Go overnight

 

DEIRDRE McQUILLANvisits La Locanda, Tuscany

IN AN AREA of Italy well-known for delightful places to stay, the tiny La Locanda country house hotel in Radda di Chianti is in a league of its own, far from well-trodden tourist trails.

Friends became so enchanted that they got engaged there and still get dreamy-eyed talking about it.

Tucked away high up in a chestnut and oak forest, it is essentially a group of three restored farm buildings with panoramic views over the Val di Pesa and fields embroidered with vines, olive groves and the cypresses emblematic of the Tuscan landscape.

No one ever forgets getting to La Locanda for the first time. You leave the medieval village of Volpaia behind and continue on an unpaved road for 3km through the woods before taking the turn down to La Locanda and a bone shaking descent on a twisting dirt track for another 1km until you begin to think you’ve made a mistake. It’s then that the sign for the entrance finally appears.

Owned and run by Guido and Martina Bevilacqua who quit Milan and a life in finance to follow a dream 12 years ago, La Locanda (it means inn) has the air of a private house with little of the usual hotel trappings. The seven rooms, all with whitewashed rafters and terracotta floors, are simple and unpretentious, some with loggias, others with French doors opening onto the gardens.

The genial Guido who is Neapolitan operates front-of-house while Martina, a keen equestrian, cooks three days a week and tends to an impressive variety of roses that adorn the walls, horticultural skills inherited from her grandmother. An album with before and after pictures shows the extent of the challenge the couple faced in restoring the 16th century buildings which had been abandoned for nearly 50 years when they bought them.

Guests are accommodated in one building while the other, a former stables, houses a bar/library, drawing room, dining room and sunny terrace. A book lover’s paradise, it is filled with books on art, architecture and history with stacks of magazines and comfortable armchairs.

Breakfast is taken on the terrace in the mornings to the sounds of a Chopin prelude or, as we heard one morning, the noise of a woodpecker and the hoarse cries of a lovesick stag somewhere nearby. Martina’s cooking is light, skilful and seasonal; one evening menu consisted of a vegetable pasta, boar stew followed by a cantucci tiramisu. Supporters of the Slow Food movement, their food and wine suppliers are small local artisan producers.

Guido’s recommendations for a day’s outing were always worth following, plugging us straight into interesting and enjoyable adventures.

WE SPENT ONE day walking for hours through the forest and vineyards, another at a picnic in the grounds of an imposing Cosimo villa called Le Corti, another at the annual wine tasting in Radda and for those interested in food, the Macelleria Falorni in Greve dating back to 1729 was unmissable, one of the most renowned butchers in Italy with a l3th century cheese cellar.

There’s a serenity to La Locanda that’s contagious and calming, and many excellent local restaurants worth visiting like La Bottega in Volpaia, Ristoro di Lamole in Lamole and La Locanda di Pietracupa in San Donato, but it’s also within an hour’s reach of Florence, Sienna or Arezzo for city sightseers. From Pisa, it took about three hours to drive there via a scenic route.

WHERELa Locanda, Montanino di Volpaia, Radda in Chianti. See lalocanda.it or tel 00-39-0577-738832/3.

WHATTuscan country house hotel.

ROOMSSeven guest rooms, maximum 14 guests, three doubles, three twins, one suite.

RATESDoubles €200-€300, singles €180-€250, dinner €35 (Monday, Wednesday and Friday only). Honesty bar.

AMENITIESSwimming pool and terrace.


Go Overnights are reviewed anonymously and paid for by The Irish Times