Thursday, August 9, 2012

HOTEL CHECK ITALY, part 11, Castello di Casole



BRAND NEW AND 10 CENTURIES OLD.

Hotel Castello di Casole opened on 1 July, standing like a fortress village on the highest hill of its vast estate, amidst rolling Tuscan countryside. Select visited to find how things were going, and decided that reality outshone the artist’s impression published in our Select Collection prior to opening. 

The main building is a romantic 10th century castle with stunning panoramas all round, exquisitely renovated, surrounded by a small “borgo” (traditional village) in grey stone. Turning a borgo into a resort with authentic local décor is apparently the hottest trend in five star properties in Italy (seen also in two other new Select Collection properties Castiglion del Bosco and Borgo Egnazia).

Sunset over the infinity pool and Tuscan hills
The fine dining terraces overlook the sunset and infinity pool and across the valley to the quaint medieval town of Casole d’Elsa, easily reached to provide many more Tuscan dining options. This is a place to hang, as the blazing sun goes down. In the centre of the castle is a courtyard or typical Italian piazza for lounging and Tuscan dining.

Tuscan fine dining and breakfast restaurant in the background

The courtyard – really Italian like a town piazza

Warm ambience – see and be seen

Come early evening guests swan around in trendy long dresses, high heeled sandals and bare shoulders in a play of see and be seen. Both the trattoria and the fine dining restaurants had tables out among the potted lemon trees in the piazza. Candles were lit along the rim of the water feature and a balmy breeze cooled after an awesomely hot day. Outside the piazza/courtyard it was quite windy which is why they had moved tables into shelter away from the usual panoramic terrace.

We had top class breakfasts with the buffet choices supplemented by a la carte items and foamy cappuccinos. In addition we dined at the trattoria which held a very high standard offering authentic Tuscan fare, pizzas and pasta – with the sophisticated edge of vegetarian options. My vege lasagna was memorable.

Tuscan decor

Wrought iron, Tuscan, medieval with fantasy

Bedroom of our corner suite in the castle

Everywhere Tuscan ambience has been taken to the ultimate with perfect imaginative details, antique or customized; decorative wrought iron bedsteads and light fittings with twirls and flourishes, heavy dark beams, pictures from antique markets. Our suite was delightful, and the attractive wrought iron created a medieval flavor as befits its position on the 2nd floor of a 10th century castle. I particularly loved the bathroom with views in two directions, the cypress lined driveway and the Tuscan hills (though over the parking lot).

Sting's wine?

Sting’s wine?

We were given a welcome bottle of Castello Wine in the room (Select added value), which we drank in the bath tub (a lovely bathroom with views).



It was a very delicious red wine. The estate – 4200 acres of it – has 30 acres of olive trees for own olive oil production and 80 acres of vines producing its own wine, created in a winery off the property. They use the same winemaker as Sting. But we were not given Sting’s wine…


Note: The garden in the sketch published prior to opening is a look into the future as the gardens are not yet finished.



Borgo village in background containing a crypt, church, spa, gym, suites






Accommodation

The castle is just one part of Hotel Castello di Casole – there are more buildings in rough hewn grey stone around it with the austere charm of a medieval village. Originally in the castle days there was a small village up here to serve 200 tenant farmers. Now the buildings house a medieval family crypt, a chapel, a serious gym, a spa (to open in September), some villas and various accommodation types.



Bedroom in a Tinaia suite


Lounge with skylight & views, Tinaia suite

Spacious bathroom with views in our castle suite
Our favourite was a one-bedroom suite in the borgo annex Tinaia, where the grain used to be kept. Bedroom and lounge looked out over the steep drop to the rolling hills and valleys and the lounge had a SKYLIGHT bringing gorgeous light (no balcony or terrace). Same same but different with perfect wrought iron details and heavy beams.

The wing Limonaia facing the restaurant Tosca contains duplexes more simply decorated creating a smaller more cottagey feel, with the advantage of small gardens – not yet private, as the gardens at Castello di Casole are still being developed including an amphitheatre. Limonaia is where the lemons were kept.

More rustic Limonaia duplexes with bedroom downstairs
 and garden terrace
Nine new suites open soon with panoramic terraces, promising to be “highly contemporary and super sexy”, in the words of sales manager Laura Fiore. Bringing the number of rooms & suites up to 41.

On top of that there are the 14 magnificent villas with private pools (wonderfully renovated Tuscan farmhouses) spread round the estate – these are under fractional private ownership (but can be rented through the hotel when available).

Astounding pool hanging over the slope - 4-bedroom villa


4-bedroom villa about 10 mins drive from the hotel – one of 14
En suite Lounge for the masterbedroom


Villa bedroom…. Very Tuscan

Facilities

Two restaurants, infinity pool. The spa opens in September – but the gym was already open – a serious gym with aircon to defeat the heat.

Activities planned show they are definitely not going to be left behind. Include all the Tuscan musts. Grape harvesting. Olive oil harvesting. Truffle hunting. Cooking courses. Mountain biking. Hunting.



How to get to Castello di Casole

The usual route to Castello is a transfer from Florence International Airport (1 hour) or you can take a hire car – there is loads of free parking.

We flew to Rome and took a hire car up the A1 to Chiusi and then over to Castiglion del Bosco and on to Castello di Casole. We drove over fabulous Val d’Orcia via wonderful medieval towns atop tall hills and newly harvested golden wheatfields, cypresses, woodlands. Driving straight from Rome Fiumicino Airport it could take anything from 2 hr 30 min to 4 hours.



From Castello you are well poised to visit cultural wonders like San Gimignano (40 mins) and Siena (40 mins).  And you are just 5 -10 minutes drive from Casole d'Elsa with its choice of trattorias and restaurants, quaint streets and castle.


Some of the 14 stone towers and the Duomo of San Gimignano

Simple delicious Tuscan fare and loyal local customers - Il Porrina Casole d'Elsa


Built 998, Transformed to Villa Borghese 1811, Restored 2012.

Background

The owners of the Castello di Casole estate are Timbers Resorts (USA) who specialize in fractional villa sales at boutique resorts in the USA, Caribbean and elsewhere, with a strong philosophy of authenticity rooted in the destination. Before completing renovations of the castle and launching Hotel Castello di Casole, the resort had already marketed villas spread far and wide around the estate on a deed of fractional ownership usually one tenth or one twelfth ownership. These are put in the pool for renting when not occupied but judging by the haunting Tuscan charm of the 4-bedroom villa we saw they will be in such demand that one would be plain lucky to get a week’s rental for 8 to 10 people for 4200 euro/villa/week. The villa had perfect rustic décor, and infinity pool hanging out over a clifftop with stunning views, surrounded by vineyards, and endless living rooms. All hotel facilities included in the rate.

Castello di Casole has 14 restored villas, 14 more to restore or create in Tuscan style.

The owner’s wife was a major contributor to the design and décor. Castello di Casole’s design also involved an American interior designer J Banks of South Carolina.


Note: Informal blog images by Select Collection & PO Broddeson


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