Golf at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi

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Peter Ellegard reports on the experience of playing golf at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi, largest golf resort in Tuscany, Italy.

Disclosure: Peter travelled as a guest of Toscana Resort Castelfalfi and is grateful for their assistance

Just 65 kilometres south-west of Florence the ancient borgo, or village, of Castelfalfi lies perched on a hill amidst a rolling rural landscape of cypress trees, vineyards and olive groves.

The curving, cobbled main street of terracotta-roofed townhouses leads to an 8th century castle standing tall on a rock promontory and dominating the evocative Tuscan countryside.

Similar scenes can be found throughout Tuscany and beyond – except that beneath the veneer, this castle-topped hamlet is unique in Italy.

View of the Castelfalfi championship golf course with Castelfalfi castle in Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
View of the Castelfalfi championship golf course with Castelfalfi castle in Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

The ghost village of Castelfalfi

Castelfalfi has enjoyed fluctuating fortunes over the course of time, from being a holiday sanctuary by Florence’s ruling family to being abandoned in the decades after World War II as its impoverished inhabitants moved to towns and cities to find work.

Today, the entire borgo and surrounding 2,700-acre estate is owned lock, stock and wine barrels by German holiday giant TUI. The company has spent €200 million transforming it into a luxury golf and holiday resort, having acquired it in 2007 as a ruined ghost village.

Golf ball on a tee at Castelfalfi championship golf course in Tuscany, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
Golf ball on a tee at Castelfalfi championship golf course in Tuscany, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

I’m lucky to be able to revisit Toscana Resort Castelfalfi just prior to the brief travel corridor between the UK and Italy slamming shut in October as both countries grappled with surging Covid-19 cases once again. It has been a year almost to the day since my first, brief overnight stay there on a driving tour of Tuscany.

My return visit is for the grand opening of the resort’s lavish Country Clubhouse, complete with fine-dining restaurant, in a converted farmhouse alongside the resort’s two golf courses.

People relaxing with a view at the Toscana Resort Castelfalfi in Tuscany. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
People relaxing with a view at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi in Tuscany. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

Playing golf at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi

I play the 18-hole championship Mountain Course, a tough beauty spectacularly laid out on the slopes below the castle, a couple of times. That includes participating in a tournament for the event, in which I finish creditably in the top third.

The course is a complete redesign of one built in the 1970s for a previous leisure project that failed. The sister, nine-hole Lake Course was added by TUI at the same time and is far less challenging although still enjoyable. Permission has been granted to extend it to give Castelfalfi, already Tuscany’s largest golf resort, two 18-hole courses.

The golf complex also boasts an academy with state-of-the-art tracking equipment. Golf pros offer golf clinics and lessons to would-be golfers or those wanting to improve their game.

View of a green on the Castelfalfi championship golf course in Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
View of a green on the Castelfalfi championship golf course in Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

Activities at Castelfalfi

Besides golf, Castelfalfi offers a host of activities and facilities within the village and estate, including tennis, a spa with extensive facilities and treatment options. Toscana Resort Castelfalfi has indoor and outdoor pools and a cookery school.

Fairway and green on the Championship course at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi in Tuscany, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
Fairway and green on the Championship course at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi in Tuscany, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

Wine and olive oil tasting workshops are offered. It’s possible to go wildlife spotting in its wilderness preserve. Head into the surrounding hills while hiking, biking, horse riding or in control of an electric Vespa scooter.

Bottles at the Valentini Winery in Maremma, southern Tuscany. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
Bottles at the Valentini Winery in southern Tuscany’s Maremma area. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

A turbulent history

The longer stay allows me to explore the resort at leisure, soaking up the wonderful hospitality – socially distanced and with reassuring health protocols in place – and its extensive facilities, among them the towering castle.

I look out over the hills and valleys from the battlement courtyard cupping a glass of Castelfalfi Sangiovese – the estate produces five red wines and two whites from its vineyards as well as its own olive oil, grappa and two beers – all organically produced. The serene scene belies its turbulent history.

This area was once governed by Florence, where the wealthy Medici family rose to prominence in the early 15th century. Over three centuries the dynasty went on to rule the city and then the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, producing three popes.

The influential House of Medici was also at the forefront of the Renaissance, with artists such as Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael and astronomer Galileo all enjoying its patronage as the arts flourished. Some of Florence’s grand architecture and much of the Uffizi Gallery’s world-renowned art collection remain a lasting legacy of that.

Castelfalfi lay close to Florence’s border with neighbouring republic Siena, with which it was at war in the mid-1500s. That became part of the Grand Duchy of Florence after a long siege, but not before a marauding army led by a member of the rival Strozzi family, expelled from Florence by Cosimo Medici, broke through and ravaged Florentine settlements including Castelfalfi. The Medicis restored the village and converted the castle into a villa to use as an escape to the country.

Latterly, the castle helped launch tenor Andrea Bocelli’s stellar career when his musical talents were spotted while giving a piano recital there in the early 1980s.

Castelfalfi castle and village above the championship golf course in Tuscany, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
Castelfalfi castle and village above the championship golf course in Tuscany, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

Two upscale hotels near Florence

Under TUI’s ownership a new five-star hotel, the 120-room Il Castelfalfi, opened in 2017 with four room categories and built using Tuscan wood and stone.

Flagship property for the company’s upscale TUI Blue Selection brand, it is a member of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts LVX Collection and complements the historic, adjacent 31-room La Tabbaccaia, a four-star hotel originally built as a tobacco-processing factory.

Guests can also rent some of the 48 village apartments and several old farmhouses now turned into luxury villas the company has renovated to sell. Independent shops and bars on the ground floor of the townhouses lining the main thoroughfare help maintain a traditional village atmosphere, both for hotel guests and residents.

Sign at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi in Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
Sign at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi in Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

Restaurants at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi

Among the handful of restaurants is the informal Il Rosmarino trattoria, where traditional Tuscan specialities include pizzas cooked in its wood-fired oven and topped with shaved truffles from the estate. On my first stay, I savour wild boar – having been introduced to Castelfalfi’s two mascot boars, a huge male called Ghigo and tiny, female piglet Franca, both orphaned by hunters, in their pens by my guide Rabab on a tour of the estate just a few hours earlier. Thankfully both are thriving a year later and are firmly off the menu, with Franca now fully grown.

On the lawn of the chic Ecru bar, guests can drink in the panoramic view lounging amidst statues of large, reclining naked ladies.

The restaurants all serve farm-to-fork fare with vegetables from Castelfalfi’s own garden as part of a concerted resort-wide sustainability programme.

That includes rainwater from artificial lakes irrigating the vineyards, olive groves and golf courses, agricultural waste and wood from the estate forest powering a biomass plant that provides all heating and cooling needs and solar panels to generate electricity. All restored ruins and new buildings are constructed using green building principles and traditional methods.

Ghigo the wild boar at the Toscana Resort Castelfalfi nature reserve in Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
Ghigo the wild boar at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi nature reserve in Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

Exploring Italy beyond Castelfalfi

With its position almost equidistant from Pisa, Florence and Siena and around an hour’s drive from each, Toscana Resort Castelfalfi is perfect for a relaxing stay with some golf and to visit the cities or explore Tuscany on day trips.

Among Florence’s delights are the incomparable Uffizi Gallery and its Renaissance art treasures, the historic Ponte Vecchio spanning the Arno River, the fortress-like Palazzo Vecchio and Brunelleschi’s stunning Duomo cathedral capped by its terracotta-tiled dome. Bear in mind you need to order tickets days in advance for the timed slots to visit the cathedral and to climb up to the top of its huge cupola. Alternatively, climb Giotto’s Bell Tower alongside to get photographs of the dome from on high.

Pisa is mostly known for its Leaning Tower, a must visit. The lean has been stabilised and the public is once again allowed to climb to the top, although negotiating the sloping, spiral marble steps while letting others past can be disconcerting. The glorious views over Pisa’s red rooftops from the top are the reward for the awkward climb. The tower is one of four buildings that comprise the enclosed Piazza dei Miracoli, or Square of Miracles, that also includes the Baptistry, Pisa Cathedral and the Camposanto Monumentale walled cemetery.

Leaning Tower and Pisa Cathedral in Pisa, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
Leaning Tower and Pisa Cathedral in Pisa, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

Siena’s fan-shaped central pizza and medieval buildings are also well worth a day exploring.

The Ponte Vecchio bridge spanning the River Arno in Florence, one of the best known landmarks in Tuscany, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
The Ponte Vecchio bridge spanning the River Arno in Florence, one of the best known landmarks in Tuscany, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

Playing golf in Tuscany

Along with the rest of Italy, Tuscany is still relatively unknown as a golf destination for British golfers. That is set to change with the biennial Ryder Cup competition between the best golfers of Europe and the USA being held in Rome in 2023, which will put Italy firmly on the international golfing map.

Tuscany has excellent golf and Toscana Resort Castelfalfi can either be used a base to play other courses or form part of a golf-based driving tour of the region that also includes visiting wineries.

The region’s courses include Italy’s oldest golf club, Ugolino Golf Club – south of Florence in Chianti country – first formed in 1889 when the British brought the sport to Italy and at its current location since 1934.

Green at Ugolino Golf Club near Florence in Tuscany, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
Green at Ugolino Golf Club near Florence in Tuscany, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

The stylish Il Pelagone Hotel & Golf Resort is an hour south of Pisa, where you can rent electric bikes to cycle through vineyards and farmland.

Il Pelagone Hotel and Golf Resort at Maremma in southern Tuscany, Italy. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
Il Pelagone Hotel and Golf Resort in southern Tuscany’s Maremma area. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

Punta Ala Golf Club is at Balgioni Resort Cala del Porto on the Maremma coast. Several of its tree-lined fairways overlook the Mediterranean;

The PGA National Golf Course Italy winds through a protected coastal nature reserve at the nearby luxury golf resort Argentario.

Carousel in Piazza della Repubblica in Florence. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
Carousel in Piazza della Repubblica in Florence. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

How to visit Toscana Resort Castelfalfi

Both Pisa and Florence have direct flights from UK airports. The flights take around two hours. The resort can arrange airport transfers for guests, otherwise car rental is available at both airports.

Tuscany’s holiday season is late March to late October, although Toscana Resort Castelfalfi stays open until early or mid November. The resort is reopening on 26 March 2021.

For more information, visit the Toscana Resort Castelfalfi website or go to the Preferred Hotels & Resorts website to book a stay.

Information on Tuscany can be found on the Visit Tuscany website or via the website of the Italian National Tourist Board (ENIT).

Find more information on the official Destination Florence website and on Pisa from the Comune di Pisa site.

Neptune's Fountain at the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Tuscany. Photo © Peter Ellegard.
Neptune’s Fountain at the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Tuscany. Photo © Peter Ellegard.

About the author – Peter Ellegard

Peter Ellegard is an award-winning freelance travel writer and photographer based in Essex who specialises in golf travel. He is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers.

Pinterest pin for MannedUp's post about golf at the Toscana Resort Castelfalfi and playing golf in Tuscany, Italy, by Peter Ellegard.
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