In the Pievasciata area (Tuscany), after a few km of dirt road between vineyards and woods, I find Fontanelle Estate. Here I met Phoebe Farolfi, General Manager of Fontanelle Estate. I immediately dialogued with her openly, on the large terrace that stands out over the Tuscan countryside. Here the entrepreneurial soul of a family has put its roots in the territory, designing a simple but exclusive hospitality, authentic but with an international sensitivity.
Fontanelle Estate, the words of the General Manager
I have read that Giuseppina Bolfo has an endless love for the hills of Castelnuovo Berardenga. It was 1999 when she visited what at that time was just an old farmhouse and it took 7 years of rigorous recovery to transform it into a hotel.
In the 1970s, the Bolfo family decided to spend their summer holidays in Tuscany, in an old farmhouse. The love for this land springs from this first meeting. The story of what is now Fontanelle Estate begins with Hotel Le Fontanelle, which is the first location detected, restored and conceived by Miss Bolfo. Even today she is the main soul of all that is Fontanelle Estate. As a young woman she has always worked in the field of fashion, carrying out all her ideas on fabrics, design, modernity and keeping up with the times. The concept that inspires her is that of beauty all around.
The informal, refined and delicate welcome of the Fontanelle Estate is one of its distinctive features. How did you manage to design such an authentic experience?
For us 5 stars means welcoming you to your home, here in Tuscany. From the moment you walk in you have to have this liberating feeling where you leave all the issues of your life out and we start taking care of you. So our attention starts with the welcome and passes through the check in, the exploration of the estate, the indoor and outdoor spaces.
Obviously, from 2006 the needs have changed. Since then, what improvements or maintenance actions have taken place?
Hotel Le Fontanelle begins with 25 rooms and a small health club (sauna and turkish bath, massage room, indoor heated pool and outdoor pool). The needs grow more and more and at that point we buy another farmhouse – Villa Il Mandorlo – which is 400 m from Hotel Le Fontanelle. This Villa is the first answer to all those who are the most concrete and modern needs of the customer: more spacious rooms, larger bathrooms and outdoor spaces designed as if they were private gardens immersed in the Tuscan landscape. Our luck is our position, much higher than other farmhouses and, therefore, with a 360° view of the area. From the Castle of Brolio to that of Cacchiano, from the Crete Senesi to the surrounding woods. Many green areas that surround us, including the vineyards, are our property. Our idea of 100% Tuscany is also expressed in the production of oil and wine (with the Vallepicciola firm). We are also creating a small lake, above all to deal with water emergencies and to approach the issue of sustainability more effectively.
The atmosphere is rural but extremely attentive to the needs of the guests. Can it be summed up with the word “wellness”?
Yes exactly. The last farmhouse in order of inclusion in the property is The Club House, which responds precisely to the concept of wellness, from all points of view. We want to give a direct approach to everything that is outdoor living, so rooms of a certain level, attention to hospitality, spaces designed as a home but spaces that are also interchangeable with the concept of outdoor. And outdoor at Fontanelle Estate can be e-bikes, mountain bikes, for some it can be swimming, playing golf or tennis. There are forest immersion paths, with guided meditations, trekking or picnics. There are activities that can be done independently or accompanied by a personal trainer. Depending on the customers’s needs, we still try to give them proactive answers. We are also able to offer a night experience, to look at the stars with an astronomer. We have built a multipurpose conference room for playing chess, backgammon or organizing cinema days. This is a room that we can use especially for the spring/fall months.
Would you also describe your The Wellness Sanctuary?
It’s located within the 5-star luxury The Club House and has a holistic concept, with the use of 100% Ayurvedic or organic products, made in Italy as much as possible, from essential oils to all preparations. For the products we rely almost entirely on Tuscan suppliers. Within the Sanctuary we create unique treatments, which last from an hour up to stays that can last many days. We can take lessons in tai chi, gong, reiki, foot reflexology and much more.
On the other hand, how is the food declined by Fontanelle Estate?
Food is not a secondary aspect for us. All raw ingredients are purchased locally, with specific suppliers who pay particular attention to both the vegetables and the meat we eat. Ours wants to be an all-round experience. So we started with the creation of a very dynamic tavern – the Tuscanico – which somewhat reflects the expectation of tourists who come to Tuscany. La Colonna restaurant, on the other hand, is located in Le Fontanelle and offers very light, easygoing cuisine during lunch. For dinner it offers classic fine dining, with tasting itineraries and à la carte menus. Here the kitchen is led by Francesco Ferrettini, instead Daniele Canella is the executive chef of the Osteria Il Tuscanico and Il Visibilio. This latest project, in collaboration with the chef Giuseppe Iannotti – Il Visibilio – is a restaurant that offers a blind menu with 22/25 courses. A real path, attentive to the Tuscan tradition but in a contemporary key. Our goal is to provide a different but always quality cuisine in all three restaurants, without the guest necessarily having to leave our places to look for a restaurant to eat with quality.
On the wine front?
The construction of our Vallepicciola winery has been managed by Margherita Gozzi, the niece of Miss Boffo and mother of Nicola Vercellotti, CEO of Fontanelle Estate She’s also very versatile, so over time she has managed to build Le Fontanelle with the young lady, then Il Mandorlo, then Vallepicciola and now The Club House. Our oenologist is Alessandro Cellai. We are living a very interesting evolution with him, with the aim of increasing our presence on the international market.
Is there an anecdote you want to share with us related to the direction of Fontanelle Estate? Any special guests?
Our average stay here at the Fontanelle Estate is 4.7 nights, up from last year when it was 3.6 nights. One of our guests, however, enjoyed his stay so much that he stayed with us for 21 days. This is a big pride for us. Our data on returning guests is very high, some guests choose our hospitality proposal even twice a year.
Is there a challenge – as GM of Fontanelle Estate – that you would like to embrace?
Our future projects concern the cooking class and three mega suites behind the Villa Il Mandorlo. As a further challenge there is the project of a medieval parish church, currently abandoned. And it’s a great challenge because renovating here is very difficult, due to some constraints. A compromise must always be found between these and modern security requirements.
Fontanelle Estate and outdoors
How did the meeting with Edenpark Florence and their vision of the outdoors come about?
I met Edenpark for personal reasons, in the sense that I visited the shop in Florence to look for outdoor products for my home. Then he put us in contact with Matteo Chimenti and from there the collaboration was born. Ours was a crescendo, listening to each other not only on an aesthetic level but also on warehouse needs, on the feasibility of some elements. Everything had to be in line with our idea of Tuscany. With Edenpark we have created a refined outdoor with specific purposes, responding to the taste of Miss Bolfo (current landscaper of the property), but with precise colors, details and functionality.
Which customers does a hospitality project like yours attract?
Our customers fully reflect us, even in the way they experience this territory. Those who come to Tuscany have a specific need. Ours is a customer who is very attached to Tuscan authenticity, to experience food, to experience wine, to truly live in a Tuscan farmhouse. Those who stay here want to have a 360° Italian experience, or rather, a 360° Tuscan experience. And they find a home with us, indoors and out.
Article in collaboration with Edenpark Firenze