Fashion mogul Massimo Ferragamo didn’t set out to buy a neglected 800-year-old village on a 4,200-acre estate. But when the chairman of Ferragamo USA (and youngest son of Salvatore) was looking for a small place in Montalcino, Tuscany, where he could make Brunello wine and retreat with family and friends, he happened upon this property and was instantly smitten. “Some of the best things in life happen by chance,” he says with a laugh in his office in New York. “It was totally by chance.”
And so in 2003, as the owner of a property that was “much, much larger than I had ever intended”, Ferragamo set about turning the estate into something more than a winery and a place to stay. His goal: To revive Tuscan history. “The only way to make Castiglion del Bosco come back to life was to make all the elements that exist there work together,” he says. “We decided to renovate all the buildings and create an experience.”
Ferragamo originally intended for the compound to be a private residence club, but when that model proved troublesome in post global-crash Italy, his thinking shifted to a more traditional resort setup. And now after years of transition the finishing touches have all been applied and the place has found its stride.
It may be a world-class resort, but staying at Castiglion del Bosco feels more like time-travelling to a rustic Tuscan village. The 23 impeccably decorated suites (which start at $1,000 a night, depending on the season) occupy a cluster of buildings that flank a cobblestoned street, with many opening directly outside, creating the feeling of being a resident of a small town. Social life centres on two restaurants, one slightly formal and the other a relaxed al fresco osteria serving pasta pomodoro made with six kinds of tomatoes from the organic garden.
Beyond that there’s a spa, a Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course—the only private course in Italy (membership is 45,000 euros, but the 18 holes are open to resort guests)—miles of hiking and running trails through the forests of the Unesco-protected Val d’Orcia (complete with an energetic triathlete of a personal trainer, who gives terrific “forest boot camp” classes), a well-curated boutique, a lovely swimming pool, several two- to five-bedroom villas in historic buildings and a cooking school. (There’s even a medieval chapel.) The wine programme is as sophisticated as one would expect from what is now the fifth-largest producer of Brunello di Montalcino, with tastings geared toward both novices and wine professionals on holiday. And the service is precise yet relaxed, less arm’s-length than at most Italian hotels—perhaps a nod to the high number of American guests.
“There’s nothing too lavish or anything you don’t expect in Tuscany,” Ferragamo says. “It was more like putting our guests in the front row of a show, but a real show.” Indeed, he has conjured up a vision of bucolic Tuscany that never veers into theme-park territory. That revitalisation is what makes Ferragamo most proud. “A project like this, you get into without knowing,” he muses. “You discover yourself doing something much more meaningful than you thought in the beginning.”
(This story appears in the May-June 2014 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)