Those of you who follow me on facebook/twitter/instagram can’t have missed the panoply of scenic photos I uploaded during my week in Italy. Ambitious in the extreme, I took the plum excuse of an old friends’ wedding in Bologna to spend an extra five days tearing around Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna in an attempt to see (and eat) as much as I possibly could. I was, naturally, armed with a notebook and pen. Here’s what made an impression:
A former Franciscan Monastery, the Monte del Re was the site of the wedding. For those of you not familiar with Mr. and Mrs. Gates, they care enormously about the quality of food. You can therefore be assured that a restaurant they’d entrust with their wedding breakfast is unassailable. Food aside, there’s the pool to luxuriate by and a short walk to Dozza to see some of the beautifully painted walls of the village before indulging in yet another bowl of pasta…
Oenophiles, delight. Located inside the Sforza Castle in Dozza, this is a beautiful place for a wine tasting. Add to that the thousand plus varieties of wine considered the best in the region by qualified tasters (that you can take home for a fraction of the price they’d sell for in England), and you have yourself an unmissable experience. Purchases from this place comprised the main bulk of my suitcase’s weight on returning to England and my house has since, rather predictably, been a very popular spot amongst friends in need of some decent tipple.
A short walk to the centre of Siena and Piazza del Campo, this hotel is perfectly placed if you intend on soaking up the sights of the city. Clean and, in places, stylish, there is nothing wrong with this hotel per se, but it is devoid of character in a city so rich with it. Stay for a night, but not any longer.
I always visit churches and cemeteries in a city if possible and this Basilica, being right on the doorstep of our hotel, afforded me a wonderful opportunity to have a little snoop. I was transfixed by the relics of St. Catherine (her head and thumb, which brought out a somewhat ghoulish fascination in me) housed in the St. Catherine Chapel.
A wrong turn on the road to Lake Bolsena lead to a hastily rehashed route and Talamone, a little Tuscan town nestled on the West coast of Italy, seemed a good prospect. Next to the Maremma Natural Park, Talamone is scenic and rustic as expected but the locals have unfortunately not made the most of the beauty of the place and we struggled to find a restaurant with a view of the coast. Should you fancy a swim during a drive around Tuscany, however, head to the rocky beach here – the water was crystal clear.
A promontory that was formerly an island, Monte Argentario is now accessible from the mainland via the two ‘tomboli’ (stretches of land) of Gianella and Feniglia. August is not the time to visit should you want some peace and quiet – this is seemingly where most of Italy come on holiday and the streets were flooded with domestic tourists in the know. We headed to Porto Santo Stefano for a bite to eat and were presented with an impressive array of yachts and some great outdoor restaurants from which to spy on their owners.
Castello Banfi il Borgo is exceptional in all respects. From the luxuriously-appointed 14 rooms dotted around the castle to the focus on food and wine, this hotel hasn’t missed a trick (and I shall of course soon be posting a longer piece with further details on this gem).
Though we only stopped here on passing through for an aperitif, I felt it merited a mention on account of the traditionally Italian rituals that seemed to still prevail in the area. The local women had congregated outside to gossip while carrying their washing, the men carried large flasks of water and wine around by hand and the abiding atmosphere was extremely old school, which made for quite a fascinating hour while I sipped at a local wine.
This hotel is an example of perfect location, imperfect hotel. Only a few minutes from the Duomo and the gallery of statues in Loggia dei Lanzi, this place is let down by the general lack of maintenance and attention to detail. It was slightly redeemed in my eyes by the spectacular view from the rooftop.
Recommended by the manager of Castello Banfi il Borgo, we expected this place to deliver some fairly exceptional grub. Exceptional it was. The pecorino studded onions were a particular highlight. Well worth a visit when in Florence.