A Wine Lover’s Break to Hotel Leone, Montelparo, Marche.
The couple began the process of restoring the hotel, helped by Tim’s original profession as a builder. The result of that meticulous work shows in so many ways – from a stunning pool which looks out across the hills of Le Marche to attention to detail in each room that means you’ll find plenty of electric sockets in all the right places. Little things like shower controls which sit far enough away from the water to get the temperature right before you get a soaking help to make this place feel like a home from home.
Each of the eight rooms is immaculately clean and each room is a unique reflection of some part of Tim and Madeline’s travels and previous life. My own safari styled room had rattan furniture, silk throws and cushions, a neat desk or dressing table, tea and coffee making facilities and a large bathroom with a walk-in rainforest shower and duck island toiletries. It also housed a collection of wooden animals brought back by Tim and Madeline from safari trips – and it had fabulous views across the Marche countryside.
Some of the other rooms were furnished with the original fittings from the hotel (albeit carefully restored) and there are rooms which can be adapted for families (a two bedroom suite and a room that can either have a single bed and king-sized bed or three single beds). Madeline told me that their repeat business bookings are now nearing 70% and I can imagine once you’ve been, you’ll find the room you like best and rebook it.
In addition to the pool, there’s a cosy restaurant with an outside terrace and a second terrace and art deco bar on the level above.
Tim and Madeline have just bought a property next door too so that they can expand and offer more accommodation both for private travellers and for visitors who are coming on one of their retreats. I have no doubt that it will be restored just as beautifully as the main hotel.
Hotel Leone though is a lot more than a boutique hotel in a small historic village. The team has worked really hard to put together an ongoing programme of ‘retreats’ that you can join. We had a bit of a taster of the wine lovers course, which Madeline runs herself. Starting with a wine pairing dinner with Madeline looking after the wine while Tim worked in the kitchen!
I was impressed. Wine evenings are all too often an opportunity for producers to present their own wine. Or the hotel sommelier showcases his own personal favourites. Here Madeline, who has a WSET level 3 diploma, starts with an introduction to the wines of the Marche – the grapes and the regulatory structure, before moving on to present individual wines with food pairings from her husband’s kitchen. It’s a very personal approach and one which works particularly well thanks to Madeline’s local knowledge both of the food and the wines. And it’s also an excellent chance to feast on Tim’s food.
I was thrilled to find that we would be visiting the family winery of Casala Vitale the next day, the source of our first wine, Mont’illì Metodo Classico – a sparkling wine made using the classic method and hand tied cork stoppers. It’s a blend of 50% Passerina, 50% Sangiovese which we learnt would pair well with local DOP Fossa cheese, Ascoli olives and Ciauscolo IGP, a soft spreadable salami.
The next wine, a le Marche DOCG, was the 100% Pecorino De Angelis. Pecorino, along with Verdicchio and Passerina, are the principal local white grapes of the region. I know Pecorino as a white DOC wine from neighbouring Abruzzo – it’s a wine I enjoy very much, just as the sheep who enjoy the pecorino grapes so much that they’ve given their name to the wine.
Our next wine, a 100% Verdicchio, Le Vaglie Classico DOC from Castelli di Jesi was a delicious floral and citrussy white paired very well with the mussels that followed
This dinner made the most of local produce and local wines to create a fine gastronomic experience.
For our next wine, a red, we were offered a glass of Morellone from Le Caniette – 70% Montepulciano grapes, 30% Sangiovese grape. I spent some time in neighbouring Abruzzo tasting their Montepulciano, which can be heavy on tannins and hard to drink. This was a particularly successful blend for me with the Sangiovese softening the wine perfectly.
Our final wine was Stefano Mancinelli Lacrima di Morro d’Alba another grape unique to le Marche and an ancient varietal that has only recently been revived with the DOC confirmed in 1985.
After a peaceful and quiet night’s sleep the next morning we set off to visit some of the vineyards and wineries that Madeline uses for her wine tours. Casala Vitali is a particularly good example of the kind of wineries you can expect to visit if you book yourself on one of Madeline’s wine lover stays. Although the farm had produced wine for their own consumption in the past, Alfredo and Giuliano Vitali bought the house and land around it in 1970.
While their initial focus was on livestock, they diversified into commercial production of fruit (including grapes) and Gabriele, the third brother joined the business. Today, half of the 40-hectare farm is vineyards and they have their own winery, producing a range of wines including the delicious sparkling wine we’d enjoyed the night before. For me, what made this winery special was the passion running through the family.
We were, however, previewing the launch of a new wine, Deviango, from four wineries in the area (Cantina Di Ruscio, Casa Vinicola Geminiani, Vittorini di Speranza Nico and Casale Vitali).
Deviango is the creation of enologist Dr Matteo Lupi and uses Sangiovese grapes processed in a unique way to produce a white wine.
It’s a delicious wine that worked particularly well for me with food. And that we had in abundance at all four wineries. I particularly enjoyed the ascolana olives – a regional speciality- at Casale Vitale. Green olives, pitted and stuffed with a seasoned minced meat mixture, then breaded and deep fried, they are great to nibble on.
Back at Hotel Leone, none of us really needed to eat any more. But somehow the lure of Tim’s food got the better of things for me and I enjoyed one of his signature dishes, a starter portion of Marsala wine braised venison with prune on a bed of curried lentil dahl served with a potato rosti crisp and raspberry balsamic reduction.
Followed by pan-roasted seabass fillet with fennel marinated in rosé wine which was truly innovative and delicious.
I couldn’t manage a proper dessert – just an affogato made with homemade ice-cream before tumbling into bed.
This short visit just gives a taste of what Hotel Leone has to offer. It’s the kind of place I’m happy to recommend for so many reasons. The Marche region of Italy didn’t disappoint and hiking in the majestic Sibillini mountain range to one side of Montelparo would be a great way to discover more of the countryside.
There are plenty of activity based holidays including yoga, painting and writing retreats, all reasonably priced. And, events organised by Madeline and Tim themselves like the Wine Lover’s package and hiking can be tailored around your own travel plans. Le Marche is a part of Italy that still isn’t overwhelmed by tourists – and still offers that gentle travel which is so suited to the Italian way of life. Where better to enjoy it than in this stunning miniature boutique hotel that punches well above its weight.
Via Vittorio Emanuele II,
(FM) 63853, Italy
+39 0734 782041
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Disclosure – I was a guest of Hotel Leone for this trip. All content is editorially given.