Anyone who loves Tuscany – and who doesn’t ? – has dreamt of moving to one of its hilltop medieval villages, surrounded by pastoral fields seemingly untouched by time. We spoke with our friend Michael Cioffi, owner of luxury boutique hotel Monteverdi, about his Tuscan retreat and rescuing from extinction Castiglioncello Del Trinoro.
How did you find yourself restoring an entire medieval village?
I stumbled upon Castiglioncello del Trinoro 15 years ago while hiking. I had reached the top of a hill with beautiful panoramic views of Tuscany and a sense of stepping out of time suddenly washed over me. The village itself was in danger of crumbling and being removed from history. Initially, I purchased one villa with the intention of making it a family holiday home but I soon found myself restoring building after building which prompted me to come up with a business model for this project to self sustain. Therein, Monteverdi Boutique Hotel was born, with a design firmly rooted in modernity yet connected to its rich and diverse history.
The result is beautiful. Who are your typical guests?
People who love art, architecture, history, design, food, wine and enjoy the sense of being in a special place while seeking an authentic Tuscan experience. We also get a lot of families with young children that love the adventure of exploring castles and the countryside in the morning and relaxing by the pool in the afternoon. Nature enthusiasts love that our entire village is surrounded by a Unesco protected forest.
What are your must see’s and do’s in the area?
Montepulciano, which is best known for its beautiful wines – the most famous one being Vino nobile di Montepulciano. However, it is often underestimated in terms of its wealth of art and architecture, perhaps because of its small size. For example, Palazzo Comunale, the town hall, is a medieval Gothic structure which was remodeled in 1440 by Michelozzo. It has a beautiful inner courtyard and for 5 euro you can climb to the terrace and tower. The stairs are steep and narrow, but the view from the top is worth the trip.
The city of Siena is like a Medieval wonderland. It’s a town frozen in an architectural time warp. Once you leave Piazza del Campo, the crowds tend to thin out. With most of the town free from cars, the streets of Siena are made for strolling: getting lost in its winding alleyways is a pleasure. You can see the main attractions during the day, but spending the night will allow you to enjoy the city atmosphere in the evening, and explore the lesser known museums like the Museo Ospedale S.Maria della Scala and the Pinacoteca, a treasure trove of Medieval art.
Do not miss a visit to the cathedral in Orvieto. Built in 1290, it is one of the finest examples of Italian gothic architecture. The decoration of the Cappella Nuova, commenced by Fra Angelico in 1447 and magnificently completed by Luca Signorelli in 1499, displays an awe-inspiring Last Judgement and Apocalypse and, below it, scenes from Dante and classical literature. These frescoes depicting the Last Judgment are considered to be Signorelli’s masterpiece.
If you had to choose just one winery to visit, which one would it be?
I really like Brunello Di Montalcino. This wine is made with 100% Sangiovese and thus holds Italy’s highest DOCG classification. It is noted for having thicker-skinned grapes and, because of this, the wines have exceptionally bold fruit flavors, are high tannin and high acidity.
What is your favorite regional dish that we have to try?
The genius of Tuscany’s world-famous cuisine lies in the simplicity of ingredients. Definitely try “Pici” which is an ancient dish that dates back to Etruscan times. Pici is a kind of long, thick, handmade spaghetti typically served with a rich sauce such as duck or wild boar ragu.