Have you ever been somewhere you’ve seen in photos, only to go there and find that the real-life experience isn’t what you imagined it would be? I think we’ve all had one or two of those trips; good ol’ holiday disappointment. On the other hand, have you ever arrived at a getaway destination to find that nothing – not a photo, video or even a virtual reality headset – could have prepared you for the in-person magnificence? It doesn’t happen often, so I consider myself lucky to have experienced the true meaning of splendour at my recent visit to Hotel Le Fontanelle in Tuscany.
Tuscany has always been towards the top of my family’s travel list, but the opportunity has never presented itself; for whatever reason, city breaks always seemed to take priority – you know, to give the kids some culture and all that. Now that I’ve finally crossed Tuscany off my list, I wonder why I didn’t make it happen sooner.
The wonderful thing about Hotel Le Fontanelle is it feels like the middle of nowhere, but it’s only about 20 minutes from the picturesque city of Siena, right in the heart of the Chianti region. It’s the perfect hub to explore Tuscany – take a day trip to Florence, go on a bicycle wine tour, hire Vespas and explore on scooter-back, or just keep your feet planted firmly on the grounds of the hotel (honestly, there’s probably no better place to be).
After driving through the double-gated entry and continuing up the steep incline to the hotel, the other-worldly feeling really sets in. You’re quite literally on top of the world (well, the world that you can visually see), and there are no words to describe the views. Spectacular, magnificent, breathtaking – they don’t do it justice.
When resorts have a natural amenity such as an awe-inspiring view, many times other details are left, shall we say, unchecked. For example, when a hotel has a to-die-for location, quite often you’ll find the bathrooms are slightly out of date, or the leaves haven’t been tidied up in the grounds – I mean, why worry when you have that location to impress? At Hotel Le Fontanelle, not a single, itty bitty detail has been ignored. Not a single blade of grass is out of place.
One of my first stops after arriving was a stroll around that perfectly manicured grass – there are lounge chairs dotted around the grounds, some out in the open with jaw-dropping views, others a bit more private under the shade of a tree, but all there for one purpose: to make you feel like you have not a care in the world.
The hotel’s current owner, Giuseppina Bolfo, fell in love with the building and surroundings in 1999 (then in need of total refurbishment), and spent seven years lovingly restoring it into the 5-star hotel you see today. Each of the 34 rooms has its own unique features, including gorgeous views (of course), balconies, private gardens, and Giuseppina’s choice of Tuscan fabrics to add to the welcoming feel.
Giuseppina’s goal is to make guests feel like they’re being invited into an elegant country residence, to feel right at home, and this is exactly what happened to us, even down to the personal greeting we had from Giuseppina herself. Not your typical Italian 5-star, complete with crystal chandeliers and white-gloved silver service, Hotel Le Fontanelle instead boasts traditional Tuscan décor and a come-in-and-welcome-to-the-family atmosphere.
With rooms ranging from classic doubles to sumptuous suites, there’s a space for every family. Our suite was more like a private residence than a hotel room – calming and comfortable with just the right touch of luxury (and views!), and the relaxing separate lounge area gave me that cosy, comfy feeling I get after a huge, satisfying meal at my grandmother’s house. Our private garden was perfect for the kids to get some fresh air, and for mum and dad to soak up the Tuscan sun.
Of course, Hotel le Fontanelle doesn’t overlook details, so our room had every amenity we’d ever want on our family holiday: free wi-fi, robes and slippers, a fully stocked minibar, Bvulgari vanity set, Jacuzzi tub and a 40” TV (God forbid the kids go a whole week without a screen).
Food and drink
So, let’s talk about food, my favourite subject. The hotel’s Restaurant La Colonna (named after the original stone column that was preserved as the focal point of the restaurant) serves delicious Tuscan cuisine, with seasonal menus created by chef Daniele Canella. On warm, sunny days, of which there are plenty in Tuscany, you can dine on the Belvedere Terrace, offering some of the finest views of the rolling Chianti valleys.
During our stay we enjoyed a variety of Tuscan specialties, including my favourite of the week: carrè d’agnello con radicchio, asparagi e salsa ai capperi. If you don’t speak Italian, that means baked loin of lamb with red chicory, asparagus and caper sauce. Paired with a flavoursome Chianti from a vineyard – you guessed it – right down the hill, the meal was perfection – the setting, the service, the fragrances and the flavours.
The kids didn’t need a ‘kids’ menu here – there were so many dishes that made their little mouths water, and the staff were more than happy to accommodate their slightly smaller tummies and provide kid-sized portions of the homemade duck tortelli and the pache pasta with suckling pig.
As if there weren’t enough crowning glories of Hotel le Fontanelle, wait until you see the pools. The indoor heated swimming pool is brightly lit, with three giant arched windows showing off the gardens and views beyond. Take a dip, warm up in the hot tub, saunter outside and lounge in the sunshine, and meander back inside to nap on a poolside recliner. Then venture up a few flights of stairs outside, and you’ll find yourself at the beautiful outdoor pool – heaven for the kids – where you can while away the afternoon on a sun lounger facing the panoramic Tuscan countryside. The cherry on top of all this relaxation was a massage by the hotel’s expert therapist – exactly what I needed to completely unwind.
Being in the heart of Tuscany means there’s no shortage of things to do with the family. Golf, horseback riding, Vespa tours, hire a Ferrari, go hot air ballooning, experience an authentic Italian cooking class or winery tour – all can be coordinated by the dedicated Hotel le Fontanelle staff.
Take the free shuttle to nearby Siena, a beautiful medieval city with its famous Piazza del Campo at its heart, and climb up the Torre del Mangia and look down over all of Siena. Take the kids to the Museum of the Opera del Duomo to see the creepy crypt, join the guided tour ‘Porta del Cielo’ and experience the secret places of the Cathedral, or head over to the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena to marvel at masterpieces by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti.
After a day or two in the city, the hotel offers free mountain bikes to explore the countryside at your own pace, and can even put together an exclusive Le Fontanelle picnic basket packed with fine cheeses, cold cuts, wine and fresh vegetables for your leisurely day out.
We flew into Pisa, which is a decent trek from Hotel Le Fontanelle (a 2.5-hour drive) – firstly because we wanted to keep Florence (the closest airport) and all its bustling glory for another trip, but also because it gave us an excuse to check out the Leaning Tower on our last day. But that’s another story…
The drive from Pisa is part of the adventure, and in my humble opinion, a must-do. Rent a car on site and take off at your own pace. Enjoy the winding country roads. Stop to be proper tourists, giant camera in tow, and take pictures of the breathtaking views. Park up and eat at one of the many bistros along the way. Relax and breathe in the fresh Italian air.
If driving in Italy isn’t your thing, you can take the train from your chosen airport to the nearest town of Siena, and the hotel would be happy to coordinate transfers from there.
Rooms and suites at Hotel le Fontanelle can be booked from £340/night double occupancy.