Monday 24 September 2007

Castello di Leonina Relais, near Siena, Tuscany

A heavily-restored, red-brick fortified manor house on a hilltop commanding archetypal Tuscan views of rolling fields laced with roads lined with the distinctive spear-shaped cypress trees. The rooms, each named after one of the contrada in nearby Siena, are comfortably and tastefully furnished in a traditional style, but they don't get much daylight and can be cramped. The sofa bed in one of the junior suites (210 to 250 euros a night), for example, isn't big enough for two young children. Still, there are good communal facilities, such as a decent swimming pool 400 yards up the road, free mountain bike rental, a very picturesque terrace and a pleasant stone courtyard. The breakfasts are big on cheese, cold meats, pastries and cakes, but there is no hot food, the fruit can be ropey and coffee is in short supply. At lunchtimes and evenings, the restaurant serves a very limited number of Italian dishes at an exceptionally-leisurely pace, but the views from the terrace are captivating, while the food, when it finally arrives, is generally excellent and reasonable value given the quality. Fresh Strozzapreti pasta with a vegetable sauce and braised beef in a red wine sauce, for example, both cost 12 euros. There is also an excellent wine cellar, stocked with rich, if pricey, local vintages. All in all, a good, but expensive, place to chill out for a long weekend. 7/10