Approaching Belmond Castello di Casole along a winding path lined with emerald-green cypress trees feels as if stumbling upon a sanctuary of Etruscan magic. Set on the ancient pilgrimage route of Via Francigena (a 1,200-mile route between Canterbury and Rome) and cradled by the rolling Tuscan hills, this 4,200-acre rural estate is an Edenic patchwork of vineyards, a game reserve and groves of lemon and olive trees. Surrounded by cascading jasmine, the 10th-century aristocratic farmhouse dotted with Tuscan artefacts has been transformed into indulgent suites and a spa.
Days here are best started with sunrise yoga in the open-air amphitheatre before cycling through vineyards and discovering quaint nearby villages such as that of Radicondoli. Back at the hotel, lose yourself in a novel on the sun-drenched terrace - taking a mental snapshot of the sweeping views across Casole d'Elsa - roll up your sleeves in a Tuscan cooking class, soak up vistas from the serene infinity pool or unwind with spa treatments that take their cue from the land. As stars fleck the vast sky, make your way to Tosca restaurant and raise a glass of one of the hotel's exclusive wines.
Castello di Casole was once part of a thriving Tuscan village; its former farmhouse has been delicately transformed into rustic suites, preserving all the original features - exposed stonework, travertine flooring - and accented with a warm Tuscan-inspired palette and customised antiques. Each is unique and charming, with medieval-esque keys, dried flowers from local artisans, opulent marble bathtubs and views across acres of land. This is your modern-day oasis.
What's for breakfast?
Served on the Limonaia terrace, surrounded by statues, lemon trees and the sound of the birds, Belmond Castello di Casole offers a casual and rustic breakfast of cold cuts, fresh fruit, homemade breads, granola or anything else you could possibly imagine.
How about lunch and dinner?
Restaurant Tosca is a celebration of rustic Tuscan fare, albeit with a modern, elevated approach. In the glow of Murano chandeliers and stained-glass murals depicting the surrounding valleys, tuck into homemade pastas and dishes such as parmesan mousse and duck-liver "nutella". Alternatively embark on a gastronomic journey across Italy in Cip's by Cipriani, where locally sourced meats and garden-fresh produce play a starring role - we recommend trying one of the three tasting menus, and do ask the hotel to prepare a picnic for you to enjoy in the nearby ancient forest.
If you feel like heading out for lunch, you absolutely have to cycle to legendary La Pergola, where the Vatti brothers create gourmet, experimental pizzas with wholemeal grain, and seasonal toppings, already sliced and ready to share.
Is there a bar?
There's no lack of options when it comes to bars at Castello. Enjoy a spritz by the pool bar or head to the frescoed Bar Visconti - named after film director Luchino Visconti who once threw glamorous la dolce vita parties here - for an after-dinner limoncello.
Descending into the Essere Spa - once a wine cellar - you enter a world of holistic bliss. Locally harvested olive oil, honey and rosemary are used in the signature facials and massages. Take note: it will be difficult to leave the ambience of the barrel-vaulted ceilings and restored stone walls. There's also a fitness centre with dedicated personal trainers and yoga classes available to book.
Things you should know
Tuscany can get extremely hot in the summer, plan your activities early in the morning or in the late afternoons. Use your midday hours to have a dip in the pool. Castello di Casole is secluded in nature, if you'd like to explore the region, we recommend hiring a car. Visit in autumn and you can join one of the hotel's expert-led truffle hunts before enjoying a celebratory feast in Tosca or Bar Visconti. Sunrise nature tours are also available and are a unique opportunity to glimpse deer, porcupines, wild boar and the like at sunset or sunrise.
Within a short walk you can find…
Staying at Belmond Castello di Casole is all about slowing down and connecting with nature. Trails thread among the surrounding hillsides - explore by foot or borrow a hotel bike. There's little quite like horse riding among the groves (Belmond can make arrangements with a nearby equestrian centre). Hire a car to explore nearby towns such Montalcino, renowned for its wine, San Gimignano with its 14 towers and Colle di Val d'Elsa, Italy's "crystal capital". Siena and Florence are but a shuttle ride away (as is sister property Belmond Villa San Michele).