One cannot think of Tuscany without imagining the cipresso so symbolic of the Tuscan landscape. The Etruscans chose to plant the cypress around their sacred burial grounds, believing the trees had supernatural powers ensuring a safe passage into the afterlife. Elegant and slender, the stately cypress is said to be Nature’s salute to God.
A short distance from the medieval hilltop town of Montalcino, and situated within the UNESCO-listed Val d’Orcia, begins a storybook procession along a rural country lane to Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco, a 5,000-acre estate owned by Massimo and Chiara Ferragamo (the fashion family). Towering cypress (reminiscent of Viale dei Cipressi, an avenue celebrated by poet Giosuè Carducci) flank the approach to the agricultural estate, which is bordered to the north by the hills of Siena. In addition to its cypress trees, this valley is known for its pecorino cheese and for Brunello di Montalcino, a king of Italian wines.
The wrought-iron gates of Castiglion del Bosco lead not just to a hotel, but a medieval village, a borgo that Massimo Ferragamo has transformed into a luxury estate. The place has seen many changes in its 800-year history, yet in essence it has changed very little. Throughout the property are remnants of a rich past: a 12th-century castle fortress, ruins of an early gothic chapel, and San Michele Arcangelo church with its spectacular Pietro Lorenzetti fresco. Massimo originally intended for the compound to be a private residence club, but when the model proved troublesome in post-global-crash Italy, his thinking shifted to a resort setup. Today, Castiglion del Bosco (open seasonally from mid-March to mid-November) is a luxurious community of sandstone buildings with il borgo at its heart. Wine is produced here, and much of the property consists of preserved land for grape growing or forests. With two restaurants, an organic kitchen garden, a cooking school, a spa, an infinity pool, and sport and fitness facilities, as well as the only private golf course in the country (membership is 45,000 euros, or $64,000 Canadian, but the course is open to resort guests), Castiglion del Bosco is in a league of its own.
The 23 impeccably decorated suites are large and occupy a cluster of buildings that flank a cobblestone street, the ancient Via Francigena, a route travelled by merchants and pilgrims on their way from Canterbury to Rome. The decor is, as one expects of Ferragamo, classic yet contemporary—with walk-in wardrobes, spacious stone bathrooms, and Ferragamo amenities on the marble vanity. It is an understated elegance tapped from within the Ferragamo coffer of luxury materials: thick draperies, rich wood, and A-grade leather. Social life centres on two restaurants: Ristorante Campo del Drago, slightly formal, and the other, La Canonica, a relaxed al fresco osteria serving faultless Italian staples of pizza and pasta. For those in search of a “home” in Tuscany, the estate also has 10 villas—each two-to six-bedrooms—in restored farmhouses that dot the rolling landscape.
The wine program at Castiglion del Bosco is as sophisticated as one would expect from what is now the fifth-largest producer of Brunello di Montalcino, with tastings geared toward both novices and wine professionals. In the cantina, casks slumber in a marvelous vaulted space as classical music plays. A wine ritual extends to the spa, where grapes, pomace, and vino are incorporated into a three-hour holistic ritual.
Wildlife is a big part of the area’s charm, with wild boar (the undisputed king of the Tuscan forest), hares and pheasants, deer and partridges roaming the CdB trails. The cooking school classes are deliberately small and private for guaranteed hands-on involvement in a place where pasta making is bible. Truffle hunting, olive oil tastings, grape harvesting with an oenologist—the possibilities are plentiful.
Watching the sun descend toward the horizon—that golden hour when the light is soft and warm—is flat-out magical. No photo, no matter how many filters one uses, can replicate it. This place is real. This place is a big deal. Castiglion del Bosco is the place to breathe and live slowly in the countryside that makes Tuscany Tuscany.