I am losing count of the number of times I’ve attempted to write something about Banfi and failed utterly. The pieces I’ve had a stab at have either become absurdly floral in language with four or five adjectives in quick succession, or too dry, neglecting to paint the picture Banfi so thoroughly deserves.
This is my final attempt, and I am going to simply tell it as it was without any linguistic gimmickry. I’ll start on the day before I saw Banfi for the first time. I was in Emilia-Romagna with my husband having just attended a wedding. It was hellishly hot, the sun beating heat into our very bones. I had my heart set on seeing Tuscany, so we bundled into a sweltering rental car and drove quickly with the windows down in the hope that the rush of warm air would provide some relief.
Reading maps of unfamiliar roads while careening down a motorway isn’t perhaps the best way to go about navigating a foreign country but, in the absence of a sat nav, I did just that. I don’t suppose you’ll be surprised to hear that somewhere outside of Siena I misread the map and we subsequently ended up on a causeway heading for a peninsula called Monte Argentario.
On a visual level Monte Argentario seemed to reward us for our long commute: the azure sea stretched out before us, a waterfront lined with shops reminiscent of childhood resorts sold inflated dolphins and lilos, ice creams and postcards. Light from the late afternoon sun danced off the water and sent showers of reflective diamonds across the fronts of the pastel houses.
I started to goad my husband, reminding his newly-delighted face that the error he’d spent a good hour taunting me about had turned out to be a triumph: here we were, having discovered a secret little spot in Italy. Only it wasn’t that secret. The Tuscans had found it first and every beautiful little villa and hotel was crammed to the rafters with Italians cooling their heels in the late afternoon sun.
Desperate for a shower and some rest, we stopped at a roadside motel and begged them to accommodate us. We ought to have been more discerning; from the lumpy pillows that were redolent with the scent of others, to the bathroom that doubled as a wet room (which filled with water but took a good ten hours to drain), we couldn’t wait to leave. After a breakfast consisting of a croissant in a cellophane wrapper, it was back to the car to return to Siena. Or Florence. Anywhere but busy, baking Monte Argentario.
At this unpromising moment in our adventures my phone rang. A tentative request I’d made before leaving for Italy, I had all but forgotten that I’d asked whether Castello Banfi il Borgo may have any unbooked rooms. It turns out they did. That very night. Elation doesn’t adequately describe the mood with which we embarked on the journey back into the heart of Tuscany. Once on the right motorway (the route was checked several times by my wary and weary husband), I set about doing a little internet research into Banfi.
What I found projected a sort of holiday phantasmagoria into my mind’s eye: a vineyard, l’enoteca, balsamico, castle, museum and swimming pool all nestled atop a hill in the Tuscan countryside. My hopes, they were very high.
As we climbed the road, I caught my first glimpse of the proud medieval castle at the heart of Banfi and a shiver of anticipation coursed through me. We were greeted at the gates and ushered into the reception where a cool glass of the local sparkling wine was thrust into our appreciative hands.
Once ensconced in our suite, we did the rounds – the usual gasping look-at-this-bathroom/bedroom/ancient chair spiel. This time, it went on for a full fifteen minutes, which is how long it took to excitedly whizz around the sizeable suite.
It started in the sitting room. As we entered, the air-con that had been cooling the room switched off automatically so that the room was always chilled, never chilly. Small touch, you may think, but it is symptomatic of the level of thought that has gone into Banfi.
The ancient stone hamlet which has been converted into nine rooms and five suites was built in the 1700s contiguous to Castello di Poggio aloe Mura and was designed to serve as the dwelling of farmers who worked for the landowners. As a result, the rooms remain delightfully and indelibly old-school, despite being updated to include mod cons and luxuries.
Waiting on a side table in the sitting room were three mini bottles of regional wine and grapes. Charged with a glass, I perused the bookcase – it turned out to be a secret alcove for a large screen tv – again, Banfi is totally up to speed on technology but stoically refuses to let this get in the way of style. The writing desk (old, solid, beautiful) looked out over the breathtaking Brunello vineyards.
In the bathroom, I squealed about: a huge rain shower that could’ve easily accommodated my entire family containing cosmetics made from the estate’s Sangiovese grapes, a terry cloth sofa positioned next to a window with a serious view and the double sink bedecked in enormous white towels.
The bedroom offered an equally impressive view, along with a four-poster bed surrounded by fabrics chosen by interior designer Federico Forquet and many a fresh local flower. So: luxury. Serious luxury while still managing to keep the character of the property.
Thoroughly pleased, I stepped out onto the cobbled paths and navigated my way to the swimming pool. Overlooking Val d’Orcia, an afternoon relaxing here requires no preparation or forethought from visitors: flip-flops, water and towels are all dotted around in abundance. I immediately plopped myself down in the shade under an accommodating tree. Were it not for my need to cool down in the pool, I might’ve just as easily settled on a bench in the singularly peaceful cloister garden.
Cooled and refreshed, it was time to get ready for dinner at the onsite restaurant La Taverna. Prior to eating, we headed over to the cocktail lounge for an exquisite hour spent watching the sun go down over the Tuscan hills to the strains of jazz with, you’ve guessed it, a glass of the estate’s Brunello (which is par for the course at Banfi – the wine is uncorked and left out for visitors between the hours of 5:30 and 8pm).
I rather expected the restaurant to be a little stuffy. It was anything but. A large room situated beneath vaulted arches of the former barrel cellars of the castle, the menu is fresh, locally-sourced and mouthwatering. While I opted for two-courses, my husband decided on the tasting menu. Once again, Banfi’s trademark attentiveness emerged; while my husband ate his second course, the kitchen made me some mini handmade vegetarian pasta so that I wouldn’t suffer from food envy.
The next morning after a breakfast in the courtyard, I took a look around the castle museum, l’enoteca and balsamic, making purchases as I went. My suitcase weighed down with wine and heart with sadness, we descended the road that leads back to Tuscany with only a recommendation from the manager Juan of a restaurant in Florence to buoy our spirits. And while we didn’t quite top Banfi during the rest of our stay in Italy, I’m pleased to report that no more croissants in cellophane besmirched our holiday.