Room Service: Castel Monastero, Tuscany

The 11th-century monastery is now a fabulous hotel that provides splendid solitude fit for a monk, says Brian Viner.

They were unveiling a shiny new Lancia when my wife and I stayed at Castel Monastero in the Tuscan countryside near Siena. Even though the 11th-century monastery is now a fabulous hotel, it felt slightly discordant to see it staging such a genuflection to modern materialism as a car launch. A walled medieval hamlet, quintessentially Tuscan and almost tear-jerkingly photogenic, Castel Monastero is surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, and by rights should still be full of cowled friars, rather than sleek Lancia executives and "Fine Dining con Gordon Ramsay".

Yes, the ubiquitous Gordon has his corporate cleaver well and truly embedded, though he visits only a couple of times a year. We ate in "his" Contrada restaurant, and very plush it was too, although memorable to us for a loudly disgruntled Australian who complained 23 times (we counted) over a fruit platter, a vegan option for his wife, saying: "I could have done this at home."

Anyway, we much preferred the Cantina, which offers less formal dining in a vast vaulted cellar where the monks used to store their wine. It would have been atmospheric even without the huge refectory tables, illuminated by candlelight. With them, it was a vague surprise not to be served by Professor Dumbledore.

A further surprise is that this distinctive collection of buildings wasn't converted into a hotel until 2009. Before that the estate belonged to a celebrated Tuscan winemaker, Lionello Marchesi. But for 900 years it was owned by the aristocratic Chigi family, who produced a couple of popes and whose family home in Rome, the Palazzo Chigi, is still the official residence of the Italian Prime Minister. Men of wealth and influence strode across this splendid central piazza even before the arrival of Gordon Ramsay.

But Gordon is not the only famous name attached to Castel Monastero. The hotel has also signed up Dr Mosaraf Ali to oversee the sumptuous spa, enabling it to trade on Dr Ali's reputation for combining traditional Indian and Western medicine to achieve great and profound things, such as getting the Duchess of Cornwall to give up smoking. Reintegration of mind, body and spirit is Dr Ali's credo, which would doubtless have pleased the original monks, who built the place even if they might've baulked at the cost.

I dare say they would also have approved of the rigorous marma massage I was given by a wiry little therapist called Roberta. She was trying to promote good blood flow by stimulating my marma points (the 107 neuro-muscular junctions where veins, arteries, tendons, bones and joints meet). Whatever, Dr Ali's methods have had widespread celebrity endorsement, not least from Morgan Freeman, who goes to Castel Monastero for treatment to the nerve damage he sustained in a car accident four years ago. And, doubtless, for the food, wine and tranquillity too.

Location

Castel Monastero stands on a hilltop about 15 miles south-east of Siena, appealingly off the beaten track but close enough to the main road to Arezzo. Like practically everything else in this lovely region of gently rolling hills, the cypress-lined main road itself could illustrate the front of a tourist brochure – or could but for one regrettable feature: the women standing at the roadside every 200 yards or so were not, in fact, hitch-hikers. The hotel's charming manager clapped a hand to his forehead when I mentioned it; he has written to the council more times than the Australian guest moaned about his wife's starter.

The manager cheered up, however, when talking about Siena, which he said, "was built to celebrate the majesty of God ... whereas Florence was built to show off". Castel Monastero is well placed for trips in and out of one of Italy's most unspoilt medieval cities and the hotel even has its own apartment overlooking Siena's Piazza del Campo, complete with balcony for the best-possible view of Il Palio, the horse race held there twice every summer.

Comfort

The 75 bedrooms are mainly around the piazza, though we stayed in a simply but lovingly furnished suite in a converted stable. We used the two bottles of free local wine to toast the donkeys who'd lived there before us in an age that was not entirely donkey-friendly. (The Florentines, during their regular sieges of Siena, used to catapult them over the walls.) There were Molton Brown products in the bathroom, and every modern convenience, including free Wi-Fi, a huge wall-mounted televisions in bedroom and sitting room, and a proper fridge.

The service was impeccable and there was a swimming pool and floodlit tennis court if we needed them, but being so busy reintegrating mind, body and spirit, we didn't.

Travel essentials

Castel Monastero, Monastero d'Ombrone, Siena, Tuscany, Italy (00 39 0577 570570; castelmonastero.com).

Rooms ****
Value ***
Service *****

B&B from €385. BA (0844 493 0758; ba.com/pisa) offers seven-night fly-drives in Tuscany from £159pp, with Heathrow flights.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world