Travel Design Tips & Inspiration

Tuscan Honeymoon Perennial

Friend Of A Friend Consulting, Italy

Jul
31
2010

Locanda dell’Amorosa

Sinalunga, (just outside Siena)


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Though it can no longer be deemed a Hideaway given its immense popularity – particularly among honeymooners –  Locanda dell’Amorosa maintains the sentiment (and personalized service) of a tucked-away gem beckoning lovebirds with its secluded, romantic setting in the Sienese countryside. From the long, cypress lined driveway to the crumbling Tuscan exterior adorned with pink azaleas, Amorosa delivers postcard-style scenery right away.

With just 27 rooms nestled within a bonafide historic estate (some of the buildings date back to the 1300s), Locanda Amorosa actually delivers the coveted, old-world, Italian charm that one fantasizes about when booking her trip. The property even has its own delightfully, cavernous restaurant (the estate’s former stables) and elegant, consecrated church, making Amorosa an ideal, intimate wedding venue.

view from a room through the courtyard to the church

view from a room through the courtyard to the church

Unlike other Tuscan hamlets, Amorosa (as the regulars call it) is inviting during all seasons, particularly Fall and Winter when the traditional country decor – fireplaces, exposed beam ceilings, tile floors, seems extra cozier. Divided between the old manor house and the former worker’s residences, the guest rooms are individually decorated, each featuring its own combination of antiques, garden views and Tuscan countryside palettes. Those in the former farmers quarters tend to lean more towards the rustic, with working fireplaces and exposed ceilings while those in the manor house were finished later and as a result have a slightly fresher, updated feel.

*If you’re a bathroom snob (which, I most definitely am) then I recommend choosing a Manor Room or one of the suites. (Number 32 has a nice, spacious bathroom) But if it’s typical Tuscan country details like brick arches, fireplaces and beamed ceilings, choose room 45 on the second floor of the loggia area.

One of the more romantic suites

One of the more romantic suites - A "Special Suite"

If it’s your first time visiting Tuscany and you’re searching for a spot with that quintessential Italian charm but with easy access to the major sites, Amorosa (as the regulars call it) is the perfect spot. Just fifteen minutes drive from Siena and a ten-minute bike ride to the center of Sinalunga yet still surrounded by views of casino en ligne farmland and vineyards of the Val di Chiana, Amorosa provides a hamlet within the countryside with easy access to the hotspots and those sought-after, Italian village spoils (nightly gelato).

But, beyond the ideal location for touring, Amorosa also offers its own signature, historic charm, which keeps the couples swooning and the regulars returning. With some of the buildings dating back to the 14th century having survived two world wars (a crumbling stone wall stands testament to the nearby bombs that tore through the area during the second world war), the hotel has an austerity along with a sense of calm that permits guests to relax and be inspired simultaneously. Of course, elegant elements like the fragrant mediterranean gardens and lovely outdoor pool add to the sense of tranquility.  NB: A spa is in the works though nothing concrete has been done yet.

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Further heralded for its cuisine, Amorosa features two dining establishments. First, and more notably,  the fine dining restaurant, Le Coccole dell’Amorosa, whose seasonal menus reflect the local fare and vegetation while the arched, stonewall interiors guarantee languid meals tucked into the various cozy, fire-lit corners. (The terrace is open during the warmer months and can be equally as atmospheric though not as private)

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The second is Amorosa’s  Osteria wine bar, located right next to the church. Ideal for those afternoon hunger pains, the Osteria serves a delectable cheese plate (don’t miss the local pecorino cheese, smoked sausage and organic honey) along with the Borgo’s private label wine and homegrown produce. Be sure to ask the staff for a tour of the hidden, wine cellar and private tasting room – its one of the oldest in the area and has yet to be modernized (sterilized) allowing it that musty, authentic feel. The Osteria is also the setting for breakfast – a delightful buffet with homemade cakes, croissants, fresh fruit and eggs made to order. The place can fill up so its best to get there early for the better tables down in front.

FINAL WORD: Try not to be ruffled when you note everyone around you is also on their honeymoon. Rather, take pride in yourself for having the savvy to have booked the best room.

Posted in: Friend Of A Friend Consulting, Italy

Published by Meg, Saturday, July 31, 2010 No Comments

Verdura Resort – Sicily

Italy, Travel Tips

Apr
08
2010

Verdura Resort & Spa

Sciacca, Sicily

April 2-6 – Easter

With the fortunate assignment of checking out Sir Rocco Forte’s latest resort, Vedura Resort & Spa, on the southern coast of Sicily, my husband and I spent our Easter holiday testing out the resort’s impressive golf offerings – 45 holes, spa complex – 46,000-square feet and encompassing sea views.

The resort's main building, which hosts two restaurants, a terrace lounge and bar area, the lobby and a small shop with caftans, Verdura monogrammed towels and sunhats.

The resort's main building, which hosts two restaurants, a terrace lounge and bar area, the lobby and a small shop with caftans, Verdura monogrammed towels and sunhats.

We had a four fantastic nights trying everything from the three restaurants (buffet style, traditional Sicilian Trattoria and formal dining on Easter night) to the spa (well, Friso indulged there with two massages!) and of course, the golf.

The back 9 has some fantastic (albeit windy and challenging) seaside holes

The front 9 of the East course has some fantastic (albeit windy and challenging) seaside holes

The 18th hole of the west course

The 18th hole of the west course

The weather was crisp and windy, though the sun still managed to fry my shins. We had a challenging but fun time testing out our rusty games on both the west (pictured above) and east courses – driving over olive groves, chipping from the sand (ok, me) and misreading the ever-changing greens.

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pitching

Walking both golf courses allows the guest to understand the layout of the resort far better than just driving the golf cart between the buildings. Its also a good way tojudge which room location you’d prefer. Those along the back 9 of west course (or to the right of the main building if you’re facing the sea) enjoy the sunset view along with proximity to the spa. While those closer to the east course (to the left of the main building) are a bit quieter (provided your farther away from the pool) and have more complex views of both the craggy hillside and sea.

The east course facing villas seen from the course

The east course facing villas seen from the course

Divided between ground level villas, suites and condo-style buildings Electronic Cigarette with deluxe rooms stacked atop one another, the room variations are considerable. My preference are the villas all the way around the bend, facing the front 9 of the East course (seen from course above) for more privacy given the resort tends to be favored (and rightfully so – the kids club is impressive) by families.

The villa suites along the west course

The villa suites along the west course

The Superior deluxe rooms set behind and above the villas on the hillside

The Superior deluxe rooms set behind and above the villas on the hillside.

Between the infinity pool and the white sand beach (brought in), there are plenty of cozy spaces to take part in the beloved Italian tradition of ‘taking the sun’. Don’t be surprised if some guests spend their entire day sun bathing. As you can tell, the resort is prepared.

The straw umbrellas give the beach a nice tropical feel. By this summer the sand will extend all the way to the 12th century tower in the background

The straw umbrellas give the beach a nice tropical feel. By this summer the sand will extend all the way to the 12th century tower behind the 18th hole (hard to see in this pic, I'm afraid)

The lovely pool area with its myriad of seating options

The lovely pool area with its myriad of seating options

For Easter, Friso and I went into the neighboring small town of Sciacca for Easter mass and an authentic Sicilian lunch. We were delighted by the impromptu (well, it was for us) street celebration complete with a dancing Jesus puppet and streamers.

The lovely cathedral where we attended Mass

The lovely cathedral where we attended Mass

The parade

The parade and the cheering crowds of Sciacca

Overall, Verdura resort made for a wonderful getaway. We took great pleasure in testing out the vast options of amenities and appreciated the blend of golf (neither of us had ever golfed in Italy before) and the warm, southern Italian hospitality. As the resort ages (it’s less than a year old), I believe it will become even more assured, establishing more traction with international golfers who are eager for a European holiday that will appeal to everyone in the family.

Posted in: Italy, Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Thursday, April 8, 2010 No Comments

DAY 3 – Soft Seclusion in Umbria

Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews, Italy, Travel Tips

Mar
29
2010

PALAZZO TERRANOVA

Hills of Umbria (near Morra)

The hills of Umbria in late March - imagine the greens of summer

The hills of Umbria in late March - imagine the greens of summer

Today I found myself at a truly beautiful spot, WAY off the beaten path. So far off, the path actually had craters in it deep enough to sink my tiny Fiat Panda entirely. Tucked up in the Umbrian hills with nary a neighbor, Palazzo Terranova is quite the demure lady.

The other side of the Palazzo taken from the pool area

The other side of the Palazzo taken from the pool area

Formerly owned by a vivacious Englishwoman, the hotel has come under recent management in the last three years and as a result, has smartened up a bit. Gone are many of the previous knick-knacks and lace table clothes, replaced with a decidedly more masculine approach, particularly in the bar and ground floor lounge area.  Fortunately the second and third floor sitting rooms maintain the elegant romance of the 8 guestrooms (all so wonderful, I cannot wait to return with my husband someday) and the overall feel of the place is soothing and serene with bouquets of fragrant Lilies and flickering candles bestowing the owner’s heavenly blended scent.

The first floor sala

The first floor sala

I cannot say enough about the soft, pleasantness of the guestrooms at PalazzoTerranova. So, instead, I’ll post my photos of the grande dame of guestrooms; Troviata.

Guestroom Troviata (each are named after operas)

Guestroom Troviata (each are named after operas)

The romantic bathroom of Guestroom Troviata

The romantic bathroom of Guestroom Troviata

Immediately upon entry to my room, Violetta, I was soothed, having been lulled by the room’s violet palette, the gauzy linen curtains, the elegant hand painted designs on the walls, the framed antique portraits and most of all, the enormous, four-poster iron bed with freshly pressed linens and bountiful down pillows. (The room has changed slightly since this photo below and is even more alluring and attractive.)

Guestroom Violetta

Guestroom Violetta

The candle flickering in the corner on the dressing table along with the lavendar-colored silk bench and deep-set linen sofa complimented the feminine feel of the room sweetly while the terracotta floors and high ceilings offered a subtle grandeur.

photo-violetta3 The bathroom was equally as splendid with a darling claw-foot tub, separate marble shower, terracotta floors and similarly stenciled painted wall designs. The large shuttered window gazing out to the hills below was the fine ribbon/bow on a delicately wrapped gift – somewhat expected yet always appreciated. photo-violetta2

Guestroom Bellini

Guestroom Bellini

Another favorite and oft-requested room is Bellini. I found the bathroom to be especially charming. All the rooms can be seen on the website so you may easily choose your preference. I strongly suggest asking for one on the back of the house – facing out to the hills.

Bathroom in the opposing room

The bathroom of Guestroom Bellini

The staff at the property is wonderfully affable – greeting me with smiles and later bidding me adieu all in a line.  I felt deliciously spoiled as I was treated to a massage this morning that was nothing short of superb. Being pregnant, massages are like gold, but can often be too weak if the masseuse is too hesitant given the massive belly. Luckily, this velvet-handed woman was right on target, applying draining techniques to my legs and feet (oh the swelling I endure!) and just the right kind of kneading on my aching back.  She also used pure olive oil for the massage given its non-perfumed scent and high quantity of Vitamin E.  Apparently, the Romans used Olive Oil for skin rituals far before they ever brought it to the dining table.

The vista from the Palazzo

The vista from the Palazzo

After the massage I was offered the distinct pleasure of going on a truffle hunt, a popular pursuit in the surrounding area, along with hunting porcini mushrooms. The hotel arranges both tours for guests with a private guide.  The grounds of the Palazzo are actually prime themselves, filled with white truffles from November to right about now (March) and then the black ones begin in mid-June.

Truffle hunger with his faithful companions and the palazzo in the background

The kindly truffle hunter with his faithful companions and the palazzo in the background

Accompanied by his two faithful pooches (Chiana and Pipa), my guide and hunter-extraordinaire told me about the rigors of training these highly sensitive dogs and how there’s nothing sweeter than spending his early mornings walking the forest with one of them in tow. I was amazed at these dogs’ keen sense (the brown one is older and therefore more proficient). Given that it is late in the season, many of the findings were no larger than marbles yet the dog would sniff them out under layers of thick grass and shrub. To watch them dig away excitedly was my closest experience to a treasure hunt.

The dogs digging at a spot and the hunter protecting their find

The dogs digging at a spot and the hunter protecting their find - lots of "FERMA FERMA and DAI, DAI" can be heard during this moment.

What struck me the most was that the guide would have to run to the dogs as soon as they started digging for fear that the dog may eat the truffle before he can pry it from their jobs. It seems they find them quite tasty as well. We walked around the hills for a good 30 minutes and I never once got bored watching the dogs scour and eventually located various sizes of truffles.

Our loot - the smaller ones are almost more impressive given their tiny size and the magnitude of the dog's nose

Our loot - the smaller ones are almost more impressive given their tiny size and the magnitude of the dog's nose

The food at Palazzo Terranova was inventive and well presented though somewhat spotty for me. This can be easily attributed to my inability to eat rare-cooked meat these days, meaning dinner wasn’t ideal with lesser-cooked pieces of quail with the starter and a rare cut of beef as the secondo. My favorite dish was at the lunch – a shaved zucchini marinated in Spanish vinegar then set under shaved carpaccio with some arugula. It was simply delicious. The Palazzo offers cooking classes with their chef using, of course, truffles and porcinis when they are in season. There are also wine tasting tours available upon reservation.

The dining room

The dining room.

The Palazzo is keen to serve local, Umbrian wines and encourage tourism in the area. The hotel offers set itineraries for surrounding art tours (heading back towards Cortona, as well) and local craftsman.  Weddings are also possible at this lovely villa and would not doubt make a small affair quite memorable. Overall, the hotel is a wonderfully, secluded spot – a hideaway for sure. I would highly recommend it for a two-day stop with the heavy intent on romance and relaxation.

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Posted in: Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews, Italy, Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Monday, March 29, 2010 No Comments

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About Meg

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Meg is the founder of luxury travel consulting company, Friend of a Friend Consulting. Her three books, Italian Hideaways, Caribbean Hideaways and England's Hideaways are published by Rizzoli. Passionate about travel, hotels and wine, she continues to write freelance travel pieces and is currently pursuing a Masters in Wine through the WSET.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and do not reflect separate business relationships with the subject. Whenever posts are supported financially, they are designated as such.