5 Ancient Villages Are Back in Business
In our last issue, we wrote about old Italian villages where guest rooms are spread out across town. Now we're spotlighting five hamlets that have been turned completely (or nearly so) into hotels.
Fattoria di Titignano
Deep in the Parco Fluviale del Tevere forest in southern Umbria, the village of Titignano has remained virtually unchanged since it was founded in 937. Originally a farming estate like Castello di Fonterutoli, Titignano was built on a spot above the Tiber River by a French count and his family and sold at an auction centuries later to the Corsini family—one of the most important noble families in Italy—for the equivalent of $380. The Corsini clan still owns the hamlet and grows grapes and olives on some of the 5,000 acres of surrounding land. In the 1980s, the family renovated abandoned homes in the village to open an agriturismo, or farmstay.
Titignano, home to about 15 people today, sits at the end of a cypress-lined road and atop a hill overlooking vineyards, woodland, and Lake Corbara in the distance. On one side of the main piazza is a church popular for weddings (grains of rice and pasta are stuck between the cobblestones); on the other side is the imposing central keep, which houses the hotel's reception desk, a shop selling products from the Corsini farm and vineyard, and the ancient main hall. With its 20-foot-high ceiling and stone fireplaces large enough to roast a cow, the hall is Titignano's biggest draw. It's also where the hotel's seven-course lunches and dinners are served. The parade of dishes includes wild-boar salami, radicchio risotto, pappardelle with a pheasant ragù, and roasted spring lamb, plus wine from the vineyard. People come all the way from Rome, a two-hour drive through the countryside, just to indulge in the feast.
Titignano's 15 guest rooms and six apartments—set in various buildings in the village—are decorated with wrought-iron beds, patchwork quilts and blankets, and giant armoires painted with bucolic scenes. The paintings, however, can't compare to the views from the pool just below the defensive walls. From this vantage point, you can see two of Umbria's biggest attractions: Todi, a medieval town to the east, and Orvieto, an ancient Etruscan capital that rises majestically from volcanic tuff to the west. Information: Off S.S. 79 between Orvieto and Todi, 011-39/0763-308-000, titignano.it, from $140, or from $187 with dinner. Lunch can be purchased separately for $31 per person.
The heavily fortified, 12th-century Castel Pergine is one of the best preserved and most impressive Gothic castles in Italy's often overlooked Trentino-Alto Adige region, near the Austrian border. Guests enter the mighty keep—which is surrounded by two rings of ivy-covered stone walls—through an echoing, octagonal hall with a vaulted ceiling and a floor of mismatched flagstones. A stone spiral staircase leads up to the lobby and bar, where tables for two have been set inside the deep window bays (the windowsills serve as benches). The stained-glass windows depict the coats of arms of the various owners of the castle over the centuries: generations of Austrian dukes, Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I, and several Italian bishops.
Because the castle is medieval to the hilt, the hotel's managers, Theo Schneider and Verena Neff—a husband-and-wife team—have added 21st-century touches where they can. "We like the tension between old and new," says Verena. "The castle is old, and the walls are old and speak of history, but it's important to put something new in here as well." A different regional artist's sculptures are exhibited on the grounds each year, and the castle frequently hosts folk and jazz concerts.
There are 21 guest quarters in a long, ivy-covered wing, which was appended to the castle centuries after the keep was built and has more of a Renaissance look. The small rooms, or what Verena calls the "monastic cells," are filled with bulky neo-Gothic furniture that was brought in when the castle was initially transformed into a hotel in 1910. Fourteen of the rooms have their own toilets and showers, and there's a large, communal bathroom in the hall for the other seven. (In the next round of renovations, Theo and Verena plan to put private bathrooms in those rooms.) The tower above the double portcullis at the entrance has two more rooms that are available for stays of three days or longer. Guest quarters will also be added in another tower on the outer defensive wall when it is refurbished sometime in the near future, Verena says.
The nightly rate for all the rooms includes a candlelit dinner in a Renaissance-style hall in the keep, with dishes such as spinach cappellacci (a type of ravioli) stuffed with ricotta and asparagus and covered with a truffle-and-walnut pesto, a chicken and porcini mushroom stew, and trout with roasted potatoes and grilled zucchini. There are more than 250 wines in the cellar to choose from, including bottles of the chardonnay, pinot bianco, and nosiola produced in the Trentino-Alto Adige region. Information: Via al Castello 10, Pergine Valsugana (Trento), 011-39/0461-531-158, castelpergine.it, from $199 with private bath, from $153 with shared bath, including breakfast and dinner. Closed from early November to mid-April.