• Change
MENU
Based on 10095 reviews on Trustpilot
CALL US
020·7962·9933
x
Classic Tuscany

Towering Tuscany

Take me back to ravishing Tuscany - it's my dream destination, says Mark Palmer

Here's a game to play on the plane. You have one last holiday and it's for a month. It won't cost you a thing but you have to go somewhere you've been before. That honeymoon hotel in Sri Lanka might loom large, perhaps the beach resort in Jamaica would be perfect, or the heavenly spot in the Maldives could do the trick.

My wife and I play the game on the way home from Tuscany - and are hard-pressed to think beyond the place we've just left. We stayed at the Castello di Casole hotel, a ravishing hill-top converted castle within striking distance of Siena, San Gimignano and Florence. In other words, culture of the highest order on your doorstep, where going nowhere at all is also a tantalising option.

We're talking Tuscany Classico: lush undulating countryside, a patchwork of greens, ochres and violets broken up by thick hedges and narrow tracks lined with immaculate cypress trees.


With far-reaching views of the beautiful Tuscan landscape, Castello di Casole is a dream location

Many of the tracks you can see from the castle's terrace - with its fabulous infinity swimming pool and huge terracotta pots laden with olive trees - lead to villas that are part of the hotel's 4,200-acre estate, now owned and run by Belmond.

An American firm acquired it in 2005 and set about a massive restoration.

There are 41 suites (plus a two-storey penthouse) in the main building and dotted about what amounts to a private hamlet, with its own church and crypt built by the Bargagli family in the 19th century. The spa is in the granary, with treatment rooms in the former cellars. At one time, the castle was owned by Italian director Luchino Visconti (Death In Venice). Perhaps he, like us, spent hours staring into the distance - front row seats in the Ritzy Naturale.

It's truly special at night, when the main courtyard becomes a village square, complete with fountain, stone benches and al fresco dining. Children play hide and seek while their parents pile plates with some of the best cooking in the region.


Typical narrow street in the sleepy town of Casole d'Elsa


What you forget about Tuscany is that the Etruscans were here long before the Romans. Hence the exquisite hilltop towns that once were fortresses designed to repel outsiders and are now communities keen to welcome visitors armed with euros.

On our second night, we ask the concierge to book us dinner somewhere cheap and cheerful nearby. He chooses Osteria del Borgo in the tiny village of Mensano, which, as it happens, we could see from our room.

Slow-cooked wild boar is the speciality here, but it's the sort of restaurant where you let the waiter (in this case the brother of the chef) decide what you should eat. A triumph.


Illuminated towers of San Gimignano


We visited the dramatic hilltop town of San Gimignano, with its skyline of medieval towers, including the stone Torre Grossa and the 12th century Duomo di San Gimignano with famous frescoes by Ghirlandaio. But be warned, the walled town is one of Tuscany's biggest draws and it can get extremely busy - it's well worth a visit but try to avoid peak times. The priority of those medieval town planners wasn't car parking spaces.

We enjoyed a venture to beautiful Arezzo, where on the first Sunday of the month, the town centre becomes one huge antiques market. We buy a heavy marble font that raises eyebrows as we check in for the flight home at Pisa airport.


Medieval pageantry dominates the town of Siena in the run up to the annual Palio


We also make the pilgrimage to Siena, where, because it is a few weeks before the annual Palio (the bareback horse race around the plaza), medieval pageantry is brewing nicely, including a hostile-looking marching band that drums its way through the narrow streets carrying heavy flags.

Most of all, we love sleepy Casole d'Elsa, which you can also see from the hotel. It has a butcher and grocer - and manages a perfect balance between visitors and full-time residents.

What strikes us about Tuscany in peak season is how if you avoid the superstar towns, there's space for everyone and, with fierce planning laws governing development, it's remarkably unspoilt. 



First published in the Daily Mail - March 2020

More articles below...

For more inspiration, read what travel writers have to say...

The fabulous new Montenegro

A new-found clamour for glamour awaited Jeff Mills in this chic little Balkan country
00:30
A new-found clamour for glamour awaited Jeff Mills in this chic little Balkan country

Highlife in Cannes

Film producer Frank Mannion tells you how to live like a star here
00:30
Film producer Frank Mannion tells you how to live like a star here

Loving Lyon

Giles Milton revels in the culinary capital of France
00:30
Giles Milton revels in the culinary capital of France

Good Morning Crete!

Charlotte Hawkins recharges her batteries on the Greek island
00:30
Charlotte Hawkins recharges her batteries on the Greek island

Magnificent Madeira

There’s a reason the capital is called Fun-chal, says Louise Thomas
00:30
There’s a reason the capital is called Fun-chal, says Louise Thomas

Luxury afloat

On a super-yacht, Stephen Cole proves big isn't always best
00:30
On a super-yacht, Stephen Cole proves big isn't always best

Greek cliff-hanger

Louise Saunders discovers an iconic hotel carved into the volcanic cliff face
00:30
Louise Saunders discovers an iconic hotel carved into the volcanic cliff face

Milan glamour

Deirdre Fernand explores this treasure-house of culture
00:30
Deirdre Fernand explores this treasure-house of culture

Florence in a flash

Italy's famous art capital wows with culture galore and delicious food
00:30
Italy's famous art capital wows with culture galore and delicious food

I just adore a parador

From magnificent castles to luxurious converted convents, Dave Balow takes a tour
00:30
From magnificent castles to luxurious converted convents, Dave Balow takes a tour

Turkish delight

Yoga enthusiast or not, you'll love this oasis of luxury, says Sofia Zagzoule
00:30
Yoga enthusiast or not, you'll love this oasis of luxury, says Sofia Zagzoule

The Durrells' Corfu

Read Thomas W. Hodgkinson's guide to their enchanting isle
00:30
Read Thomas W. Hodgkinson's guide to their enchanting isle

Break for Rome

David Dillon and his sons discover the Italian capital
00:30
David Dillon and his sons discover the Italian capital

San Sebastian

A feast for the eyes and the tastebuds, as Martin Symington discovered
00:30
A feast for the eyes and the tastebuds, as Martin Symington discovered

The Marbella Club

The Spanish resort is still full of panache, as Mark Palmer discovered
00:30
The Spanish resort is still full of panache, as Mark Palmer discovered

Warm up in Iceland

Sky News presenter Kay Burley luxuriates in a steaming lagoon and marvels at the Northern Lights
00:30
Sky News presenter Kay Burley luxuriates in a steaming lagoon and marvels at the Northern Lights

Kefalonia's hue

Martin Ogden makes his very own Odyssey to the idyllic haven
00:30
Martin Ogden makes his very own Odyssey to the idyllic haven

Who couldn't love Lisbon?

Caroline McGuire gives you the lowdown on this perfect city break
00:30
Caroline McGuire gives you the lowdown on this perfect city break

Falling for Formentera

Ibiza's neighbour - but quiet and chic, as Mark Palmer discovered
00:30
Ibiza's neighbour - but quiet and chic, as Mark Palmer discovered

The heroic island

Miranda Seymour reveals why fans of the magical holiday spot of Malta return every year
00:30
Miranda Seymour reveals why fans of the magical holiday spot of Malta return every year

Madeira madness

Taking free-kicks in Madeira with Cristiano Ronaldo
00:30
Taking free-kicks in Madeira with Cristiano Ronaldo

Dining in Palma

Sarah Gilbert savours the delights of Palma on a plate
00:30
Sarah Gilbert savours the delights of Palma on a plate

Seductive Sardinia

Why Sardinia was a dream worth waiting for, says Lisa Brady
00:30
Why Sardinia was a dream worth waiting for, says Lisa Brady

Vibrant Valencia

Is this cultural treasure house Spain's finest seaside city? Michael Hodges gives his verdict...
00:30
Is this cultural treasure house Spain's finest seaside city? Michael Hodges gives his verdict...

Croatia's Islands

Frederick Tratt explores the unspoilt gems off Croatia's fabulous coastline
00:30
Frederick Tratt explores the unspoilt gems off Croatia's fabulous coastline

Croatia's Tuscany

Unspoilt Istria does a great impression of rural Italy, writes Jane Horrocks
00:30
Unspoilt Istria does a great impression of rural Italy, writes Jane Horrocks

Soulful Mallorca

Kate Amey reports from the luxurious Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel and Spa
00:30
Kate Amey reports from the luxurious Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel and Spa

My Mykonos adventure

Denise van Outen's dream of exploring a Greek island comes true
00:30
Denise van Outen's dream of exploring a Greek island comes true

Not quite what you're looking for?
We can easily customise an offer to suit your exact requirements

x