The lowdown Castel Monastero, an 11th-century borgo-turned-luxury country house hotel, is in picture-postcard Tuscany. Needle-like cypress trees? Si. Own vineyard a grape pip’s throw away? Si. Unspoiled countryside as far as the eye can see? Si, si, si. How does a medieval village become a 75-room luxury hotel? With light-touch restoration coupled with just the right amount of contemporary touches so you never feel like you’re staying in a museum. Italians are the absolute masters of mixing old and new and Castel Monastero is a stylish example. The French may have coined the phrase ‘joie de vivre’ but it’s the Italians who know how to live it.
Rooms to ask for Any; they all share fixtures and fittings in common but beyond that each room is unique. Room Ambra 10 has a lovely arch between sitting room and bedroom that feels straight out of Sleeping Beauty, as does the even more romantic room Ambra 23, at the top of the castle tower. If you prefer more privacy, Castel has a villa nearby for rent so you can get all the style of a Tuscan villa rental but with daily room service.
On the menu Every meal here is a satisfying experience, from the top-notch gourmet cuisine in its Gordon Ramsay restaurant (don’t think “coals to Newcastle”: Gordo is revered round these parts) to the refined rustic cooking of its candlelit, informal restaurant La Cantina down a dizzyingly steep staircase in the castle’s former wine cellar. Foodies might like to book a cookery course: devised by Gordon and the hotel’s chef, the courses help small groups of beginners or advanced cooks recreate the hotel’s signature dishes.
The spa Castel’s spa is housed in former farm outbuildings, which provide an earthy, grounding backdrop to all the pampering. There’s a large infinity pool outside overlooking olive trees and tumbling countryside, plus a large infinity pool inside with Kniepp-inspired areas of cold, warm and hot water to stimulate the circulation. As well as a list of massages and treatments as long as your arm (using products from Urban Retreats and Dr Murad, amongst other luxe lines) the spa also has an extraordinary magnesium-rich indoor pool called Aquae Monasterii, which is so salty that you just float without effort. The holistic medic, Dr Ali (a favourite of Claudia Schiffer, Prince Charles and Morgan Freeman, who uses the spa often), runs exclusive personalised detox and fitness programmes at the spa year round: possibly the most beautiful setting ever to get in shape. Dr Ali’s detox menus are overseen by a Gordon-trained chef so losing weight here is no penance.
What to do Explore the countryside. Famously picturesque towns such as San Gimingnano and Pienza are nearby, as are the less known, but just as lovely, towns of Monteriggioni and Colle di Val d’Elsa. Do stroll along the imposing streets of wealthy old Siena, the location for the world’s oldest bank (Siena’s early masters of the universe made their fortunes from farming). And absolutely do not miss Siena’s dazzling cathedral: it’s up there with Venice’s exquisitely beautiful St Mark’s Basilica and St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Dress code Good-quality classics and basics. This is Italy, after all, where even the men dress faultlessly at all times. Think Prada, Miu Miu and Loro Piana.
When to go Any time of year is lovely but autumn and winter mean far fewer tourists, log fires, country walks in crisp, clean air, and the prospect of a truffle-scented dinner waiting for you when you get back. It’s all literally delicious.
The details Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000; coxandkings.co.uk) offers three-nights at Castel Monastero from £995 per person, b&b, including return flights to Pisa and car hire. A three-night stay over New Year costs from £990 per person in a superior room, b&b, including return flights from Heathrow with British Airways and car hire. Dinner in La Cantina is included on 30 December and a New Year’s gala dinner and New Year’s Day brunch. One Body Relax massage is also included.
By Kate O’Donnell