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Tuscany in the fall. You just can’t beat it. Long gone are the hordes of summer tourists from around the world, who travel in the height of season. It does get dark early and the weather is not balmy, however, in the fall you can live life as it was meant to be, meeting locals when the pace is slower.
I came to view the burnt orange colors of sunsets, drive through the rolling hills, eat in gastronomic heaven in small restaurants off the beaten path, and visit medieval villages. Tuscany speaks to your very soul. One needs to eat, breath, get immersed, and then get intoxicated in its art, cuisine, nature and wine. A mythical world of nostalgia… land of the Renaissance… home to poets, musicians, painters, lovers of food and wine. The salt of the earth with picture-postcard landscapes, Tuscany is “La Dolce Vita.”
What is it about the wine region of Tuscany that touches the soul? The terrain, the rolling hills, the turning of the leaves in the fall, the people you encounter. Perhaps just being in the ethereal Tuscan countryside creates a new creativity and lends credence to our existence. The majestic, statuesque Cyprus trees, vineyards, olive groves, a hint of rosemary in the air; just being in the Montalcino countryside is enough to stir the senses.
It was on an uncharacteristically, unseasonably warm November day that I drove from Lucca to the Chianti region, famous for its delicate wines. But Chianti wine was only a part of my reason to visit this magical land. It would also be a rare opportunity to stay in one of the leading hotels in the world, where monks once ruled and had the lay of the land. The Castel Monastero is a castle converted into a hotel, set in an actual medieval village.
No matter where you turn, the Castel Monastero is breathtaking.
Upon arriving at the Castel Monastero, one has no other option than to feel as if you’ve entered into a fairy tale, prince or princess like, stepping into the Middle Ages. Surely this 11th century masterpiece could not be my home for the next three nights. Castle, chateau, fortress all seemed more appropriate appellations than hotel. Set on four heavenly acres, each and every corner offers a view of vineyards and olive groves.
Seemingly miles away from the outside world, this beautifully restored, grand dame of the Chianti wine region is in reality a mere 23 kilometers from the citadel of Siena, and is under an hour away from Tuscany’s capital of Florence. Rome is only a jaunt of a little more than two hours. Farther out, Milan is just a four hour trip.
A onetime monk’s quarters and village converted into a five star hotel in Tuscany.
The hotel group Eleganzia is well known as a leader in luxury accommodations in Italy, and its properties are among the leading hotels of the world. One can only expect a luxurious stay. Situated strategically in the breathtaking Valley Dell’Ombrone, old world, 11th century Toscana meets five star, modern day extravagance.
They say that one can gain the true pulse of a hotel property by the way the hotel staff interacts with and treats their guests. Upon arrival, I met two of the “Castel Gems” at the front desk, Satina Brundu from Sardinia, and the most charming Anna Smurygina, from Russia. These young ladies are not just hotel staff, they are the face of the legendary property. These ambassadors for the Castel Monastero are glowing when describing the property.
The charismatic Smurygina goes on about the surrounding area: “our strategic location is perfect for any visitor to Tuscany.” “30 minutes to Siena, 45 minutes to San Gimignano, 45 minutes to Cortona, 40 minutes to Montepulciano.” Yes, the Castel is set in a heavenly setting of cyprus and olive trees, grape vines and rolling hills in a centralized location, allowing the visitor to easily visit the gorgeous surroundings.
Ann Smurygina from Moscow and Santina Brundu from Sardinia – man the front desk, are more like ambassadors for the Castel Monastero
Niccolo Cadirni -The professional Front Office Manager
Carlo Rugglo – The jovial porter from Sardinia
Brundu has a different take: “the property is in a fantastic location for destination weddings, and we offer our guests some truly amazing day trips.” She continues, “not many hotels offer their guests hot air balloon rides over the vineyards of Tuscany, horseback riding on our breathtaking rolling hills, a helicopter tour over the region or take a black and white truffle hunting tour with dogs and a local expert in nearby Arezzo.”
Fall is also the season of the truffle, the extraordinary subterranean fungus that lends a unique flavor to so many dishes. White truffles shaved over handmade pasta in the fall… you just can’t beat it. Brundu adds, “you’re also close to the shopping outlets where you can find tremendous bargains on Prada, Gucci, and more high end fashion. We can even arrange for you to rent a Ferrari for the day.” Now, that’s Italian!
Annalisa Viglietta -The charismatic – Direct of Sales & Marketing .
The next day I meet another one of the faces of the Castel Monastero, the poised Director of Sales and Marketing, Annalisa Viglietta. I come with a hunger to learn more about the property and its hospitality gems. I crave to experience the land where monks once roamed, broke bread, danced around fires, made and drank wine.
Castel Monastero was just a village until the late 80s.The previous owner, Lionello Marchesi, converted what is now the Castel Monastero into bed & breakfast apartments. It was later when the Eleganzia group, purveyors of fine Italian hotels, converted the property to its current status and structure as a 74 room luxury property. Marchesi kept the vineyards on the property and still produces the wine that is consumed on the hotel.
Viglietta reminds me that Castel Monastero’s co-workers are a team. Viglietta continues, “we opened on July 1, 2009, after a one year renovation; only the floor of the piazza had to be redone. We opened with a young team… people from the local area, as well as, an international staff. (We have a hotel school at our sister property, the ‘Forte Village’ in Sardinia.) We have 65-70 staff in the high season from March to the end of October. Finding the right fit for our family is very important. Each year, 30 new recruits take a six month training course in Sardinia. We add the best of the best, to our team.” Viglietta adds, “we may start someone in the restaurant, but then perhaps move them to the front desk.” A concept where the staff should have a working knowledge of all aspects of the hotel was a refreshing one that I had not seen in other hotels.
This concept sounds logical for all hotels, but rarely have I experienced such a cordial and professional hotel staff. From the bellman to the front desk team members, from the restaurant staff to upper management, one thing resonates throughout my stay… a sojourn at the Castel Monastero is like staying in a castle, with the hotel guests treated like kings and queens.
Wondering where guests come from to visit the Castel Monastero? The highest concentration of guests come from the U.S. and Canada. These are followed by local Italians, perhaps coming for a weekend retreat from Rome or Milan. Finally, there are visitors from the U.K., France, and Germany, and then from other European nations.
Around the Castel Monastero.
The inviting library and lounge area. Featuring Bvlgari’s photo exhibit “Divas From the 50s and 60s.” A relaxing room to sit back and have a drink.
The guest rooms and suites are large and inviting.
There are 74 rustic rooms and suites each with a tasteful blend of traditional and contemporary styles. Features such as the arched stone doorways, terracotta flooring, and wood beams add to the charm of the guest rooms. Inviting rich chocolate brown couches create an inviting feeling of a ski chalet or mountain retreat. Should you wish, you can even have a private chef and butler in your room at your whim. Like the property itself, the rooms are a tasteful blend of old world charm meets five start modern amenities. The rooms are large and spacious… no small, cramped, boutique style rooms here.
Famed English Chef – Gordon Ramsay’s Contrada is a huge success, and one of two restaurants on the property.
The Castel Monastero has two spectacular restaurants. In a successful collaboration with famed English chef, Gordon Ramsey, winner of 10 Michelin stars, Contrada Restaurant is a huge success. Ramsey himself only visits the property two to four days a year, but his protégé, Nello Cassesse from Nola in south Naples, prepares local dishes, with fresh farm to table ingredients from the surrounding area. It’s still Italian food with an Italian chef, using local products off the land. Ramsey trains the Italian chefs at his cooking school in London. Contrada is seasonal only, open May 1 to October 31, Tuesday through Saturday. During the summer, visiting Italian chefs may conduct cooking classes. Oyster and champagne parties by the pool are quite common.
The main restaurant on the property – La Cantina.
La Cantina Restaurant was the wine cellar on the property, now turned into a Tuscan restaurant in a medieval castle. The cellar had to be sand dusted and adding floors were necessary for the conversion to a restaurant. Open year round, the restaurant is sometimes used for weddings and celebrations. Enjoy the best authentic regional cuisine and vintage Chianti wines produced locally on the estate itself, Nectars of the Gods to accompany the specialty dishes of the region.
Marco Bonelli- The most gracious – Sommelier of La Cantina – Marco can pair local wines with any dish served at the restaurant.
Carlo Brugio – Head Barman – mixes up some of the finest libations in the region.
In the fall, La Cantina comes to life. Experience white truffles shaved over handmade pasta; house made, freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil from olives grown on the property; and sun ripened figs wrapped in prosciutto. Specialties include ‘Rissoto ai Funghi Porcini (risotto with porcini mushrooms) and ‘Cinghiale in Dolceforte’ (sweet and pungent wild boar prepared in a chocolate sauce, resembling a Mexican mole).
One of two outdoor pools and lounge area.
The relaxing indoor spa pool.
Strange to think that in this land of indulgence people also come to Castel Monastero and the Tuscan countryside for more than a wine and food experience. The 10,000 square foot spectacular spa was designed especially for the property by spa masters Urban Retreat, the largest spa maker in Europe. 1,000 year old walls hold secrets of wellness
The indoor Salt Water Pool.
Located in the center of the property, the spa is situated between two traditional country houses, representative of the typical architecture of the Tuscan countryside. There are two pools, one of which is a saltwater pool that has ten times more salt than the Dead Sea. Within this modern and luxurious spa, you can treat yourself to spa treatments, a Turkish bath, and a sauna. There are also two outdoor swimming pools, a work-out room and a tennis court.
Some guests even come to the Castel, specifically for weight loss, detox, and anti-aging programs.
Grape vines, Olive tress, Lavender and Rosemary create the perfect Tuscan experience.
No matter where you walk on the grounds, you have no choice but to be spellbound but outside area of the Castel Monastero.
Great Time To Visit: Palio Festival
Should you be so fortunate as to visit Siena on July2 or August 16, the Palio of Siena with its exciting horse race is one of the most popular and well-known historic festivals in Italy. The contest to win the Palio of Siena is a horse race that is run in Siena’s fan-shaped main square, Piazza del Campo or Il Campo. The Castel Monastero can provide transportation to and from Siena, with expert guides.
Wine comes to guests directly from grapes grown on the grounds of the Castel Monastero.
Attend Sunday Mass at the Church that is still in service on the property.
The Courtyard at the hotel.
Getting lost in Tuscany was a small price to pay for such a fabulous journey of the soul and senses, especially knowing that each evening would be spent living like a king in my very own castle at the Castel Monastero. How often does one get this chance of a lifetime… to stay in a medieval castle, converted into a five star luxury accommodation where a medieval village is brought back to life, creating a one of a kind guest experience? A stay at the Castel Monastero is truly priceless.
“The Ultimate Under The Tuscan Sun Experience”
Monastero D’Ombrone 19
53019 Castel Nuevo
Berardengna, Siena, Italia
Telefono: +39 0577 570001
About the Author: Nick Kontis – Travel Expert and Founder of World Travel List
Born on the one of the most beautiful Islands in the world, Santorini, Greece and raised in America’s culture capital of San Francisco. Nick Kontis started out as a world traveler at an early age traveling back and forth between California and Greece every summer. But it was a backpacking trip around the world at age 24 that proved to be a life changing experience. After traveling by car, train, plane, bike and, boat around the world, it would be this trip of a lifetime that would lead to a life as a travel entrepreneur and world traveler. Nick has been on both radio and television. Featured on Arthur Frommer’s television show, and referred by Lonely Planet writers as a leader in discount airfares. Frequently mentioned as the “father of around the world airfares.” Arthur Frommer once said, “If Jules Verne were alive today he would use Nick to go around the world in 80 days.” Nick and his various travel companies and agents have sent over 10,000 people around the world. Now, Nick promotes travel through his World Travel List and ‘Trip Rambler’ by World Travel List. Having traveled to over 80 countries Nick hopes to inspire others to travel the world. Follow Nick’s “passion for travel” on the World Travel List.