Travel: Fairy Tale Beauty at the Borgo Banfi: An Italian Hide-Away

Garden and valley shotCluster of grapes and red leavesClose colored leavesBacchus MuseumCastleBrunello wineDuck Ravioli with cream of carrot sauce with black truffleFull bathroomClassic suiteSitting roomPainting of Banfi by Jane Napier NeelyBanfi signRoom outdoorWine tastingBreakfast tableBedroomLiving roomIntricate castle courtyard floorWalk and gateGlass museum

Story and Photography By JANE NAPIER NEELY

12:00 pm | November 24, 2015


After being overrun by hordes of tourists in Venice and Florence, my traveling companion and I had to get away to open space and fresh air to let our souls breathe unencumbered.

Heading out from Florence in our rented car we shunned the Autostrada and found our bliss traveling along the provincial roads that took us through little villages that we had never heard of interspersed with many miles of gently undulating hills. In the distance we could see groves of shimmering olive trees looking like strands of spun silver.

As we grew nearer we could see the brightly multi-colored nets spread under the trees as the workers were getting ready to pick the olives.

We passed rows and rows of grape vines with their leaves turning bright yellow, burgundy and red as they nestled in for their long winter sleep after a bountiful harvest.

Keeping our GPS direction fixed towards Siena and then Grosetto this autumn journey took us to a magical place deep in the Brunello wine country – Castello de Poggio alle Mura and the Borgo Banfi, a casually luxurious 5-star inn of nine rooms and five suites.

After about a 2 hour drive we made a big loop around the interesting hill village of Montalcino’s “Round-About” knowing that we only had about 6 more miles to travel.

By the way for future reference, every mid-October Montalcino stages a chestnut festival that is known far and wide as an extraordinary event.

Way before we ever saw any kind of signs telling us which road to take we could see the impressive rock castle tower high atop a hill beckoning to us.

At this point, the trick was to hopefully outsmart our GPS, which had gotten a bit confused and wasn’t sure exactly which way to go. As it turns out it was quite simple, we just followed the vines over a lightly graveled road.

Positioned at the confluence of the Orcia and Ombrone rivers, the Banfi wine estate extends along the southern slopes of the township of Montalcino across 7,100 acres of land. One third of the property is under specialized vine and the balance is shared between olive groves, wheat fields, plum trees, truffle stands, forest and scrub – certainly vistas that one would never tire of seeing.

Of course along the way I had to stop to take photos of the glorious vines in their colorful foliage. Some of the vines still had a few clusters of the deep purple sangiovese grapes that make just one of the wines that Banfi is famous for – their Brunello di Montalcino. The grapes looked so fat and juicy that I wanted to pop one into my mouth.

Those magnificent vines led us up the hill to the medieval castle that loomed above and our resting place for the night.

The castle that was first documented in the 13th century has a storied past which was not always quite like a fairy tale as it frequently changed hands between the warring families of Siena and Florence for centuries. The castle tower and surrounding buildings were also greatly damaged during WW II.

After its many owners, the last transfer of the property came in 1983 when the Castello became part of the Banfi vineyard estate. It was the restoration work of the Mariani family, founders of the vineyards and winery, that lovingly brought it back to its former splendor.

This ancient stone hamlet that rose in the 1700s is still protected by the solid rock walls of the old castle. These outbuildings were once the cottages of farmers who labored for the noble landowners for centuries.

Today this little stone village (Il Borgo in Italian) with its castle protector has been made into an elegant inn with two restaurants, a beautiful swimming pool overlooking the vineyards, manicured gardens, an enoteca where the wines of Banfi can be tasted along with pairings of cheeses of the region and Tuscan prosciutto. The enoteca space is also a boutique of handcrafted ceramics of the area and a myriad of foods and gift items.

Gracious hospitality is the hallmark of Castello Banfi il Borgo. Even though I had booked a standard room when the porter opened the door to our lodging we were ushered into a beautiful suite of rooms so large that one could get lost.

The more than ample living room was furnished with a comfy couch, and two equally comfortable chairs. A large flat-screen TV dominated one wall while in a corner a Nespresso coffee maker and electric teapot were set with coffee and tea selections.

The bathroom was enormous and its marble counter tops, covering dual sinks, were set with specialty lotions and potions. Two fluffy robes and slippers were carefully laid out for us.

The long hallway led to a king-sized bedroom with its windows overlooking the beautiful valley way below. The bed linens were of the finest quality and the bed and its many pillows promised a very good sleep.

We dined that evening in the castle’s lovely La Sala dei Grappoli restaurant where our menu selections were wonderfully prepared as we sipped the Brunello di Montalcino 2010 vintage, which one wine reporter said was the “Wine of a lifetime.”

Adding gourmet touches to the menu that night were the white and black truffles that had just come into season. Porcini mushrooms also were just appearing on the autumn themed menu selections.

Castello Banfi Il Borgo believes in introducing guests to the tranquility of their wine estate and showing them the wonders of the surrounding countryside of Tuscany. If one thinks they might be getting bored something really fun to do is taking a four-hour cooking class with the Banfi chefs in a picturesque nearby farmhouse with its resident donkey mascot named “Brunello.” The chefs will help guests prepare a four-course lunch to be enjoyed with a full selection of Banfi wines.

Another great diversion is to visit the estate’s bottle and glass museum within the castle’s historic walls in the old stable and olive pressing room. This museum illustrates the various eras of glass production through history from the 5th century BC to the current day.

I am already dreaming of my return to this enchanted place in Tuscany. A brochure I read could not say it any better – “At Castello Banfi, memorable and elegant hospitality awaits guests visiting the marvelous land of Southern Tuscany, opening the doors of its cellar to lovers of fine wine. If the vineyards are the soul of Castello Banfi, the winery is its very heart.”

Just as the wines are sleeping in their wooden casks, the inn – Castello Banfi Il Borgo is also quiet and is closed now and will not reopen until March. However, now is not too soon to book a reservation at the inn because it does get quite busy.

Guided visits of the winery are available by appointment.

Monday through Friday at 4:00 p.m. from March 1 to Oct 31 except holidays. Other winery tour hours are Monday through Friday, 3:30 p.m. from Jan. 7 to Feb. 28 and Nov. 4 to Dec. 20th. To make an appointment for a guided tour: Tel: +39 0577-877-505 or +39 0577-877-514 – Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The fax number is +39 0577-877-508. Email – reservations@banfi.it.

The wines, both red and white, over the years have garnered many awards and the winery is so highly respected.

The late John F. Mariani, Sr. who founded Banfi Wines, was of Italian descent and as a youth lived in Italy with his mother and aunt after his father died. After his return to the U.S. and his marriage, his own three children, Joan, John Jr. and Harry joined forces with their father. Together they contributed to the growth and creation of the historic winery and inn near Montalcino.

Today, the son and daughter of John Jr. and Harry Mariani are co-CEOs of the company. These co CEOs are Cristina Mariani-May, the daughter of John Jr. and James Mariani, the son of Harry.

To read more about Banfi Winery and inn, visit their website at castellobanfi.com.