Let’s say you come upon a crumbling Tuscan village surrounded by scraggly vines (because the village happens to be in Chianti). There’s a derelict tobacco factory on the edge of town. The homes are vacant with the exception of a few little-used vacation homes.
The tobacco factory closed years ago. There is no longer a reason for working people to live in Castelfalfi.
You’d say “awe, too bad!” right? A little voice inside your head advises, “They should fix it up, put in a restaurant and tourists would come in droves.”
Then, what if I told you a German company, TUI, came in and bought up the whole lot, village, factory, vineyards, decrepit plumbing, churches, streets…
Whoa! They are not the “they” we were thinking of when we used the ambiguous term, were they?
This “they” will certainly turn the whole deal into an absurd carnival, a hoity-toity mutt of a village cobbled together to reflect what the average person who hasn’t been to Italy thinks of deepest Tuscany. We’re talking fake ceiling beams, efficient bureaucracy, beer halls. It’s not just you and I—the locals were quite suspicious of the whole turn of affairs, too, according to the project’s Chief Executive Officer Stefan Neuhaus.
We spent a couple of nights as Stefan’s guest in the hotel, which used to be the tobacco factory. Most of the village has been restored—but there were still a few cranes. There isn’t a beer hall, but there is a wine shop and even a winery with tasting room. On the day we were leaving, a gelateria opened. We were the first outsiders to have an early morning gelato. The farro concoction, a specialty, was very, very good and Tuscan to the core.
You can visit, as we did, with a hotel stay and enjoy the three pools, the bikes, the food and wine, and maybe throw on the apron and experience a cooking class. Perhaps you are a golfer (see our views on the Castelfalfi golf courses). But then perhaps you might consider the renovated houses for sale, targeting the busy executive who just wants to relax and have everything taken care of; just call ahead and let the management arrange your activities. Homes start at 250,000 euro. You can be middle-management and still afford one.
Wine is just now beginning to be squeezed out of the rejuvenated vineyards. There are three reds currently. They aren’t expensive. Our favorite, the 2013 Cerchiaia Chianti costs 10 euros, 16 in the restaurant. In the US, it would cost at least $40 in a decent eatery. The super-Tuscan called Poggionero is a few euros more. Soon there will be a white.
There are two restaurants, a fancy one and a trattoria called Il Rosmarino. We were lucky enough to take a cooking class with the chef of Il Rosmarino, just a short stroll up the street from the hotel. Francesco Ferretti had us making puff pastry and rolling pici, a typical fat spaghetti made without eggs, all the while giving us tips on cooking and telling us of his work in this rejuvenated village.
When we were done, we took off our aprons and chef Ferretti escorted us to our table, precisely positioned to have a view of the Chianti landscape out the open window. Here was where he would force us to eat what we had made. Having your hand rolled pasta turned into a work of art and served to you by a window open to the Tuscan hills is an experience you’ll remember, trust me. That’s chef Ferretti to the upper right, opening our bottle of Cerchiaia.
There is a wildlife preserve bordering on the Castelfalfi golf course. A fence keeps the wild boar in check. A walk with the gamekeeper brought us past a derelict house used in the latest Pinocchio movie and then past the locked gates of the preserve, where we hacked through the undergrowth to see an Etruscan tomb. Along the way we learned of the purpose and history of just about every piece of vegetation that grew around us. We were immersed in a world that poor Italians would have known like the backs of their hands.
Perhaps you are getting the picture here. This is a special place, built and staffed with Italian workers.
Slowly the locals are returning, first out of curiosity, then to try the golf course and eat in the restaurants and finally to stroll the streets. I would say the Germans have almost worked a rejuvenating miracle, but then I’ve stayed for free and might be biased, right? Well, I encourage you to go and see it for yourself. Eat in Francesco’s trattoria. Have the simple Tuscan foods that Francesco has brought to life. I’m talking real basic here, like his fabulous papa al pomodoro. Yes, pap. You will be amazed. And then if it’s on the menu try his Tonno del Chianti. It’s not a fish dish, but pork that looks like canned tuna—and it takes a while to prepare. According to the chef: “marinate the pork for 4 days in a white wine marinade, then take it out and cook it with spices for 15 hours very, very slowly, then Cryovac it with the house olive oil and let it sit a while, like tuna.”
Oh yes, there are olive trees and estate olive oil. The trees are even incorporated into the golf course. It’s brilliant.
And Castelfalfi even has a castle, of course. You can’t think of living in a village without one, can you?
Castelfalfi on the web.
Castelfalfi Travel Guide on Italy Travel