If Farrow and Ball were to create a paint called, ’ Tuscan Hillside’ (they probably have) then the sleepy Val di Chiana is positively splashed in it. Hills are swathed in velvety olive groves, crisp gravel driveways are flanked by rows of erudite cypress and pistachio-hued hilltops roll away into a misty infinity.
As I recline by the pool, spritz in hand at Villa Fontelunga, I read in the welcome pack, that this peaceful valley was once the site of a bloody and formidable battle! On 4th September 1260, a disagreement (to put it mildly) took place between the feuding provinces of Siena and Florence in what became known as the bloodiest day of the Italian Middle Ages. And whilst I can barely muster the energy to turn the pages of my novel on this sweltering afternoon, let alone fight for my life… it’s worth noting that the geography of this (now serene) region has been shaped by conflict. The castellos, farmland and fortified hill towns owe their existence to Tuscany’s tumultuous past. For it is not just Mother Nature who’s put a shift in here, but mankind.
Flash forward a casual 900 years and further changes are afoot in this quiet corner of the valley. Villa Fontelunga was purchased and reimagined in 1999 by Anglo-Italian couple Philip Robinson and Paolo Kastelec, who met here in West London whilst Paolo was working in finance. Philip, an architect, set about redesigning the villa in order to turn her into a fully functioning eight room boutique hotel. The renovations spanned several years and included the lowering of the whole ground floor, the removal of several ancient walls and the transplantation of nearly one hundred olive trees. The couple then acquired the adjacent agricultural property that would later become Borgo 69 and with the support of investors, transformed the derelict dwelling into twelve luxury self-catering villas and a restaurant, bar and shop.
Upon meeting Philip and Paolo, it’s instantly apparent that they’re a team made up of complimentary components. The extent of the work carried out here and ease of service is proof of their stupendous enthusiasm for design and generosity of spirit. Because they’re not just behind the scenes, Paolo manages both properties… and the couple, who live onsite, make a point of welcoming their guests like old friends.
The rooms are amply proportioned, high ceilinged and each is been named after a precious stone indigenous to the area. We stay in Amethyst, a plaster pink suite with baby blue shutters that open up onto the magnificent valley. Lovingly restored ornate cornicing and harlequin patterned tiles mingle with playful modern touches and kooky oil paintings. The soft furnishings are equally opulent and the bathroom is simple, but clean with impossibly fluffy white towels.
Fresh fruit, pastries and barista style coffees are served on the terrace each morning. And if, like me, you’re totally intolerable until you’ve consumed caffeine, you’ll be pleased to know you can enjoy your breakfast in a deck chair in the garden.
The villa does not have its own restaurant, but once a week, Chef Elena cooks a special dinner on the terrace for Fontelunga’s guests. Borgo 69’s restaurant, Emporio di Ines is a mere 800m away and serves excellent chichetti (substantial small plates) and local wines. The arancini and the cod tartare are not to be missed.
Out and About
If you’re feeling energetic, the local towns of Arezzo, Cortona and Siena will keep you more than entertained. We visit Arezzo during the opening ceremony of their ‘Giostra de Saracino’ – a jousting tournament- and are delighted (if a little alarmed) to be greeted by a procession of mounted knights, marching drummers and medeval fanfare. Cortona is smaller and busier in peak season due to the popularity of Frances Mayes’ novel ‘Under the Tuscan Sun.’ Parking is tricky, but there are some interesting restaurants and delightful squares in which to have an espresso. For those who crave excitement, the region’s capital Florence is an hour’s drive away and is home to some artworks you may have heard of such as; ‘Caravaggio’s Medusa’, ‘Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus’ and ‘Michelangelo’s David’.
For those with energy to spare, there’s a tennis court and a braying donkey to visit. If you’re looking to cool off and soak in the scenery… Fontelunga’s pool, set within the historic formal garden, is the perfect place to unwind. Pull up a lounger and doze off amidst the lavender until it’s time for a spritz on the terrace.
In a Nutshell
What Paolo and Philip have created in here is an authentic Tuscan experience that feels like home. The historic property is well-maintained and rich in patina.. it manages to feel at once glamorous and relaxed. Spending time here is a bit like visiting a well-to-do Italian relative. After a few days at the villa, you may even start to think of Philip, Paolo and their ever-present brood of tiny pooches like old friends or family. It’s difficult to pinpoint the magic of this place, perhaps because … it’s not magic that has shaped Villa Fontelunga, but the hard work, creativity and ingenuity of its people.
A stay at Fontelunga starts from £195.00