Family-run Tuscan hilltop castle hotel Castello di Vicarello is entering a new era, with the second generation at the helm and ongoing improvements to update facilities. The latest additions include two new suites: the expansive, art-filled Suite Torre (formerly the owners’ private apartment) in the castle's main tower, and the secluded Spa Suite, set apart from the rest further down the hillside.
Formerly a spa facility for all guests, the low-slung wooden cabin has now been turned into a private one-bedroom suite, designed to blend in with the surrounding countryside. ‘Cabin’ is perhaps a misnomer, as it’s light, bright and roomy, offering lateral living with epic, uninterrupted views of the vineyard-dotted valley from every floor-to-ceiling window.
The spa area comprises a wooden sauna, steam room and rainfall shower, with two visually arresting vintage iron rocking chairs. Here, guests will find a coffee machine, kettle and mini bar (soft drinks are included in the room rate).
Next door is a minimally furnished bedroom, complete with king-sized bed with velvet headboard (careful not to get wet hair on it, we were told, so a post-shower espresso in bed is a no-no); and beyond that a dressing room with small bathroom.
A decked terrace complete with outdoor hot tub and a pair of sun loungers is where guests will want to spend most of the day: from early-morning yoga (mats are found inside), to afternoon sun bathing (the hot tub feels refreshingly cool in the midday sun) and evening aperitivo, watching swifts dance across the pinkening sky. The setting is gobsmackingly beautiful and serene, with not another soul in sight.
What to expect
On check in, guests can enjoy a welcome drink on the castle’s roof terrace - the views are even more outstanding from this hilltop vantage point - while luggage is taken to the Spa Suite, which is set further down the hillside via a rugged, uneven path. Wear flats.
In contrast to the maximalist, Tuscany-meets-Indonesia aesthetic of the rest of the hotel, the Spa Suite is unexpectedly modern and minimalist. Adorned with a few pieces of vintage furniture, the Scandi-style wood structure makes for a tranquil backdrop that complements the bucolic surroundings. It feels blissfully private and would make the ideal honeymoon bolthole.
There’s no in-suite treatment bed, but spa treatments can be arranged indoors or on the terrace, which isn’t overlooked. The hotel’s massage and beauty therapists are trained in Ayurvedic techniques and use organic oils infused with ingredients grown in the castle’s grounds. Private yoga and meditation classes can be arranged, too, with professional instructors able to tailor classes to any level. A pre-breakfast yoga session on the terrace is an energising way to start the day.
Unfortunately, attention-to-detail doesn’t quite match expectations: bathrobes hung on hooks on the outside of the bathroom door, while there was nowhere inside to hang a towel. Only two full-sized towels were provided in the entire suite, meaning a post-hot tub dash through bedroom and dressing room to retrieve last night’s (which were still wet). Automatic outdoor lighting would be a bonus come night-time (although room keys are, handily, equipped with miniature torches).
Bought as a ruin in the 1970s by Carlo and Aurora Baccheschi Berti, the 12th-century castle was lovingly restored and served as their family home before opening as a boutique hotel in 2003. Now run by one of their three sons, it retains that family feeling: the welcoming committee includes resident dog, Uva, and family photographs are framed throughout the library and living areas.
Cooking classes are held in the country-style kitchen, and there are plenty of cosy nooks indoors for cooler days. The hub of the castle is the ludicrously inviting, flagstone courtyard, where a breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt and granola, homemade cake, local meat and fresh ricotta is served.
Nine suites are, like the common areas, furnished with an eclectic and covetable array of vintage Indonesian and Asian furniture, a result of the owners’ careers as fashion designer and furniture dealer in Bali. Persian rugs, antique silverware and taxidermy sit alongside contemporary art, designer lighting and stylish velvet sofas. It’s a unique aesthetic that’s easy to love, and emphasises the feeling of being in a private home.
The well-connected owners can arrange a number of special experiences for guests: from hiking and biking in the hills to leather-making classes, truffle hunting or helping out with the grape and olive harvests in late summer. Guests not staying in the spa suite can still benefit from treatments in-room, or in a quiet spot in the fragrant gardens.
Two swimming pools mean that even when the hotel is full, guests will find a secluded spot from which to order drinks and snacks via the hotel’s Whatsapp concierge service. An infinity pool, complete with massage gazebo, shares the same dramatic vista as the Spa Suite, while a second pool overlooks the olive grove whose centuries-old trees provide the estate’s own olive oil.
The family make their own wine, too, which can be enjoyed during a wine-tasting session amid the vineyards, or over dinner. A more formal affair than al-fresco lunches of salads and pasta, the evening menu changes daily, with dishes using vegetables grown on the estate alongside locally sourced meat and fish.
The menu is set, although dietary requirements are catered for if flagged in advance. We discovered, on further questioning, that we could also order from the lunch menu - although the set dinner prices mean the same dishes could cost almost twice as much in the evening.
While the castello’s clientele may not flinch at the prices, the lack of choice means what’s served must be superb. On one evening, the all-vegetarian menu included an aubergine parmigiana main course that comprised two biscuit-sized slices of aubergine with a mere hint of tomato and mozzarella. Given the hotel’s room rate and fine-dining aspirations, it was hard not to feel short-changed.
The view. Waking up and opening the Spa Suite’s remote-control blinds, watching the sun stream over the valley from the comfort of bed feels like winning the hotel suite jackpot.
Not so keen
Certain minor pitfalls - such as the room-temperature beers in the poolside drinks fridge - can be brushed over as part of the hotel’s ‘rustic charm’, but other idiosyncrasies are more concerning.
On returning to the suite after breakfast we found a colony of ants on a determined mission to devour the previous night’s room-service leftovers. And the antagonistic response of the chef when we voiced disappointment with our evening meal left a bad taste in more ways than one.
The castle’s honey-hued walls are a welcome sight at the end of the long, partially unpaved road that snakes to it from the village of Poggi del Sasso - remoteness is a given, in exchange for those sweeping vistas. In Tuscany’s Grosseto province, it’s an hour’s drive to the coast and in the middle of wine country: Montalcino is 45 minutes away, while Siena can be reached in a little over an hour. The closest airports are Florence and Pisa, both two hours’ drive away.
The Spa Suite is priced from €1,160 (approx. £1,020) per night based on two guests, including breakfast.
Via Vicarello, 1, 58044 Poggi del Sasso GR, Italy; castellodivicarello.com
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