Tuesday, September 25, 2012

HOTEL CHECK ITALY, part 13, Castiglion del Bosco

Tuscan history comes alive at magical
Castiglion del Bosco.

Year round Tuscany is enchanting, but perhaps most delightful in the autumn with its “mellow fruitfulness”, grape and olive oil harvesting, truffle hunting, and lots of different tastings…

At Castiglion del Bosco fruitful activities attract top luxury customers, along with sightseeing among fantastic medieval villages, cooking courses, golf, tennis, biking, trekking and Tuscan safaris. This vast property of rolling hills and valleys has large areas of woodland  (“del Bosco” = the forest) where you can spot porcupines, wild boar and perhaps even wolves. 

The resort lies below a ruined castle on a hilltop – housed in an authentic medieval village with medieval church and clock tower.  The “borgo village” concept is one of the top trends in luxury tourism in Italy today, and so history comes alive again for fortunate guests.
Ruined castle in the early sunset

Main street of the borgo village with piazza in front of the
shop, bar and restaurants - all part of the resort
Terrace of the fine dining restaurant - also the spot for a divine
breakfast with views over the wooded hills

In this borgo  village you find a bar and two restaurants, infinity pool, 23 suites and three of the resort’s nine villas, beautifully restored authentic Tuscan farm houses. The other villas are scattered around the vast property, with views to sing about, complete with their private pools.

Infinity pool in the evening

Private pool of a 4-bedroom villa
Lovingly renovated in Tuscan style, all the interiors are rich with details by Florentine artisans, artwork from antique markets and the earthy harmony of rough cut stone.
It is a peaceful hideaway. The old grey stone seems to sleep in the sun in the quiet “borgo street” and piazza. Flowers bloom in the garden, cicadas pipe and lizards lie lazily, as we do. The terrace of our CdB suite is about 120 sqm with sunbeds, sofas and dining table, our suite enormous and our views of Tuscan hills haunting.

View over wooded hills to the fascinating
medieval town of Montalcino
We climb to the castle ruin and watch the sun go down.
Sunset up on the hill by the ruined castle
Frescoes and paintings in the church in the borgo village are
priceless treasures

Vast terrace of  CdB suite "Vigna Alta" -
just out of sight are dining table, 6 chairs, sofa...
and all this just for you and your loved one/s
A veritable fortune and years of restoration turned the medieval village with its church and ruined castle first into a highly exclusive club and then into the hotel owned by Massimo Ferragamo. He is the youngest son in the illustrious Italian family Ferragamo. A name that sparkles in Italy.

Already many celebrities have  come here to ”earth” themselves. With nibbles of celery straight from the large veggie garden, and all those Tuscan activities…


Simplicity is refinement but can include very expensive details. Everything is antique or custom made. TVs and minibars in leather cases.
Crafted from iron just for CdB guests

Four poster beds fashioned in wrought iron by craftsmen in Florence, the Renaissance city. Pictures found in antique shops. Rows and rows of them, beautifully placed.
Just one of the many pictures
sourced in antique shops

Though never flashy, the size of some its suites is remarkable. Like our suite Vigna Alta in the borgo village “main street”, with massive lounge, massive bathroom with tub and shower including stone seat, dressing room, extra bathroom and the best of all the spacious terrace with sunbeds, dining table, sofa and views of Tuscan hills.

We also got the chance to see two borgo rooms with terrace (some do not have terraces). The room Fontaccia alta has stairs down to a suite that opens out into a garden with a pizza oven. There is a little kitchen so the two can be rented together as a villa.

Garden at Fontaccia suite/villa

Bedroom at Fontaccia

Pizza oven in the garden of Fontaccia suite/villa in the borgo

We were also blown away by a 4 bedroom villa. In lonely splendour with open views this stone farm house is a hideaway that offers comfort and authentic charm, plus total privacy. There are 9 villas in all.
A very Tuscan twin room in the villa

Wooded beams are part of the Tuscan charm that
pervades this villa
A minibar in a suitcase - thoughtful secrets
all custom made in Florence


Of course the resort has a spa (Care Suite Spa by Daniela Steiner)  and a gym. It also has a kids club (25 euro per hour) - and families are made very welcome. The trattoria/Osteria is perfect for kids, very low key, with plenty of pizza and pasta naturally. We dined there deliriously – not just admiring the real taste of pizza with flours mixed according to the chef’s secret recipe, but the real taste of crisp freshly picked salad. Could salad without dressing really have so many flavours? The fine dining restaurant next door is also the site of a very delicious breakfast along with the same enchanting views over a wooded hilltop to Montalcino, two valleys away.

Breakfast starter - after fruit, muffin, cereal, homemade yoghurt
you get to order hot items from the menu
Technology is very up to date, but some of its best features are its oldest – the church with its 12 century etchings, the belltower on the former priest’s house – now the bar and trattoria Osteria La Canonica where you can taste the full Brunello range. The magical ruined castle where you can watch even deeper red sunsets. A great place to get married.


Other old treasures of Tuscany can be seen on excursions. Siena is about 40 minutes by car and Florence 1 hour 30 minutes. Montalcino is 15 minutes by car. The hotel charges 50 euro per way for a trip to Montalcino which is very affordable. Visiting by hire car is possible and fun, but you need to park low and climb high.

Charming fortified town on a mountain top - Montalcino

September and October and even into November it is a very special time at Castiglion del Bosco.   September sees grape harvesting for Brunello di Montalcino wine.  October is for truffle hunting, cheese tasting and wine tasting.  November is for olive oil tasting and related festivities. It’s also the best time for truffle hunting and for gourmet truffle dinners. The autumn at Castiglion is also perfect for trekking and mountain biking, golf, tennis, and safaris with chance of seeing creatures of the forest.

Famous for its deep red Brunello di Montalcino (takes 5 years to mature), Castiglion del Bosco charges 70 euro for a tasting session at its own winery. Select customers get this included as added value.

Castiglion’s own golf club charges 220 euro for 18 holes (golf cart extra), limiting the number of rounds to non members to only 4 per year. Ulrika our sales manager has played golf here and been blown over by the luxurious facilities and services. See our earlier blog on her visit.

In a nutshell

This is top luxury, the resort is so understated and earthy even while it is so full of artistic flair and refinement....great for all types of people with a budget expansive enough for tasteful ultra luxury – quiet romantic couples, people who want to take it easy and be pampered, or families who want to be active all day long…

Informal images by Select Team & PO Broddeson

Friday, September 21, 2012

HOTEL CHECK GREECE, part 9, Grace Santorini

Grace Santorini revisited.
This magical boutique hotel is as beautiful as ever.  The views from all 20 rooms are amazing and the vistas from the infinity pool are to die for. All  rooms are white and fresh with spacious bathrooms and luxurious local amenities. In addition there is now a sole use villa with a large private pool and its own spa.
This is a romantic and intimate hotel and since almost every room has its own plunge pool there are not many people hanging around the terraces in the daytime.

In the evening people get together in the bar for an appetizer before dinner. Manos the bartender mixes fabulous cocktails. The kitchen is an “open” kitchen where you can see Spyros the head cook and his team preparing lovely food.  Both at the poolside  and in the intimate restaurant the food is excellent. 

Masterful cocktails

Creative dining

...delicious dining

Dining with infinity views

You also have a lot restaurant alternatives in the area. We recommend a beautiful walk along the top of the caldera. Walking for 15 minutes along quaint narrow streets you reach the small village of Firo Stefani, which offers a lot of charming restaurants. If you continue walking 15 minutes more you will find Fira, the Capital of Santorini. Here there is plenty of shopping, many  restaurants - and if you want to you can party.

A world of blue and white

Another must is to go to the fishing village Oia to have a “frutti the Mare” in one of the few restaurants in the port. We recommend restaurant Dimitris.
This spring the management couple Martina and Joseph launch the spectacular THE VILLA at the Grace. This accommodation is 400 sqm with two exquisite bedrooms. You have your own pool, own spa with Jacuzzi, hammam and your own treatment room.

We were there in mid-September – but the days were a glorious 25 to 30 degrees C, while the evenings were balmy, perfect for dining out of doors. Accommodation  is highly sought after, and you have to book quite a few months ahead.

How to get to Grace Santorini

It is located in Imerovigli, a 20 minute drive from the airport.

Who to stay

Couples and adults who want graceful serenity and an authentic Greek charm, and dont mind lots of steps.
Views forever

Note: For a fuller account see our last blog on Santorini Grace. Since then, one pool has become the private area of the new villa, and the small gym is no longer there, but we felt no lack. The images above are informal snapshots by the Select team.

Friday, September 14, 2012

HOTEL CHECK ITALY, part 12, Villa Spalletti

Peaceful, exclusive and richly elegant, Villa Spalletti Trivelli is a treasure.  Like a personal guest in an aristocrat’s home, you get the feeling of boundless hospitality. This is partly due to the free minibar in your room and an open bar offering free drinks 5 to 8 pm every day: a chance to meet other guests over chilled bubbly or a gin and tonic poured yourself.

Complimentary bar in one of the drawing rooms

A green corner among the drawing rooms, one of several
in different colours

There are only 10 bedrooms in the villa and two new garden suites/apartments. But there are big reception spaces with inviting settees arranged in suites of different colour, so you can find your own quiet corner to sip your chilled prosecco. Perfect thing for a Rome evening after a crushingly hot Rome afternoon.

Among the antiques, velvet sofas and giant tapestries, family photos are generously scattered, adding to the personal feel. The two drawing rooms radiate an antique aura, classy, full of character…

Especially "settled" into its own character is a seriously leathery and comfortable, time honoured library.

A libary with real tradition

One of Villa Spalletti's home-in-Rome assets is a garden, where you can eat your breakfast or sip a drink in the evening. You hear a chorus of cicadas in the greenery, and seldom a breakthrough of car sound. It's a peaceful street, via Piacenza. Opposite is a shady park.

A green garden with the sound of cicadas
bringing nature to Rome


We stayed in one of the new garden suite apartments, reached by a path through the garden.

Garden suite apartment - a black glass island housing
a modern kitchen

Our suite was an interesting mix – eclectic. The sitting room is dominated by a very contemporary black glass island sporting an entire kitchen worth of facilities in it. A great place to sit with your laptop or mobile phone linked to the world via wifi. So is the garden terrace a great place for communing.

Terrace of our garden suite - also within reach of wifi

Otherwise the sitting room has a comfy beddable sofa, items of decorated antique-looking furniture. The bedroom has marble bathroom en-suite with deep tub; there is a second marble bathroom with shower, and two walk in cupboards.

Very comfortable and perfect for a long stay.

We loved being there. The best thing is probably the private terrace. Though still warm in the evening, some 31 degrees C, we sat there quietly just being.

The boutique hotel was full so we did not manage to see the other bedrooms with their much loved interiors, in the same spirit as the public rooms with individual colour schemes and antique furnishings.

Food & Beverage/Facilities

We enjoyed breakfast in the traditional dining room, included in the price,
Croissants, homemade jam, organic jam, home made cakes and bread rolls, organic yoghurts, freshly squeezed orange juice, fruit juices, cornflakes, musli, ham, parma ham, cheese, buffalo mozzarella, bruschetta, fresh fruit, cappuccino, freshly cooked hot items, omelette, poached egg, fried egg, pancakes…
We could have eaten in the garden, but that day was so hot that we kept indoors, to enjoy a breeze through the open windows, as well as aircon.

In the basement is a wellness centre including hammam and gym.


Wonderful location, only 5 minutes from Termini Station by taxi (15 min walk). Not far down the way from Villa Spalletti we found an almost tropical Rome, with tall palms waving in a hot breeze in front of old stone towers. We drifted down to a crossroads and Rome flowed over us from different ages. Trajan's column and the spectacular monument to Vittorio Emmanuel were among famous Roman sites within easy reach of Spalletti. Others are the Quirinale and Trevi Fountain.

Monument to Vittorio Emmanuel,
linked with the unification of Italy
View from a trattoria nearby - tropical feel

How to get to Villa Spalletti

40 minutes by car from Rome Fiumicino Airport, by taxi only 45 euro. Another option is a train in to Termini Station, and then a taxi - perhaps faster our of rush hour but not really lower in cost for 2 people.

Added value

Complimentary drinks

Note: Images are informal snapshots by Select and PO Broddeson

Thursday, September 6, 2012

HOTEL CHECK ITALY, part 11, Hotel Hassler

Hassler lies at the top of the Spanish Steps with some of the best views in Rome. Most people who visit the eternal city climb the 136 worn steps at least once and stare out over the magic of Rome's domes and spires, shimmering in haze and history.

Up on the hotel terraces the view is even more mesmerizing. So much so that people talk in hushed tones while tinkling the ice in their night drinks.

Zooming in on one of many famous sights
seen from Hassler terraces

The terrace by the gym - views as far as the Vatican and more

Because of the view, the corner table at the panoramic Michelin starred Imago restuarant may have witnessed more marriage proposals than any other spot in Europe. There is another contender for romance in two deep red velvet seats in Imago.

Red velvet romance. The second favourite spot for
wedding proposals in Imago

Roberto Wirth is a hands-on owner who loves to linger around reception. Mr Wirth is deaf and immediately explains: I lipread… A philanthropist who does a lot for deaf children, Wirth is a distinguished man with beautiful white hair and noble look, so we were honoured when he came up and shook our hands, explaining about his lack of hearing and conversing, showing he knew Select.

Wirth’s independence as hotelier is one of the charms of the hotel. With the help of his wife’s designer eye, it is totally original through and through with a quirky charm, personality and glamour that brings people back. “We have many customers that come because their parents loved it,” said sales manager Barbara Anklin. “It is a generational hotel.” Many are from the USA.

A glam anteroom
Once called Hassler New York, the hotel is an eclectic mix of styles and tastes. There are zooty touches that go back to the jazz age. Glittery glam lounges. Refined velvety lounges. And the simply staggering terraces...

Endless celebrities have stayed at Hassler, among which Grace Kelly (honeymoon), Tom Cruise (wedding) and Woody Allen (an enthusiastic repeater).


The rooms are all different with many different styles. Our deluxe room was renovated two years ago, plenty of wood, all white and bright. Pale marble bathroom. Delightful and fresh in feel. Another room (Junior Suite) we were shown was mostly black with black furniture and black marble bathroom – but had the advantage of one of the rare terraces. Another (Classic Suite) was newly attired in pale muted colours.

Classic suite
Others newly refurbished were in red, black and white with waves and checks, a kind of new art deco. The Presidential has been newly decorated with this playful flamboyance (by the owner’s wife).

Presidential deco

The Penthouse suite also flashes with vivid red. The main feature about this suite is its totally amazing unbeatable terrace. Huge…and with views to mesmerize. All the magic of Rome is there with domes and spires rising from the haze. What is more it has a roofed area on the terrace with a TV and grilling place. The Penthouse suites size, charm and status invites high society and celebrity weddings. Up to a hundred guests have been present at weddings here.

One corner of the gigantic terrace of the Penthouse suite -
many a society or celebrity wedding has taken place here

There is a shortage of terraces among deluxe rooms – only two – but if you book really far ahead and have a good reason for asking for a balcony, you just might be lucky. You have to take a suite to be guaranteed a terrace.

Deluxe balcony - with luck or persistance
Our Deluxe room had a view of Iglesia Trinita de Monte seen though a gap between two wings of the building. We had the best possible changing room, as there is plenty of place for two suitcases on a built in platform at convenient height (no bending over) plenty of drawers and hanging spaces. Marble bathroom. Nice amenities.

Our view

Our fresh and bright grand deluxe room with a
peep through to the excellent dressing room
Our marble bath room

Altogether there are 95 rooms of which 13 are suites. Plenty of connecting rooms, deluxe to grand deluxe, grand deluxe to grand deluxe.

Spa, gym, 3 bars and restaurants.

Shopping and other activities
Top activity might be window shopping in Via Condotti which starts only 136 steps down from Hassler and perhaps 50 more.



Just to name a few brands that jostle side by side on a short stretch: Bally, Burberry, Bvlgari, Cartier, Damiani, Dolce & Gabbana, Ferragamo, Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Hermes, Prada, Trussardi, Valentino, Vuitton. Boring for kids? An exception: The Ferrari store has appeal for boys of all ages and is quite an exciting red.

Hassler weclomes kids and has a children's programme.  There CAN be fun and exciting learning for kids in Rome. Barbara Ankin mentioned a museum that taught the history of Rome to kids – Museum of the Roman Civilization. Of course kids can enjoy seeing the Colosseum, the Catacombs too and driving fun bike/car things in the Villa Borghese park. The place where all of Rome goes to hang on a Sunday...

Boat hire on the parks little lake with turtles

Everyone in the park with their kids, their dogs..
or even their parrots

How to get to Hotel Hassler

45 minutes by car from Rome Fiumicino Airport 

Note: Informal images by Select team and PO Broddeson