“Being Juliet, I suppose I should have seen it coming. But I so wanted to believe that, this time around, it would not be the same old lamentable tale. This time, we would be together forever, Romeo and I, and our love would never again be suspended by the dark centuries of banishment and death” Juliet, Anne Fortier.
I like to read when I can, but it takes a lot for a fictional book to really grab my attention. Anne Fortier’s incredible penmanship did just that with the first paragraph of her novel. It’s not easy to take a historic tale like Romeo and Juliet and make it current and readable for women (and men) like myself today. Reading ‘Juliet’ was more than just a story; I learnt so much about Tuscany, more importantly, Siena. It’s thanks to this book that I created my bucket list, and Siena is right up there at No 1.
I’d always thought of Verona as the location to the classic Shakespeare love story, however thanks to Anne Fortier’s mum and her extensive research, Anne wrote the book based on fact and fiction together. Many believe that it was in fact Siena that played host to the couple that ended their lives for love. The city that is home to great families with their personal ancestry crests adorning the walls of their homes and buildings. Perhaps the greatest monument, and central to tradition of course, is the square that holds the famous Palio horse race every year, with each rider bravely representing their families in the race for such a prestigious title.
Since adding it to my bucket list I have done endless research on the city and Tuscany itself, this time I want to look at some of the top luxury hotels in this delicious region of Italy. I’ll start with L’Andana, the boutique hotel not far from Siena, and with close links to Florence. The extravagant establishment was founded by tastebud genius, Alain Ducasse and the Moretti family. Alain, the well known and incredibly talented restaurateur, who most notably operates the ‘Alain Ducasse’ restaurant at The Dorchester, London. That restaurant alone now has three Michelin stars, the highest recognition possible, and extremely well deserved. The year 2004 saw Mr Ducasse pour all of his passion for Italy into the L’Andana resort, settled upon 500 hectares of stunning Nature Park. From the minute you drive down the cypress and pine tree-lined driveway, guests can feel the romantic atmosphere and only imagine what is to come, delicious food, relaxing spa days and a truly tuscan mini-break.
For something within the old walls of Siena then you can try The Grand Continental. The magnificent 17th century building has a classic luxury feel with marble-refined bathrooms and priceless furniture that just adds to the centuries of history this hotel has to offer. It all started with Pope Alexander VII who gave it as a wedding gift, to his niece Olympia. Now it hosts a truly elite clientele from royalty and monarchs to celebrity royalty, such as A-list James Bond actor Daniel Craig. Being in the medieval heart of the city, it has great links to all the sites and isn’t far if you want to take a trip into the hills or perhaps a local vineyard.
Next, the Castel Monastero, situated in a small corner of Tuscany and outside of Florence and Siena. Surrounded by Chianti vines, cornfields and chestnut trees it’s a great escape to relax and soak up the Mediterranean sun. Also, it’s an ideal place to have a beautifully intimate wedding at the small chapel within the walls of the resort. This majestic part of Italy is a great spot for visiting the local wineries, so be sure to make a day of it and take a tour of the wine cellars and the breathtaking views. The resort itself has an extensive wine cellar and it’s known for its knowledge and ability to pair wines with great food, creating the ultimate dining experience.
Number four. Relais Della Ravere, a building obtained by Cardinal Guilliano Della Ravere from the ancient Benedict Abbey. Built in the 1600s it has panoramic views of Calle Bassa and Calle Alta, a true villa of the renaissance period. It has 30 rooms and 3 suites, and was remodelled in 1999. It is perhaps best known for ‘Il Cardinale’ its hotel restaurant, which serves excellent national dishes with fine wines. It likes to support the local vineyards and showcases their wines in the stunning wine cellars below. My favourite feature has to be the romantic courtyard, lit up with candles, a perfect place to soak up the romantic atmosphere and another great place for a sunset wedding reception.
Last but by no means least; Villa Armena is my number five. Twenty minutes from Siena this boutique designed hotel was built as far back as the 1500s, it has 10 rooms and 6 suites so offers the intimacy that some people are looking for. Enveloped in the warm embrace of the Tuscan sun, this location was the source of inspiration for many artists. The Villa itself has a fairytale feel about it, with its precious furnishings, terracotta floors and sensual colour schemes. It’s no surprise that Trip advisor nominated it for the ‘2014 Travellers Choice Awards Luxury Category’, and it certainly lives up to the title.
I hope I can inspire people to visit this amazing part of Italy, and I’d love to hear from anyone that has visited these hotels or Tuscany at all….