Brunello and Best Friends: The Ultimate Tuscan Getaway

Brunello and Best Friends: The Ultimate Tuscan Getaway

What are your thoughts on truffle ketchup?

Echoing silencio. High in the Tuscan hills our guide for the
morning, Valentino, is struck dumb by this obtuse, but unabashed,
line of questioning. Truffle fusions – our go to is oil-drenched
French fries – and truffle condiments in particular are a no-no for
any Tuscan worth their salt.

We continue deeper into the shrouded woodland, three sniffer
dogs in tow. Conversation shifts as our first truffle is unearthed.
The dogs begin to dig furiously and a small black truffle surfaces.
A few feet on, the scene repeats. Because truffles grow inside tree
roots, they can’t be cultivated and so can still only be sourced in
the wild. These pungent underground fungi, garner pretty hefty
returns; prices are now as high £4,000 per kilo.

We have been briefed that it is unlikely we will find anything
while we are out here; truffles are deceptively good at hide and
seek. And yet, already we have found two. The cynic in me considers
that it is a fix, but I am overruled and we walk for a while longer.
Nothing. Then Mara (a springer and the most rambunctious of the
pack) begins to run and latches on to a patch of ground. A deep,
pungent scent emerges from the soil – along with lashings of dirt
and muck hurdled in every which direction. Mara is a determined,
but not particularly tidy, digger. And then we spot it. A white
truffle; 200g at that. We ask: can we keep it? Silencio.

We’re in Montalcino, 12 kilometres from the Rosewood Castiglion
del Bosco, an 800-year old Tuscan estate which we are calling
“home” (rather thrillingly) for the next three days. Our visit is
the result of one very organised friend – and Rosewood’s Ultimate Girlfriends
Getaway package
. Throw out the words “private villa” and “spa treatments” into
the group WhatsApp and the response rate is (as you might guess)
supremely faster than when frantically fundraising for a parkrun or
selling tickets to your fringe theatre debut. In any event, after
excuses are made and apologies are given, our final group comprises
of creative director Fiona Leahy,
chef Clodagh McKenna and Jessie
Garland-Blake of @ihavethisthingfor. A mishmashed but motley crew,
our sights are set on convivial wine drinking (given that we are
neighbouring a private 5,000-acre wine estate) with the occasional
outdoor pursuit thrown in for good measure.

Back at Castiglion Del Bosco, we saunter along to the hotels‘ more casual dining
space, Osteria La Canonica, and ready ourselves for lunch – a
chorus of pizzas, from the traditional Toscana to the lauded
truffle-topped pizza pie, are served on long wooden boards. Heckled
towards the centre of the table, the truffle pizza is promptly
demolished. Between chomps we self-congratulate for bearing witness
to the bounty we are now guzzling as though we are fishermen who
have waited for our catch for hours on end. Plates are cleared, top
buttons undone and we roll home in sync with the undulating Tuscan

Our villa at the Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco has a toned-down
rustic aesthetic, decorated in shades of ochre and flaxen, with
shuttered windows and furnishings worthy of a Nancy Meyers movie.
Canopied beds, generous bathtubs and vast wardrobes are given a
coveted double thumbs up by each of their occupants. Pillows are
topped with presents; night one delivers a Skinesis Sarah Chapman
facemask to appease our carb come down and impending blotchy

In Italy, and Tuscany in particular,
days seem to centre on food. Italians break for an hour after
a long lunch and then start the ritual all over again. A poolside
photo shoot involving tasteful lavender sprigs and bushels of
velvet is interrupted by the arrival our private chef, Ludovico,
under whose instruction we are going to cook dinner. Something
light? Sacrilege. To start: pasta. We make a small well with our
pre-portioned flour and semolina mix and then whisk the eggs,
slowly adding it to the central mixture. Positioned between a food
journalist, the daughter of hoteliers and the girlfriend of a chef,
my below-average cooking skills feel increasingly exposed. Taking
solace in the well of flour’s concealing nature, my not-so-bad but
also not-all-that-good efforts are shrouded from judgment. The
Tuscan cucina (cuisine) is more complicated than I had anticipated.
Three minutes in and it becomes clear I need a little assistance in
perfecting (read: salvaging) my dough. Cooking with friends seems a
decidedly better idea than cooking for friends and is certainly an
activity best suited to those less kitchen confident. Time passes
by, the slicing of the celery is criticised and a hearty red sauce
is left to simmer as we make a start on the tiramisu. Then, while
our ever-patient chef makes the final touches (or quite possibly
places our attempts in the dustbin and starts again from scratch),
we saunter upstairs to change for dinner.

On our return – long dresses skirting the floor to hide our
hotel slippers – the dining-room table has been transformed.
Decorated with dahlias and in-season vegetation – in the corner our
private butler is on standby with an Italian aperitivo. Glasses
clink and we take our seats, following a table restyle by Fiona. An
amuse bouche; a first course; then a second appears. Candles melt
right down to their base. Over mottled light we unpack our views on
spiritualism, the plausibility of Facetuning a napkin and a few
mandatory Brexit concerns are uttered before chat quickly reverts
to truffles and whether there is any nutritional benefit in their
consumption (there isn’t). On that dream-inducing note we go to

The first to rise, I scurry downstairs to a sumptuous spread
already laid out in the kitchen. Laurenco is waiting to cook us
eggs and bacon but the apple pie, zucchini and bacon quiche, not to
mention Tuscan bread, homemade pastries and Tuscan cold cuts from
the farm seem ample fodder. I take a liking to a generous slice of
pie and plot myself at the kitchen counter, accompanied by a
steaming coffee and my laptop. Morning light seeps on to the
terracotta-tiled floor. Someone appears from behind the fridge
door. “Buongiorno”, utters a voice that sounds like Jessie’s before
scurrying off upstairs again to get ready for our afternoon
activity, pain au chocolat in hand.

Bundling into the car, in our “rural chic” cashmere and corduroy
combinations (we collectively packed a lot of olive, corn-gold and
russet-hued polo necks) we head out for an afternoon of convivial
(and civilised) drinking at Castiglion del Bosco vineyard and
winery. Seated overlooking rows upon rows of oak wood wine barrels,
our glasses are topped up 10 times over. Here, at the fifth-largest
producer of Brunello Di Montalcino, we sample a broad range of
wines from the Prima Pietra 2014 and the 2015 to the Millecento
Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2011 (basically the best bottles
you’ll find in the area), each paired with olive oil and cheeses
and honey dolloped generously on top. We all decide we like the
cheapest honey and the most expensive bottle of red, of course.

With a slight sway to our step, we are shown downstairs to the
wine cellar, a crescent-shaped room caddying the personalised wine
collections of the vineyard’s most-prized members. Along the back
central tier of the wine cavern we spot the Ferragamos personal
collection. Chiara and Massimo Ferragamo – the youngest son of
Salvatore Ferragamo (yes, that Salvatore) – who co-own the
Castiglion del Bosco make their presence lightly felt. And yet
their taste in wine is first class and flamboyant. The cavern is a
Mayfair private-members club transplant in the making. As our first
thoughts of home seep in, the last of the Brunello spills into our
large size bowl glasses (which emphasize the firm tannins and
cherry bouquet we’ve been told).

We’ve learnt a lot this trip, and yet as we stumble through
Aeroporto di Firenze-Peretola’s Duty Free we (or some of us, at
least) revert to our hedonistic, habitual ways. “What’s that you
have there Fiona?” Coyly, she turns and bares her scarlet letter –
a packet of Savini Tartufi truffle-flavoured crisps clasped in her
hands. Silencio.

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