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Tuscany with Sarah Elbert

Hotel Castello di Casole

Courtesy of Hotel Castello di Casole

A certain phrase repeated itself like a mantra on a recent trip to Tuscany. No matter what I was doing—hiking from our “farmhouse” up to the tiny village of Mensano, sipping prosecco from the terrace overlooking rows of grapevines, enjoying the view from an infinity-edged pool—in my mind, it was all taking place “under the Tuscan sun.” A cliché, I know, prompted by the movie of the same name. But it simply could not be stopped.

       
Grapes on the vine. Photo courtesy of Hotel Castello di Casole.        

I had spent time in Rome and Florence, but until this trip had never journeyed to the countryside outside of Siena. Tuscany was exactly what I had expected—except, somehow, better. Our home base was one of 28 whole- and fractional-ownership farmhouses that had been or are in the process of being lovingly rebuilt by Timbers Resorts. If you aren’t lucky enough to know someone who owns a (pricey) share in one of these homes, you’re in luck, because the Timbers’ Hotel Castello di Casole boutique hotel opens July 1.

The hotel, built on the ruins of a 10th-century castle, is surrounded by a protected nature sanctuary, which adds to the air of pampered solitude (never mind the occasional sports car gunning it up a cypress-lined hill). The grounds and 41 suites are lovely, incorporating reclaimed materials and very modern amenities, and there’s plenty to do at the hotel, from a spa and bocce courts to Bar Visconti, named after the Italian film director who lived at the property in the 1960s.

Of course, the wonderful thing about being located so close to Siena and Florence is that a day trip to either city is easy—as are bike rides through the countryside and short trips to local villages and wineries (a charming option is the Winery Principe Corsini in Greve). While Florence is a cosmopolitan city known for its haute couture and fine leather and paper artisans, Siena has its own medieval charm, with cafés and shops wrapped around Piazza del Campo, the site of the annual Palio horseraces.

       
Photo by Sarah Elbert.        

Eating is of course a priority wherever you are in Italy—and I suggest you embrace your inner carbavore. After wandering through Siena’s narrow, flag-festooned streets, try the malfatti all’Osteria (spinach and ricotta gnocchi in tomato sauce) at Osteria Le Logge, a classic trattoria in a former grocer’s shop. In Florence, explore the galleries of the Uffizi before lunching at one of the intimate cafés lining the Arno River. Follow up with an afternoon of sightseeing and shopping (in addition to Prada, Ferragamo, et al., locals suggest Giulio Giannini & Figlio for fine paper goods, Romano Firenze for stylish shoes and Adele Fado for on-trend fashions from this edgy local designer) and finish the day off with pigeon cooked three ways at Ora d’Aria, a stylish, contemporary restaurant that gives classic Tuscan fare a modern spin.

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