Words by Sally Meeson
There have been times in 2020 where most of us have dreamt of escaping from it all. In our times of isolation we may even have imagined ourselves in a more romantic setting, a medieval fortress, or castle perhaps. And now, as I wind through the Tuscan countryside and up a lavender lined pathway, I spot an old stone watchtower emerging from the trees. It seems I may have found the perfect place.
It’s dusk and a deer trots across my path as I approach the gates of Torre Palazzone – a medieval castle which is now a luxury holiday villa. Across a cobbled courtyard and through thick wooden doors I find myself in the castle’s candlelit entrance hall. A cool, contemporary metal staircase rises between the old stone walls, and I climb it into what can only be described as looking like a wizard’s study.
A round wooden table forms the centrepiece of this low beamed room with a crackling fire, tapestry chairs and other dark antique furnishings. And, where I half expect to see a spell book and feather quill, a feast of Italian snacks and flutes of prosecco has been laid out across the table instead. As I relax and enjoy these welcome treats I’m informed that this is the Grand Salon, or sitting room, and the fact that it exists means the local lord would have visited the castle around the time it was built, almost 1000 years ago.
After refreshments it’s time for a tour of the tower itself. Twisting up narrow stone staircases I find a guest bedroom on each floor, the views from which get more and more epic the higher I get. And at the very base of the tower, what used to be the castle’s chapel has been converted into a room known as the Duomo Suite.
With a high arched ceiling painted blue with gold stars, open brickwork and a large red velvet bed, there are rumours Madonna stayed in this suitably theatrical room when she once stayed at the castle. I’m then shown to my room in the newly renovated wing of the castle. The bright and airy Onda suite has a high whitewashed beamed ceiling, pretty white furnishings and a large blue bed – as well as a stunning Sienese marble en-suite bathroom.
I relax and freshen up before making my way back down for dinner. I walk through a lounge with a huge open fire, slouchy sofas and a pool table, then take a few more stone steps into what feels like the heart of the castle: a spacious kitchen dining space with metal workspaces, modern artwork and a tiled vaulted ceiling. The castle, while largely true to its medieval roots, contains numerous modern twists and contemporary furnishings.
And, having been owned by the same family for the past 12 years, it’s undeniably grand while at the same time feeling homely. Plus with a private chef available for at least four nights a week, once on site you need barely lift a finger. Tonight I’m treated to a traditional Tuscan dinner including handmade pasta, fettunta and panzanella – before sinking into my enormous blue bed and falling sound asleep.
The next morning I throw open my room’s wooden shutters to see the surrounding views by daylight for the first time. And I am certainly not disappointed. To my right is a lush green vineyard and endless rolling Tuscan hills beyond. To my left I look down into a sun filled courtyard surrounded by medieval castle walls. After breakfast it’s time to explore further with a walking tour of the nearby historic city of Siena, which is only 15 kilometres away.
I climb upwards through narrow streets to reach medieval cathedrals and a Gothic town hall, set in the famous shell shaped main square, Piazza del Campo. I browse vintage shops (Aloe and Wolf is world renowned and a must see) and pop into narrow coffee shops for the ultimate Italian pick me up: espresso! Then I head back towards the castle, stopping en route for lunch at the family run Ristora Ponte Allo Spino near Sovicille village in the Montagnola Senese countryside.
This laid back gem surprises with food which looks and tastes more like something you’d find in a Michelin Star restaurant. Spoiled for choice by a mouth-watering menu, I opt for pears carpaccio with pecorino cheese and honey followed by cod with tomatoes and onions. And from the stylish presentation to the delicious blend of flavours I leave seriously impressed by this unassuming place.
Back at the castle the open fire is roaring and I relax for a while before meeting Georgia, our private chef, in one of the building’s outhouses for a cookery class. The castle has numerous barns and farmhouses dotted around it, which you can stay in or even hire for events such as weddings. Tonight we head to one of the farmhouses to learn to make handmade pasta which we turn into spinach and ricotta ravioli for our dinner.
Torre Palazzone are keen to organise lots of onsite activities for visitors so you don’t have to leave the site and can stay in a safe social bubble should you wish. The following morning we try our hand at learning another new skill at an abstract art workshop, where we create colourful marbled canvases in the grounds of the castle. I also get to explore more of what’s on offer outside including a private heated swimming pool, a woodfired pizza oven and a large terrace for outdoor dining.
And while there is enough here to keep me occupied for weeks, I still can’t resist a quick trip to the vineyard and winery I’ve been admiring from my bedroom window. Tenuta di Trecciano is just a ten minute walk from the castle and offers a dreamy place to stroll between the grape vines and enjoy some wine tasting.
After sampling a selection of their best, I pick up a 2012 vintage Chianti Riserva and wander back to the castle. Then, sinking into a large sofa, glass in hand, watching logs crackle and glow in the fireplace, I dream of pulling up the drawbridge and never having to leave.
Torre Palazzone (11 bedrooms) sleeps up to 22 people and is available through Tuscany Now & More offering weekly stays from £10,945. For more details visit tuscanynowandmore.com/villas/torre-palazzone