this, surely? If they don’t, then they should – it’s like walking about in your very own movie set!)
Montepulciano is a must-see, if you’re in Tuscany; a medieval walled town with tiny narrow streets and the most incredible views from the outer wall. It also has a Torture Museum but I’d rather not talk about that (it made me feel nauseous and faint, especially the death-by-impalement part) – again, feel free to read my travel review over on Mr and Mrs Smith. But onwards, troops, onwards through the rolling hills and then up a tree-lined road to the magical, secluded Castello di Casole.
Sitting on one of the largest private estates in Italy (4,200 acres), this hotel is a kind of luxurious, grown-up, Tuscan Disneyland where absolutely all of your needs can be catered for without you having to set foot outside of the grounds. You may prefer a more rustic approach to holidaying; old, crumbling farmhouses with ancient, gnarled trees that creak in the breeze and plumbing that screams when you flush the toilet – Castello di Casole has all the visual charm of the rustic but, at the same time, it provides all the convenience and comfort you could possibly wish for.
The people behind Castello di Casole, Timbers Resorts, have done an exemplary job of turning the old and traditional into something very plush and marvellous. I say turning, I suppose I mean tweaking. Very expensive tweaking. Because the whole place is still old and traditional – the remains of a real Roman amphitheatre lie next to the swimming pool, for goodness’ sake! – it’s just that it has all been buffed and terracotta-floored to perfection.
It feels as though the original Castello and surrounding buildings have never been touched; but of course they have. Just in a very expert and sympathetic way. Everything from the finish on the sun-baked walls of the Castello to the stone floors in the bedrooms seems authentic; yet at the same time it’s all beautifully pristine. As it should be, I suppose; the hotel wasn’t renovated very long ago, and they spent a fortune doing it.
I particularly loved the views; wherever you look from the hotel, there’s a simply stupendous view. I suppose it helps that your hotel is surrounded by 4,200 acres of your own estate – it’s not as though you’re going to get a factory popping up, or a high-rise block of flats! You can look out and – I imagine – the landscape looks almost the same as it would have done a hundred years ago. A thousand years ago. More. It’s just rolling countryside and a huge sky and the lovely hilltop town of Casole d’Elsa far up and away in the distance.
Inside, the rooms and suites have loads of original features and even the features that aren’t original are so well done that they look as though they could be. Heavy oak beams, stone floors, mosaic bathrooms…
The perfect blend of rustic-traditional and modern-comfortable. Flat screen telly hidden inside a wardrobe, fluffy bathrobes, well-stocked minibar and a free bottle of very VERY nice wine. (You get one if you’re a Smith member, see this post here.) Mr AMR and I had a room with a separate living area, but I took the liberty of sneaking into a “studio” suite (less expensive, smaller) so that I could give you an honest peek inside:
And honestly? Really very lovely. And not that much smaller than the two-room suite that we had, though the decor is quite different. Same airy, oversized bathroom, though, so I’d say that the “entry level” option is far from being the “make do” option. Castello di Casole isn’t one of those luxury places that hedges its bets – there are no “cheaper rooms” that are rubbish and boxy, just to get the numbers up. It’s all swish. Nice.
Let’s talk about food, shall we?
I’m always just a little bit wary of restaurants that come with hotels. They can be quite hit and miss. On the one hand, you often have a very good chef-with-a-name attached to a hotel restaurant if it’s an expensive, well-known hotel, but on the other… The words “captive audience” spring to mind. Some hotels just know that their clientele will come to the restaurant by default and so they don’t make any real effort – I’ve been to some shockingly bad hotel restaurants.
Tosca, however – the restaurant at Castello di Casole – is just fabulous. Everything that arrived at our table was beautiful and utterly delicious. I’d go so far as to say that the meals (we went both nights) were the best I’ve had this year. Up there with the roll-back-to-your-room feast that I had with my Mum at Les Etangs de Corot, and that place got its Michelin star shortly after I visited!
Mr AMR and I had the tasting menu on both nights of our stay – “The Woods” menu on the first night (menu pictured somewhere above) and the “Onion” tasting menu on the second. The “Onion” menu sounded weird but was absolutely divine. Every morsel that came out held a new joy, we were just beside ourselves with food pleasure! And Mr AMR very rarely enjoys a meal fully; he’s not by any means picky, but he expects food at high-brow places to be at least as tasty as what he gets at home. And it often isn’t. (According to him – I’m not blowing my own trumpet, here, as I do perform most of the culinary magic at home. He washes up.) So Mr AMR is quite a good barometer, really, for judging the success of a meal, which is one of the reasons I like taking him along on these trips. That and the fact that we are married, of course. Just a minor consideration.
Hold on, I have found some actual sound recording of Mr AMR’s dinner commentary! I’d forgotten that we recorded this on my iPhone- we had drunk quite a lot of red wine, I think, by this point:
Mr AMR: “this has restored my faith in fine dining. I’ve eaten in a lot of good restaurants, but this…” (Sound of sipping.)
Me: “But you don’t really like eating out though, do you? It always disappoints you.”
Mr AMR: “If we lived closer to here, I’d eat out all the time!”
(Long pause. Sound of cutlery and me laughing. I have no idea what I would have been laughing at but then…)
Mr AMR: “The special onion menu…..this wine is quite strong isn’t it?”
Me: “Say something else about the menu.”
Mr AMR: “If I was a millionaire I’d pay him to be my personal chef.”
Me: “The menu?”
Mr AMR: “I’m just really impressed with this chef. He’s nailed my tastebuds.”
(Raucous laughter from me and then…)
Me, shouting: “HE’S NAILED MY TASTEBUDS?”
Mr AMR: “Ssshh!”
All joking aside, I do think that Castello di Casole is worth going to almost for the restaurant alone. At the very least I’d make sure that I ate there twice during a stay – once for the special tasting menu, based around a singular ingredient, and once for the classic tasting menu. I’d eat there every week if I could. And the wine! Oh, the wine. Possibly too much of it, would be my only complaint. I woke up the next day feeling as though part of my skull had been removed and someone had gone in and whisked my brains with a balloon whisk. It was quite a good job that all I had on my to-do list was a spa treatment (it was supposed to be my relaxing day) and a very excellent spa it was too. The kind of place you could set a mystery novel in. All dark and moody and quiet. When they dug it all out during renovations, they found loads of ancient artefacts – some of which are on display in the spa, lots of which are in museums. Check this guy out:
I’m not sure what treatment he was having, but he looks pretty relaxed. As I was, after my 90 minute massage. I almost broke my neck tripping over my feet I was so relaxed. I got back to our room to find Mr AMR returned from the poolside sunbathing session, lounging about in a towelling robe, swigging a cold coke from the minibar and watching cowboy films on the television. (Why is it that men can go anywhere in the world and end up doing exactly what they would be doing at home?)
Castello di Casole is one hundred percent a luxury resort, but it has a charm and understated sophistication that many of these top-notch places lack. For me, it ticked every box; it had personality but was supremely comfortable, it had amazing food at Tosca and…the views. The views! It’s also surprisingly kid-friendly, with a cute little Pizzeria and Gelateria in the main square, but really? Go as a couple, kick back, relax. Be decadent. Take in the views. Do some Russell Crowe-as-Gladiator style roleplay…too far? OK.
Rooms at Castello di Casole start at around £330 per night. For a very special occasion, such as a honeymoon, I would definitely say that paying the extra for a suite is money well spent. They have incredible views and are just so romantic. But as I said, the standard rooms are spacious and have huge bathtubs and walk-in showers and if you’re going to be spending most of your time by the pool, or exploring Tuscany, then they are a brilliant option.
You can find more information on their website here.
N.B. and disclaimer: there’s a drink called the Apple Sidecar that they serve in the bar. It’s epic. I want you to try it, but legally I hold no responsibility for you if you decide to have more than two. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking that Mr AMR was a dead FBI agent and that the KGB were outside the door. I also won at playing draughts, which means that Mr AMR’s White Russians were as strong as my Apple Sidecars because I never win. Ever.