Last week, I jetted off to Italy for the experience of a lifetime. I was recently asked if I would like to review a 4* converted mansion in the Tuscan hills. This meant relaxing next to the swimming pool, eating Italian food and drinking various glasses of wine… just for the fun of it. Una Palazzo Mannaioni sits comfortably at the top of the hill in Montaione and is one of 500 ancient buildings in Tuscany. The hotel thrives on offering guests a relaxing stay, and they certainly lived up to their promise, demonstrating quality service throughout.
The hotel is split into two parts: the original medieval mansion and the new modern build. On arrival, we were shown two different rooms and asked which one we preferred to stay in. We opted for the old-style, with the 50 foot balcony (yes, all this space was ours to use), overlooking the swimming pool and the breathtaking view of the Tuscan hills. I loved the fluffy white robes they had laid out for us, and I spent most of the time either snuggled up in the gown or in my bikini. The wifi wasn’t great but I didn’t want to waste all my time glued to my phone when reading books, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the experience was an alternative option. It was so beautiful to sit out on the balcony on a night time and watch the lights glow.
Little did we know we would experience one of the hottest weeks of the year while there. Even the Italians were saying it was too hot. The sun blazed at 32°C + on our first day and after taking a quick dip in the pool we were spoiled with a selection of Tuscan ham, cheese and pate – paired with multiple glasses of wine. The flavours were tantalising and tasted even better while soaking up the sun in our deckchairs. It was the perfect end to a first day. Come night time, the streets of Tuscany are beautifully quaint, but seem to grow a bit too quiet. Nevertheless we took it as the perfect opportunity to head out into the streets to try the local cuisine.
Tuscany is the ideal place to try bruschetta if you’ve never tried it before. Italians are known to grow their own tomatoes and to use them considerably within their dishes. I think food always tastes so much better abroad, especially when someone else has cooked it for you. We dropped into a local restaurant Corte Antica I’Ciampa and sat outside on the terrace with other families who were digging into their meals. The pizza was huge and was a perfect pit-stop for local grub. Within our hotel, they served typical Tuscan cuisine and Chianti wine from the surrounding hills. For breakfast, they displayed a standard continental breakfast and you could have found me scoffing the eggs and bacon, cheese and ham each and every morning.
During our stay at Una Palazzo Mannaioni, we learned that the position of the hotel made it easy to reach the most famous art cities like Florence, Siena, and Pisa. The much celebrated San Giminiano and Volterra towns are also nearby. Our day trip to Sienna was spent walking through the iconic streets, visiting Piazza del Campo (seeking shade) and eating the local pasta. I adore the green shutter windows, and love the rustic vibes from the city. It is regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares and is renowned worldwide for its beauty and architectural integrity. If you ever find yourself in Italy, this place is a 100% must-see!
On our final night, we were treated to a complimentary 3-hour wine tasting and food menu. Josh and I were taken into the cellar underneath the hotel where it was cool and airy. It was a relief to seek shade as Italy seemed to be experiencing a heatwave. Luigi, the hotel wine connoisseur talked us through the best Tuscan wines to taste. Tuscany is home to some of the world’s most notable wine regions and we ended up drinking around 3 bottles over the course of the night: Pinot Grigio, Vino Nobile De Montepulciano, Toscana Cabernet. We picked up a few tips on how to spot the best wines and we got a little tispy in the process…
The chef personally wrote down all of our meals we tried and translated them into English for me. Our two starters consisted of Swordfish, tunafish, codfish and four livers pate, figs jam, smoked duck breast (my absolute favourite, how did they know?) – they well and truly spoiled us and this was just our first two courses.
I’ve been craving Italian food ever since returning to the UK, will never have food like it over here. One of the pasta dishes we were served ‘Cappellacci stuffed with Carbonara’, also known as ‘eggs scented with bacon’ was served on a cheese cream and mushroom sauce. I’ve never tasted anything like it – it was exceptional. Paired with several gulps of wine, this meal certainly went down a treat. I’ll be attempting to make this dish at some point and will hopefully use the recipe in my next newspaper food column.
How delicious do these main courses look? I feel that the hotel went out of their way to make sure we were fed and watered to the highest possible standard. We were starting to get full and our two mains consisted of Baked Lamb with stewed vegetables in aubergine leaves. Second was beef fillet with potatoes, foie gras escalope with caramelised apricots. The beef (top image) was seductively tender and I cut through it like butter. Once again, the simplistic presentation of each meal hit top marks every single time.
The finale: three types of Tiramisu, coffee, chocolate and meringue. I just about finished these off before slipping off into a food coma for the night. As far as hotel food goes, this was the best tasting course I have trialled. The standard, the presentation and the service was not only top notch, but our wine god Luigi stuck around to make sure we paired more wine with the correct dishes. An absolutely fantastic experience and if you ever book yourself into this hotel – ask for the dessert selection, you won’t leave disappointed. Thanks to Una Hotels for being the perfect hosts, I probably left a stone heavier but a trip like this was invaluable.
I was a very lucky guest of the Una Palazzo Mannaioni for this trip. Via Marconi 2, 50050 Montaione, Italy Keep your eyes peeled for part two where we drive to Pisa and Florence for the final few days of our trip…