In Italy’s financial crisis, it is entirely possible to buy entire villages and islands to own a piece of Italy all your own. German travel giant TUI has done just that, scooping up the rural Tuscan village of Tenuta di Castelfalfi. Into what was once a ghost town in a state of decline, TUI has breathed life once again by turning it into a Tuscan resort: Toscana Resort Castelfalfi.
The word “resort” may sound a little off-putting, but if an authentic Tuscan holiday is what you seek for your next visit to Italy, Castelfalfi is truly the place to go. Why stay in a hotel when you can call an entire 800-year old medieval village home during your holiday? And Castelfalfi has it all, from Tuscan cooking classes to the chance to paint the rolling olive groves with a local artist. I felt like I was in my own rendition of Under the Tuscan Sun.
Castelfalfi has one three-star hotel, which is located in the charming old tobacco factory. I loved the original beams and was more than comfortable in the simple yet stylish rooms with modern conveniences like rain showers, Wi-Fi, and satellite TV. Though I think it actually deserves another star, to qualify as a four-star hotel in Europe it must also have a restaurant in the hotel. A 120-room five-star hotel is also set to open in Castelfalfi in 2016.
Larger groups or families can also rent out the luxury Tuscan farmhouses on site, each uniquely decorated and several with their own private swimming pools. There is even a rustic hunters’ farmhouse perfectly situated for hunting in the forests surrounding Castelfalfi.
Located in the golden triangle of Italy between Florence, Pisa and Siena, Castelfalfi is close enough to Italy’s famous Tuscan towns that you can easily take a variety of day trips—that is, if you can pull yourself away from the variety of activities you can do right in the village.
Though I’ve lived in Italy for six years now, I had my first opportunity to take an Italian cooking class at Castelfalfi’s Rosso Toscano Cooking School. Alongside Chef Michele Rinaldi, who earned a Michelin star for his restaurant in Terme di Saturnia, I learned to make gnocchi from scratch with a delicious beef and mushroom sauce. Of course, I was rewarded for all my hard work chopping and dicing when the very gnocchi I prepared was served on the castle terrace overlooking the rolling Tuscan hills.
I also loved horseback riding through the vineyards, and even took a pottery-making class with a local artist living in the village. After all that hard work cooking and making pottery, a visit to the brand new spa for a massage was just the ticket for complete relaxation. There are also four pools in the complex perfect for lounging around and cooling off in.
At Castelfalfi, there’s also an 18-hole golf course, cycling, wine and olive oil tastings, painting classes, and more. You might even be able to spot Giga, the resident wild boar, while out hiking in the nature reserve. Or stroll through the borgo, which is lined with shops from the local artisans living right in the village. You’ll find everything from local salamis and cheeses to high quality leather shoes to olive and wine wood. While not all the shops accept credit cards (yet), there is an ATM conveniently located in the hotel.
As you might imagine with a Michelin-starred chef at the helm of the castle’s La Rocca di Castelfalfi restaurant, dining is a delicious affair. Chef Rinaldi combines classical Tuscan cuisine with modern techniques. The scenic terrace offers breathtaking views of the vineyards and farmhouses, or you can dine in the castle’s rooms where authentic Tuscan-style décor makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.
For more casual dining, Il Rosmarino is a favorite. The menu offers traditional Tuscan dishes and, like traditional Italian cooking, is seasonal. I highly recommend trying any dish with wild boar, which is very typical for Tuscany.
Best of all, Castelfalfi is a very affordable luxury Tuscan holiday. Rooms in La Tabaccaia start at just €140 per night including breakfast.