decor. A central island separated the country sink from the cooking space where a personalized card of welcome from the manager, who hadn’t been on the property to greet Chris on our arrival, was prominently displayed. The cucina featured an Italian stove with a central griddle, on the order of a Viking model, though of heavier construction. A backsplash of colorful tiles reminded us we were in Italy. No Chinese imports here. It, along with everything else in the villa, was Italian made and ultra-stylish. The kitchen came complete with everything we might need, though I doubted we’d make use of it anytime during our stay.
The upper floor contained three bedrooms, each with its own dedicated bath. Maria Elena and I occupied an expansive master suite, as large as a small home. Down a hallway, beyond a smart
walk-in closet, was the master bathroom. Bordering on a suite itself, it was spectacular. There was a separate room for the toilet/bidet with its own artwork, and another enclosing a marble-tiled shower with a sunflower water-head that could generate a range of warm raindrops from springtime sprinkle to savage downpour. Slippers and two, fluffy, white terrycloth bathrobes with monkish hoods hung awaiting our use. While our bathroom in Calitri had just enough room to turn around in, this lavish room had the extra space to host a dressing bench beneath the window opposite a mirrored wall just above an expansive two-sink counter. It didn’t take Maria Elena long before she was soaking in its rose-colored marble tub, while an
awaiting bath-towel was being warmed on a wall rack coursing with hot water. They’d thought of everything. Even an electronic bathroom scale was provided, though I suspect only to remind all who dared to seek its truth to restrain from the vanity of over indulgence, something easy to succumb to at CdB.
generous overdose of good manners, and I’m sure the Italian equivalent of Emily Post, the staff was a cut above and beyond reproach. They were the real thing, not fictional characters providing pretend services. They spoke multiple languages in keeping with a client list no doubt spanning the world. They also appeared to be well informed, as for instance, that we were staying in one of the exclusive villas. How did they know? Could the Castiglion del Bosco’s commitment to hospitality have gone so far as to include daily updates on new arrivals? We never knew for sure although we suspected as much. In any case, we enjoyed their pampering service, sometimes to a surprising conclusion. An example of their service-centric attention to fine detail occurred each morning at breakfast. When asked if I’d like more coffee, I expected our server to simply top-off my cup. Au contraire, not at CdB. Instead, he removed my cup and saucer and returned with what he announced was “fresh service” and proceeded to fill my cup. A little much but so easy to get used to.
a table and umbrella, lay an infinity pool that saw its overflow dribble into the stone filled basin along its perimeter. Appropriately named, the view was seemingly one endless vista stretched to a horizon bordering on the infinite. The expansive panorama of rolling hills and valleys changed color and shading as puffy clouds, playing tricks with the light, dappled the countryside. Only a matter of hours following our arrival found us bobbing in the pool that I must report displaced a tsunami of water over the edge upon our entry. In single file, like a covey of monks, we’d used our hooded robes to trek from villa to poolside. We hadn’t yet noticed the separate bathhouse, which would have met our every poolside need if only we hadn’t been fixated on the pool. A close inspection of us would have blown our monkish cover, however, for I’d made
vodka tonics to add to our anticipated pleasure. When Chris asked how I’d come by the vodka, I explained that I’d used a bottle sitting on a shelf in the kitchen. Until he explained, it hadn’t dawned on me what I’d done, but surely would have when we departed. I’d not noticed the pamphlet he had that explained that while most things were complimentary, their private label wine and vodka were not. Priest, monk, whatever, I took a vow right then to be far more vigilant in the future if I was to avoid added costs, in this case a sobering €90. I will only say it was damned fine vodka. From then on, we referred to my timely though unintentional purchase as “holy water”! Today it is enshrined in our home in Calitri.
leaf flew close escort. As both moved past, neither was capable of fathoming the miles of serpentine roads that lay ahead. We weaved through those ruddy forest mountains followed by fields of plump Brunello grapes that eventually deposited us in Montalcino, flanked on one end by the practically intact Il Castello di Montalcino, dating from 1361, and on the other end by the Duomo di Montalcino. It was early and still quiet when we walked into town. It wasn’t long before we recognized Palazzina Cesira, a wonderful B&B we’d stayed in years before on our first Tuscan visit. Willing to give that villa kitchen of ours a try, we soon succumbed to the offerings in the many storefront windows and bought fresh pasta, prosciutto, wine, and the ingredients for spaghetti sauce. Toward lunchtime, we definitely had food on our minds after having passed so many windows bursting with every Tuscan treat imaginable. Being apparently the first customers of the day, we entered a small, one room osteria to enjoy luncheon specials of wine and trenchers of salami and cheese, while Maria Elena peeled her way through a heaping plate of deep fried shrimp. I think we would have won the door-prize, if only there had been one.
cream shop. Telling from the long line of wannabe patrons, waiting patiently in a misty drizzle that should have discouraged even hard-core line sitters, the inconvenience was more than offset by the anticipated reward upon reaching the head of the line. It was worth the wait. Soon refreshed, we next set about finding the home of a famous local saint, Saint Fina (1238-1253), San Gimignano’s patron saint, the saint of the gillyflowers. Her family may have earlier owned one of the superb stone towers of the time, but by the time of her birth, her family had fallen into poverty. At the age of ten, she fell ill. Her disease left her paralyzed and bedridden. In devotion to God, she laid on a wooden plank for five years. At the moment of her death, the bells of San Gimignano reportedly rang-out without any human hands on the ropes and the gillyflowers, still growing there to this day, burst into bloom. In her brief but devote life, her immense devotion served as an example of patience to all the citizens of San Gimignano. We found her home without difficulty. A ceramic plaque by the door announced we’d arrived. Houses were connected one to another in what I refer to as medieval condo style. Ancient stones were mixed with more modern brick repairs. An imbedded arched stone portal, a remnant of a long past doorway, may have seen Fina herself pass that way, though an adjacent modern intercom would certainly have been inconceivable.
Our last stop was to view a miniature scale replica of the city as it had appeared in 1300. Architects, historians, and a team of artists worked nearly three years to create this model with 800 meticulously handcrafted structures, those 72 towers, street scenes, and figurines in the most accurate way possible. It was amazing in detail, very large, and brought meaning to the expression “if you build it, they will come”, as we stood there, shoulder to shoulder with other tourists.
Siena, Siena in the rain. By then the playful mist had turned to serious rain. We arrived around 6 pm and with umbrellas deployed headed directly to Piazza del Campo. We took in the view of the famous plaza, home to the Palio horse race each July and August, while enjoying what else but adult beverages, a few of them, in a café bordering the square. Our short stay concluded, we headed back to our car and returned to CdB. The nasty weather kept us inside that evening. We ended our busy day enjoying the pasta and wine we’d bought earlier that day, concocted in the Villa’s kitchen, the one I’d thought we’d never use.
In addition to every other marvel, Castiglion del Bosco is also home to a historic winery. We were surprised to learn that it was the fifth largest producer of the prestigious, world renowned “Brunello di Montalcino” where each bottle hosts a D.O.C.G. label, an elite honor currently bestowed on only 45 of the thousands of wines produced across Italy. Its pedigree and method of production are what make the difference. Among the many hurdles the wine must scale in order to receive this coveted designation, their impeccably crafted wine must spend two years in wood casks and cannot be released until the
fifth January after the harvest – so 2010’s harvest is on sale in 2015, 2011’s is available in 2016, and so forth. Their 126 acres of vineyards helps to insure this happens year after year. One afternoon, we had opportunity to explore the art of wine making with Paola, our private sommelier for two hours, who traced every step of the wine making process for us. Our hostess took us by towering holding tanks, into cellars, and to a massive aging room that she referred to as the “Cathedral”. All that was missing was a Michelangelo fresco. The religious reference to a cathedral may have been due to the domed ceiling segments that rose above us, its many intersecting crescent-shaped lunettes and vaults casting a pious mood throughout the vast chamber. My thoughts? It just may be referred to as the “Cathedral” because of the number of prayers that daily ascend to heaven from this room for a good year’s production.
beautifully appointed as it arced around us. A call, message, email, probably even a tweet, would see your selection stored in a private, climate-controlled vault. Such is the lifestyle of the rich and famous, all for the modest membership cost of €8000, not including of course, the cost of the wine. Far more importantly, we soon had an opportunity to sample the finished product. Showing an attention to detail, ever present at this affluent get-away resort, placemats had been prepared in advance of our arrival. Our names and the date of our visit were printed beneath five circles where five long-stem wine glasses awaited their pour. Paola then proceeded to explain the nuances of all five, as one at a time she would charge our glasses. This sure beat picking grapes only weeks earlier during the vendemmia in Calitri! We began at the bottom of the price ladder with a 2015 Chardonnay assessed at €25. From there we sipped our way through their current release, a 2011 Brunello di Montalcino (the delay because of those five years it took to produce), followed by a full-bodied blend in typical French style, a 2012 Prima Pietra. Getting toward the end, we next swished and breathed-in a spicy 2011 Campo del Drago Brunello di Montalcino, to finally arrive at their ultimate creation, a 2010 Millecentro Brunello di Montalcino Reserva, aged for six years and priced in the stratosphere at €160 a bottle. By the time we’d concluded, having ingested all those luxurious wines and becoming, let us say “fragile”, I was more than pleased that we’d be driven back to our villa.