La dolce vita: part two

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel news, Travel tips & opinions

Looking for somewhere stylish to stay in Italy? Boutique travel experts Mr & Mrs Smith have recently published their first Italy guidebook, and to celebrate CD-Traveller has teamed up with them to reveal three special stays. Today: Follonico

Fairy-tale farmhouse
Valley of vines
‘A vintage dress hangs beside an antique day-bed; there’s an ancient wooden chest for our belongings, and walls are adorned with photos of the stars of La Dolce Vita’

It’s good to suffer hardships: they make rewards feel more deserved. If someone had uttered those words to me, as I sat in the hospital waiting room in Florence, I would have told them to rot in hell, in all the languages at my command. So, in one language.

Me and Mrs Smith were on a bad run of luck. While running for a train, that morning, in oh-so-glamorous central Hackney, Mrs Smith had leapt down the stairs, knee-first. The cracking noise as she landed had made the station master turn pale. Only adrenalin carried Mrs Smith, limping, on to our flight, and by the time we’d landed, her leg had expanded to resemble a joint of prosciutto. She couldn’t walk. Of our two-day holiday, we spent most of the first day in L’Ospedale di Firenze, getting X-rays. In other news, I’d lost my wallet and my driving licence, but that didn’t matter that much, since there were no hire cars left anyway. Like I said, it’s good to suffer hardships. Well, it’s good, as long as your reward is getting to spend time at Follonico: a beautifully restored 200-year-old farmhouse hidden away in a Tuscan valley with panoramic views of astonishing countryside. Hobbling out of our taxi, we were greeted by the warm welcome of Follonico’s lovely owners – Suzanne and Fabio.

They considerately offered us the ground-floor Alba Chiara suite – a delightful double room and bathroom separated by an adjoining gallery or loggia with stone floors and exposed beams. The suite is decorated sparely and elegantly, in keeping with all the rooms in the house. A vintage dress and hat hang beside an antique day-bed, there’s an ancient wooden chest for our belongings, and walls and surfaces are adorned with photos of the stars of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, a film we’d watched for the first time – and loved – just a few days before.

With Mrs Smith’s leg iced and propped up on two plump cushions, we relaxed into a stupendous night’s sleep. The bedlinen is apparently hand-woven by a family one village over, and the mattress and pillows were made not of feathers, nor foam, but of an unknown material that we were too busy peacefully sleeping on to bother accurately identifying. (Later, we’re told the mattress is a ‘spring-independent’ one, though we’re none the wiser.)

Pushing open our French windows in the morning, we saw Follonico in full daylight for the first time. In every direction were vineyards and olive groves dotted with bushy cypresses. The picturesque hilltop villages of Montefollonico and Montepulciano perched alluringly on the horizon.

Follonico, as Suzanne was careful to point out, is a home, not a hotel. There are just six guest rooms, and all visitors eat a simple breakfast together in the family dining room with Suzanne, Fabio and their three adorable children. There was wildlife everywhere. That morning, the family cat had brought in a tiny baby bunny rabbit. Several guests had brought their dogs with them, and the polite breakfast conversation was matched with the strange gurglings of the frogs in the pond just outside. It is also apparently not uncommon to see deer, wild boar and porcupines roaming freely.

After breakfast, as we contemplated our immobility, basking in the deckchairs on the terrace outside our room, we were approached by two thoughtful visitors from NYC who took pity on Mrs Smith and offered to take us on a day of adventure in their hire car.

We drove through hills so green and skies so blue that it brought to mind – for any person who has spent too long in front of their laptop – the Windows XP screen saver.

When we stopped in Pienza, a sweet eighth-century town, groups of Italian teenagers took time out from snogging sessions to gawp at Mrs Smith’s ‘ham leg’. In Bagno Vignoni – a tiny spa town – the highlight of our exceptional lunch was a dish of warm figs, covered in thinly sliced lardo (that’s ham fat, in Italian) and drizzled in honey.

Getting lost a few times along the way was, as Suzanne correctly pointed out, a joy in itself. We ended the afternoon in the enchanting company of Katya, an ex-pat Londoner who had settled in Tuscany to make wine: the prestigious Brunello di Montalcino. As she took us around her organic farm, San Polino, her passion and charm were enough to convince us each to buy several bottles of the 2006 vintage.

That evening, on Fabio’s recommendation, we ate at another Montefollonico establishment – Ristorante 13 Gobbi. In the middle of the restaurant was an immense, open-topped wheel of pecorino cheese with a glass dome suspended above it. Should you order the tagliatelle with pecorino (and you’d be foolish not to), the waiter brings out a serving of steaming home-made pasta and tosses it directly in the round of cheese before serving it to you. At the end of the night, the glass cloche is gently lowered. It was so simple yet so ingenious; much the same appeal at Follonico. There is flair and imagination everywhere, but nothing is overdone. It was perfect. Indeed, if you have any hardships that need rewarding – a paper cut, say, or a slightly delayed bus – then I wholeheartedly recommend you spend a curative stay in the care of Suzanne and Fabio.

Rooms Six, including four suites.
€150–€170, including Continental breakfast.
Check-out 10.30am. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Don’t expect much by way of hi-tech entertainment: Follonico’s all about living it Tuscan and loving it simple. There are gardens all around, free WiFi throughout, Ortigia organic bath products, and little else to distract you.
Children Little Smiths are welcome and cots are free. The owners have three children, so there is a stash of books, DVDs, toys and games at the hotel.
Keen to bring your dog? Speak to the owners in advance to arrange.

Our favourite rooms The beautiful frocks that hang on rails to complement rooms’ colour schemes were hand-picked by owner Suzanne. Stake out petite suite Rosso Tramonto, flooded with natural light through its three windows, and made sugar-sweet with pops of lilac and pink in the furnishings and theatrical hanging garments, which double as decorations. If you crave space, spread yourselves across Verde Intenso’s suite of three rooms, each on a separate level, connected by a stone staircase. Shots of dazzling aquamarine on bedlinen and cushions pep up a neutral palette.
Hotel bar
There’s an honesty bar with soft drinks and local wines – take a bottle of Brunello to enjoy in your room.
Hotel restaurant Tasting plates of pecorino and cured meats can be rustled up if you’re feeling peckish, but breakfast is the only meal that the hotel serves. It’s pretty special, though; all the treats are sourced within 15km of Follonico, and a selection of freshly baked breads are delivered daily from a bakery in Pienza. Owners Suzanne and Fabio are happy to help arrange impromptu picnics in the grounds, and will provide cutlery and crockery.
Top table With the hotel’s views (a green sweep of Tuscan landscape), you’ll be enjoying breakfast outside in summer; at a table by the patio windows in the breakfast room come winter.
Room service
None, so raid the delis in Montefollonico and Montepulciano for panforte, cantucci and orange-infused riciarelli biscuits or local cheeses and cured meats.
Dress code Channel your inner prince and princess with oversized shirts and romantic vintage dresses.
Local knowledge
Visit some local wineries: favourites include Icario (, a family-run estate in Montepulciano; and San Polino (, an organic producer of Brunello di Montalcino, in Montalcino.

La Chiusa (+39 0577 669668) in Montefollonico, is another picturesque Tuscan farmhouse, serving local specialities in its rustic restaurant. Try traditional dishes such as duck with wild fennel, and marinated goose. Sample home-made pasta at Osteria del Conte (+39 0578 756062) in Montepulciano. Pici – a sort of fat spaghetti – is the area’s most renowned variety; team your pici con ragu or tagliata con rosmarino with a glass of Rosso di Montepulciano. Renowned Ristorante 13 Gobbi (+39 0577 669755) at 5 Via Lando di Duccio has perfected pici in duck sauce. Food is the focus; decor and service are casual and frill-free. Osteria La Botte Piena (+39 0577 669481; on Piazza Dionisa Cinughi, Montefollonico, is popular for its pecorino-laden cuisine. Even the bruschette are impressive: toppings include pecorino with spicy pear jam, or with anchovies. You’ll be vying with the locals to eat here, so be sure to book.

To book a stay at Follonico ( , please visit or call 0845 034 0700

Mr & Mrs Smith: Hotel Collection Italy (£19.95, Spy Publishing) is available from and all good bookshops nationwide.  To read the final part of our Mr & Mrs Smith Italy special, don’t forget to log onto the CD-Traveller website on Saturday.


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