Last Updated on January 21, 2022
An idyll in Tuscany
Tucked away in the stunning Tuscan countryside is a boutique hotel resort so lovely you may not want to leave. Hotel Le Fontanelle is a five-star property that offers a chance to retreat from the world just 20km from Siena.
Against a backdrop of the rolling hills of Chianti country sits Hotel Le Fontanelle. Originally a 13th-century borgo (hamlet) that had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair, the property was bought and lovingly converted into a luxury resort by the Bolfo family. Much of the feel of the hotel and its design is the vision of Miss Giuseppina Bolfo, also known as La Signorina, who still owns the hotel today. And it is this personal touch – as well as its winning combination of tradition, luxury and impeccable service – that makes Hotel Le Fontanelle so individual and special.
I loved my room at Hotel Le Fontanelle. I stayed in one of the junior suites in the main building (some of the rooms are sited in another building about five minutes walk away). Beds, linen, armchairs are all at the extreme end of comfortable here. There is a turn-down service, there are slippers and luxurious robes, good mineral water in glass bottles and Bulgari toiletries in the large and airy bathroom.
One of the many charms of my junior suite was having a private courtyard garden, all to myself, with cushioned loungers and a view over the stunning Tuscan countryside. Many of the hotel’s 36 rooms and suites have their own outside space in the form of terraces, gardens or balconies.
Visitors seeking wellness and relaxation are well catered for. The outdoor pool and sun terrace have a wide vista over the beautiful countryside. This isn’t the sort of place you need to rush out before breakfast to battle for a sun lounger – there are plenty here, around the pool and dotted in secluded spots in the extensive manicured gardens and grounds.
There is also an indoor pool for cooler months, plus a sauna, Turkish bath and jacuzzi in the hotel’s spa area. Fitness fans can take advantage of the small gym or explore the hotel’s suggested local running trails. It is also possible to book a wide range of spa treatments.
The public rooms give the hotel the feel of a private Tuscan villa. There are beautifully appointed sitting rooms, a library and a bar with old-fashioned card tables, all encouraging relaxation and socialising. Everything is designed with comfort and luxury in mind. Hotel Le Fontanelle exudes a real sense of place and tradition.
Another of La Signorina’s touches is her botanic garden. It’s a pretty place for a stroll and it is also where head chef Daniele Canella and his team come daily to pick the edible plants and herbs for use in the kitchen.
Breakfast can make or break a hotel stay for me. Thankfully the offering here is very good. Breakfast is served in the restaurant or on the Belvedere terrace in the warmer months.
My visit coincided with breakfast being served pandemic-style by the waiting staff rather than the usual buffet. The menu is divided into savoury and sweet breakfasts but the greedy among us were welcome to have both. There are new specials every morning and it is perfectly OK to go off-piste and simply ask for a boiled egg (I didn’t do this). The breads, patisseries, butter, yoghurts and fruits were all of a very high quality. As one might expect, the coffee is good too.
La Colonna restaurant is headed up by talented chef Daniele Canella who has worked at the hotel since 2010. He and his team treated us to a spectacular tasting menu, giving us a flavour of their innovative brand of Tuscan fine dining.
The starter of cooked, raw and marinated vegetables didn’t sound particularly exciting but this truly was a dish that was full of surprises. Every mouthful was different – a fabulous mixture of textures, flavours and colours.
Next to arrive was the risotto al maledetto toscano. This is another dish that I am still thinking about and wishing I was skilled enough to reproduce at home. It was one of the best risottos I have eaten and supremely cheesy in the best possible way. The risotto is made with a local pecorino called Maledetto that is aged in tobacco leaves. Strong, sharp, tangy cheese plus creamy carnaroli rice with just the right amount of bite came covered in a microdust of aromatic herbs collected from the hotel’s botanic garden: Thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano and mint, dried and processed into the finest and tastiest of dust.
The main course was smoked roe deer, pomegranate and turnip green. This was a dish of smoky, super tender, perfectly cooked meat and rich pomegranate jus. It was beautiful to look at too.
The menu promised one dessert but we ended up with a generous three. First up was a palate-cleansing tomato sorbet with aromatic herbs and a sweetish crumble all dusted with a fine caper powder – a sort of culinary waystation between savoury and sweet.
The main event pudding-wise was the almond, bitter orange and sesame. An almond biscuit, black sesame snaps, peppery leaves and blobs of bitter orange sauce made for a delightful combination matched with a lovely local dessert wine.
This was not the end of things. The waiters appeared with beautifully presented plates of petit fours combining deep flavours of pistachio and raspberry – very welcome and very delicious despite our by now challenged stomachs. I couldn’t resist them.
For those who can bear to tear themselves away from the delights of the resort, there are many options. A large number of other activities and excursions can be arranged by the concierges including horseback riding, driving to a winery in a Ferrari and hot-air ballooning. Bicycles are freely available for exploring the area too. There is even a helipad on the property for guests who wish to arrive by air or to take far-flung day trips. Staff take the trouble to contact all of the hotel’s clients ten days before they arrive to discuss spa and activity bookings.
During my stay at the Hotel Le Fontanelle, I took part in two of their most popular activities – a tour and wine tasting at the hotel’s sister winery Vallepicciola and a cookery lesson at a traditional local farmhouse. Both are thoroughly recommended.
Vallepicciola is just a short drive away from the hotel and in the very heart of Chianti country. Our visit included a tour of the vineyards and the state-of-the-art cantina where the grapes are turned into award-winning wines. The highlight of the tour was the wine tasting and accompanying lunch. I learned a lot about Chianti and Vin Santo and managed to remain standing after trying at least a sip of about 15 different wines, thanks in part to self-control and in part to the fortifying lunch.
At local cookery school – Cooking Classes with Nonna Ciana – we learned to make and then eat traditional local dishes and drink yet more Chianti. Nonna Ciana is great fun and knows her stuff. We were all armed with giant rolling pins and set to work. Who knew that hand-rolling pasta was so exhausting. After all our hard work, we feasted on truffles and pasta and zabaglione.
To make the most of visiting Hotel Le Fontanelle, the suggested minimum stay is four or five nights. Many guests choose to spend up to three weeks to fully unwind in comfort here and experience everything this beautiful resort and region has to offer. This is the sort of hotel that attracts a lot of repeat custom, with many returning guests phoning to request “our room”. I don’t blame them. I know I would like to return to Hotel Le Fontanelle one day and stay in “my room” again.
SP 408 – Km 14.7
Castelnuovo Berardenga (SIENA)