From fine olive oil and rolling vineyards to hunting for truffles in the forests surrounding San Gimignano, the heart of Italy is the perfect place for a foodie winter getaway
ON MY second day at Castello di Casole, the concierge told me that an American tech supremo recently booked out the entire villa complex for his friends and family for the renewal of his wedding vows. Not only did he rent out the entire complex, he also spent £200,000 booking Fatboy Slim for one night.
That tells you all you need to know about Castello di Casole. From the restored 10th century architecture to the vintage Fiat parked on the driveway, Castello di Casole corresponds more to what a Texan businessman might think Tuscany is like than how it really is. It’s all about unadulterated, Italian-style indulgence, at the expense of a more authentic Tuscan experience. Still, looking out at the sunset from your heated infinity pool, you’ll find it difficult to care.
A converted 10th century castle, Castello di Casole is located on top of a hill in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Airy, high-ceilinged rooms are kitted out with four poster beds and the finest antique furnishings. If you’re after pure comfort, there can’t be many places in Tuscany better than this, and the hill-top location means all rooms have excellent views over the surrounding countryside. The courtyard is flanked by three of restaurants all of which are excellent; thankfully the compromises on authenticity do not extend to the food, thanks mainly to in-house chef Daniele Sera, who serves up consistently brilliant traditional Italian fare. A spa, gym and winery are also located within the grounds.
Poor timing meant my trip clashed with a “Get Fit Diary” I wrote for City A.M. I was a few weeks into the regime, but by the time I returned home the only thing that was ripped was my waistband. People don’t come to Castello di Casole to get in shape (although I did have few token gym sessions in the gym). People come here to eat, drink, and generally indulge. Over-do it, then sleep it off. Here are some of the best things to do while you’re there.
Sunning yourself by the pool and sunset drinks on the terrace – the pleasures of Tuscany in the Summer time are well established.
Perhaps the biggest reward for a visit during the winter months, though, is the truffle, Tuscany’s most expensive culinary export.
The Italian white is the most prized of all truffle varieties and the hills of Chianti are some of the most truffle-rich soils in the world.
If you’re not content with eating them, Castello di Casole organise hunting tours in the fields and forests surrounding San Gimignano. It’s an unmissable excursion.
LEARN TO COOK LIKE AN ITALIAN
Once you taste chef Daniele Sera’s cooking you’ll want to take him home with you – attend one of his cookery courses and you won’t have to. I learned to make fresh pasta and how to fold it into perfect ravioli parcels.
In the summer there are pizza-making classes, too – perfect for occupying the children while you’re getting stuck into the wine at the one of the tasting sessions.
With an extensive collection of wines from Tuscany and around the world and 100 acres of its own vineyards, Castello di Casole is perfect for oenophiles. The region may not be good for production of white wines but the estate winemaker Paolo Caciorgna more than makes up for it with his reds. The knowledgeable Caciorgna gives regular guided wine tours, and guests are able to see the wine at every stage of production. There are also tastings that take place during the cookery class, so you can learn which wines to have with the dishes you’ve learned to make.
If the wine doesn’t get you sufficiently blissed out, perhaps one of the various indulgent spa treatments will. There are many to choose from, including “Sacred Nature Ritual”, “Weary Traveller”, and “The Maiden of the Estate”. Don’t be put off by the unusual names, the staff are excellently trained and will make you feel at home even if you’re not accustomed to the world of massages and facials.
Abercrombie & Kent offers a three night stay at Castello di Casole from £595 per person based on two adults sharing on a B&B basis including flights and car hire. To book call 0845 485 1143 or visit abercrombiekent.co.uk