Sunflower heads beamed in my direction, watching me as I traveled by train deeper and deeper into the heart of Italy, heading toward a castle called Gargonza, where Dante once stayed. Situated in Val di Chiana near Arezzo, Gargonza’s tower stands proudly on a hilltop, gazing over its small village, the ideal vacation spot.
Until 50 years ago, peasants and agricultural workers inhabited Gargonza. After they left, their homes fell into ruin, until Count Guicciardini Corsi Salviati decided to restore the buildings and turn the complex into a holiday resort.
The apartments, like small homes, welcome their guests with views of rolling Tuscan hills, comfortable beds, a fireplace and a kitchen. Each is name after the family who formerly lived there. In some, the place where grain was once stored is visible beneath the floor.
As I walked on the grounds, lavender, wisteria and roses greeted me, accenting the old stone beautifully. I was struck by the calming silence, a nice change from hectic Florence. The Count and Countess welcomed me to their small village with a coffee in the breakfast room, a room that used to hold machines for pressing olives many years ago. One can also sit outside under the grape arbor.
Count Roberto, a true gentleman who just celebrated his 90th birthday, patiently explained the philosophy of Gargonza to me. Unlike most vacation spots, this hotel is not connected to beach or snow activities, nor is it a simple hotel along the highway. It is a small village, one that breathes, adapts and unites people.
What does one do in this village? Often, people create their own activities, and to the Count, this is the beauty of staying there. No fixed plan needed. The hotel adapts to each guest. “Being too organized is dangerous,” he emphasized, and then, looking at his watch, “I shouldn’t even wear a watch. Time is determined by me, not by my watch.”
Many come to Gargonza to write, to read, or to paint. Here, Roberto Benigni worked on his films “Life is Beautiful” and “Johnny Stecchino.” He had his own sense of time, working at night and sleeping until noon. The village also hosts events, conferences, family reunions and weddings, with the opportunity to go hiking, biking or visiting nearby cities such as Florence, Siena and Arezzo. It offers a pool with a view and a restaurant serving real Tuscan cuisine.
The atmosphere is quietly inspiring, with a different mentality than most hotels. As the Count says, “The residence has more than just a bed, anyone can offer that. The cement holding together these ancient stones is like the food and music connecting people within the castle’s walls.” It is a true community—one that reminds one how to live simply and beautifully. (amelia murphy)
Gargonza was the recepient of the 2013 Best Historic Hotel of Europe Castle Award.