Castello Banfi Il Borgo: Medieval Magnificence in Brunello di Montalcino
Montelcino, Italy, December 14, 2016 – Castello Banfi Il Borgo is a magnificent 13th century medieval castle and luxury resort hotel set on 7000 acres in the heart of the Tuscan wine country of Brunello di Montalcino. This sprawling oasis in the rolling hills west of the mountain town of Montalcino is also the center of the Banfi family of extraordinary Italian wines,
With just 14 luxury accommodations in a beautifully restored 17th century hamlet located just below the ancient castle that once housed workers on the estate, Castello Banfi is a gorgeous experience in the midst of some of the most beautiful countryside imaginable.
A decades-long restoration project was a labor of love from the John Mariani family. The property includes a 5-star restaurant, La Sala dei Grappoli, an extensive wine tasting room L’Enoteca, all in an environment that seems to belong to another time and space.
The castle itself is a massive looming structure sitting atop a hill that dominates the countryside for miles around.
The drive descending from Montelcino is a bucolic wander down a series of country roads, the last of which becomes unpaved for a stretch as it traverses over a small knoll and around a corner before dramatically revealing the castle, like a mythic presence in the distance, framed perfectly behind a sweeping vineyard.
The fortified castle was a strategic chokepoint through the centuries for the Republic of Siena, and the property of the Siennese noble Count Placidi family and their descendants from 1529 to 1959. It was acquired by the Mariani family in 1984 as part of the Banfi Vineyards estate.
Just below the castle is the Il Borgo, the restored 17th century hamlet of villa’s where workers once toiled for the nobles, now an ethereally charming collection of golden stone villa’s with views stretching across the sloping vineyards to the hills of Tuscany beyond.
Each of the 6 rooms and 8 suites is distinctively different, but all have high beamed ceilings, sumptuous furnishings, and an elegant luxurious charm as decorated by renowned Italian designer and architect Federico Forquet.
The Riserva Suite is entered from the upper walkway, and opens into a stunning living room area, with a massive bedroom, and two full bathrooms. An awe inspiring yet exceptionally comfortable space, it has a warm, low key opulence and the feel of a country retreat.
Wandering the grounds is like a medieval dream, the castle dominating views from every angle, deep golden stone glinting off a deep blue sky, historic banner flags furling in the wind.
The hamlet is a golden village of immaculate detail that slopes downward towards the vineyards, the central cobblestone street looking off to the distant hilltops.
A sprawling exotic swimming pool right out of a James Bond movie fills a terrace overlook just outside the vaulted arches of the room where breakfast is also served.
The lobby of Il Borgo, the breakfast room, and the swimming pool terrace are all on the west side of the hamlet, while the 14 guest suites on the east side make up an semi-enclosed village that opens onto a trellised open lounge area next to an expansive lawn and a stately ancient fountain.
Strolling across the front lawn above the hamlet along the castle wall is like something out of a fairy tale, giant walls looming over spectacular scenery.
The inner courtyard is supremely impressive, a line of 14th century artillery cannon lined up in regal order, the interior castle well surrounded by thunderous walls, under a soaring castle keep.
A “Museum of Bottle And Glass” and the history of Poggio alle Mura and the surrounding region fills one wing of an antechamber to the castle.
Walking around the castle walls past the Chef’s herb garden is a three dimensional panoramic immersion into the glorious countryside that surrounds Castello Banfi on all sides. Vineyards mix with fields and clouds, rolling green hills with blue skies, truly a bastion of scenic wonderment from a glorious perch on the pinnacle of the hill.
Outside the massive wooden gates of Poggio alle Mura is an expansive lawn that gives way to the ancient golden stone farmhouse that is the enchanted world class restaurant La Sala dei Grappoli.
Acclaimed executive Chef Domenico Francone holds sway over a truly extraordinary environment in which to indulge the senses with the gravitas of exceptional haute cuisine and fine wine.
A promenade of paving stones extends down from the restaurant to L’ Enoteca, the expansive tasting room and showcase for the extended family of Banfi wines.
A casual restaurant, La Taverna, occupies a lovely vaulted room just off the promenade in front of the castle, serving lunch only with a lighter more traditional Tuscan menu.
Because of its stunning impeccable location and accommodations, and the privacy of only 14 luxury rooms in the hamlet, Castello Banfi Poggio alle Mura is the perfect destination for weddings, special events, or exclusive corporate meetings, particularly when taking over the entire property.
Within the walls of Poggio alle Mura are banquet and celebration facilities, including the Sala del Capitano, the Captains Room, in one of the oldest wings of the castle, that seats up to 100 guests for dinner.
The gorgeous wooden beamed Sala del Teatro is a small theatre on the top floor of the Castello, and perfect for after dinner dancing, cake cutting or smaller receptions for up to 60 guests.
Special events throughout the year, and numerous private events and weddings stage celebrations in the courtyard of the castle, the veranda overlooking the vineyards, or the grand promenade in front of the castle.
Guests at Castello Banfi can take a cooking class from award winning La Sala dei Grappoli executive Chef Domineco Francone, an extraordinary experience with a master chef, held in a separate farmhouse on the grounds of the vineyards.
Over the course of 3 hours Chef Francone and a private group of guests make ricotta flan with zuchinni, tagliatelle with chianina ragout, and fillet of veal with Tuscan bacon, or whatever else he has chosen for that day.
The views of Castello Banfi from the farmhouse are extraordinary, as is the surrounding countryside. Chef Francone takes a break with his guests at one point to walk around the property to feed carrots to the resident donkey in the stable by the pond.
Chef Francone is patient and charming as he puts guests through their paces making fresh tagliatelle, learning the finer trade secrets of seasoning and preparation, and then eating the delightful fruits of their labors in a delectable mini feast served with a host of Banfi wines.
A tour of the winery and a tasting session afterward is an absolute essential activity while at Castello Banfi. Banfi is one of the largest Italian wine companies in the world, making both mass market and extraordinary crafted fine wines that are exported widely, and whose exceptional vintages are highly prized.
The Mariani brothers are American-Italian entreprenuers who made their name and initial fortune importing and popularizing through advertising an Italian mass market wine called Riunite, whose slogan “Riunite on ice…That’s nice!” ultimately built a company and an empire.
They purchased Castello Banfi in 1984 and over the years were instrumental in building awareness of the extraordinary Brunello di Montelcino wine and region that they are in the heart of. They are also one of the largest producers and exporters of wine in Italy.
This region is dotted with vineyards and vintners of the famed Brunello di Montelcino appellation, all grown from the Sangiovese grape, and whose bold reputation has seized the imagination of wine drinkers.
At the Banfi winery, a few miles from Castello Banfi, the facilities are extraordinary, and scalable in production from the range of large steel vats and massive wooden aging tanks for mass market wines, to enormous classic oak barrels and more traditional stacked barrels of their finest wine varietals aging in the deepest parts of the cellars there.
After a stop back at Castello Banfi at the stone warehouse where they store their aged balsamic, it is time to taste the range of Banfi wines at L’Enoteca.
Both a showcase and an expansive room to sell their wines, at one end of L’Enoteca is a bar for tastings, and that’s is where the serious fun begins.
Their Brunello di Montelcino Riserva Poggio alle Mura and Poggio all’Oro are heavenly, and their “Super-Tuscans” especially their SummuS and ExcelsuS are crowning achievements.
While tasting the Super Tuscans and soaking in the aura of the day we happen to run into Pamela Mariani , wife of the co-founder John Mariani, who is there giving a tour to a journalist.
A vibrant, enchanting, unassumingly casual woman, she conveys the attitude of someone vitally content with their life’s work and continually enthralled with the joy of what they have accomplished.
Castello Banfi is the story of a family with a dream and a passion for Italian wine and the surrounding region that has lifted the fortunes of Brunello di Montelcino and all the wineries around them.
Dinner at Sala dei Grappoli is an enchanted evening right out of a Tuscan dream, the night shimmering in golden light reflected off the castle walls, and the glowing atmosphere of the restaurant radiating through quaint farmhouse windows.
The restaurant is exceptionally elegant, with a warm and cozy atmosphere, stunning wooden beamed ceilings, and a soothing green wallpaper with a soft vineyard motif.
Service is flawless, as the staff moves through the course of the evening with precision and grace, the room buoyant with the shared expectation and electricity of enjoying a magical experience.
The menu changes regularly and seasonally, and tonight both the duck ravioli and the sea urchin risotto are spectacular triumphs particularly when paired with a Banfi Chardonnay.
Home made taglialini with black summer truffles is magnificent, and Chinanino beef fillet with Brunello di Montelcino jus is a celebration of succulent tender Italian beef, paired with an exceptional Banfi SummuS 2005 Super Tuscan.
The evening flies by in a swirl of fine wine and exotic deserts, the glow of the evening lending an ethereal quality to the atmosphere in the room, the calming joy of an evening well spent.
Strolling across the grounds in the moonlight is surreal, the golden walls of the castle resounding into the night sky, the distant hills reflecting in the moonlight.
The Riserva Suite is a romantic chamber for soaking in the Tuscan night, for uncorking the chilled bottle of Banfi Prosecco, for relishing in the experience of being here, and for making the most of it.
As morning comes, just before sunrise, walk the grounds in the blue shadow of the pale dawn, a sprinkling of rain making the cobblestones glisten, a small wind rising up from the vineyards below, the sun just glinting over the horizon as the morning sky begins to turn pink and a new day begins at Castello Banfi.
Castello Banfi Il Borgo is open from March 30 until Nov 12th in 2017.
Deluxe rooms start at about $770 a night, Junior suites run around $840 per night. Classic suites can be had for about $900 a night, while the Riserva Suite is $1000 a night. The top of the line Poggio all’Oro suite can be had for a cool $1200 a night, and the farmhouse where the cooking classes are held can be reserved with a price upon request.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles @JoelBerliner
All Photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal