By Peter Ellegard
Better known for its mass-market beach holidays, Anglo-German travel giant TUI has breathed life back into an abandoned medieval village in the heart of Tuscany’s hilly countryside, transforming it into a unique resort.
Like many rural communities across Italy, Castelfalfi’s population of tenant farmers moved out and headed to cities in search of better opportunities in the decades following World War II.
Occupying a glorious hilltop location close to Pisa, Siena and Florence, Castelfalfi boasts an 8th century castle that was converted into a palatial villa and was a holiday bolthole for Florence’s famous Medici family at one point. It also has a Rennaissance-era 15th century church, almost 50 village apartments and several farmhouses – all set amidst 2,700 acres of rolling landscape incorporating vineyards, olive groves, lakes, and a wildlife reserve where wild boars run free. I meet two orphaned wild boars that have been adopted by the resort – huge adult male Ghigo and cute little piglet Franca – on a tour of the estate.
When TUI bought Castelfalfi in 2007 it was a ghost village that also included a run-down golf course and a three-star hotel from a previous, failed attempt at rejuvenating it as a leisure destination.
Today after a €200 million investment, luxurious elegance prevails, underlined by the five-star Il Castalfalfi hotel, opened in 2017 as the flagship hotel of the top-of-the-range TUI Blue Selection brand and also a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ LVX Collection.
Il Castelfalfi features 120 rooms and suites and was designed with sustainability at the fore, using Tuscan wood and stone throughout.
My room is the standard Classic. It is spacious, light and stylish, with windows looking out over the Tuscan hills. A bottle of one of Castlefalfi’s five red wines is set on a table as a welcome gift.
Three other categories – Deluxe, Executive and Suite – each offer increasingly more space.
The 31-room La Tabaccaia hotel, now a four-star property, is housed in a restored, historic tobacco warehouse.
Restaurants and bar
Locally-sourced produce and organic fruit and vegetables are the order of the day at Castelfalfi. La Vie del Sale, in the main hotel, is a fine-dining venue serving up panoramic views with al fresco tables. La Rocca di Castelfalfi, in the restored castle, offers fine dining and a terrace commanding stunning views.
I dine at Il Rosmarino, a traditional, informal trattoria in the village that showcases Tuscany’s cuisine heritage. I’m tempted by the thin-crust pizzas cooked in its wood-fire oven topped with shaved truffles from the estate, but plump for wild boar – and try not to think of Ghigo and Franca as I eat…
Guests can also enjoy a drink and light meal at the ultra-chic and laid-back Ecru bar, lounging on the grass amidst statues of large, reclining naked ladies while soaking in the vistas, and at the seasonally-open Giglio Blu pool bar.
Spa and wellness
The resort’s spa offers treatments made from local, organic ingredients and includes saunas, indoor and outdoor pools and an open-air cabin as well as outdoor yoga, pilates and fitness programmes.
Castelfalfi’s golf offering comprises the challenging 18-hole Mountain Course and nine-hole Lake Course, both set on the hillside below the resort village. The stylish Country Clubhouse opened in summer in a converted farmhouse and features a fine-dining restaurant with terrace and the pro shop.
Among other options are hiking, biking, electric scooter hire and horse riding in the Tuscan hills, tennis, truffle hunting, wildlife spotting, a cookery school and tasting sessions for the estate’s wines and olive oil.
Incongruous though it may seem, TUI has succeeded in turning this once-decaying ancient village into a classy, welcoming resort that you just don’t want to leave.
Toscana Resort Castelfalfi
50050 Montaione FI
T: +39 0571 892 000