Escaping to the Tuscan hillsBy Natalie Slater
October 12, 2010
Italy is not just about culture and art, Natalie Slater discovers the beauty of the coastline and country
Standing tall over the bay of Follonica, Relais Vedetta is probably one of the most beautiful and friendly places I have ever stayed.
This converted, family owned barn has a spectacular spot on the top of a Tuscan hill and offers luxury and relaxation in an informal and unpretentious manner.
My boyfriend and I headed to Follonica after two days in Florence and arrived by train after just two hours where we were greeted by the deep azure of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the vibrant blue skies above. Despite only being a couple of hours away in travel time, we had arrived in another world where we were able to delight in the beauty of this coastal region.
Taking a taxi from Follonica, we found ourselves winding up the dirt track leading up to Relais Vedetta which opened in May 2009 after two years of loving renovation from the owner, Anna Barberini. As we rounded the top of the hill, the breathtaking views of the ocean and countryside splayed before us and we were enchanted.
It was hard to believe we were still so close to not only Florence, but Pisa and Rome, but yet felt so secluded in the luscious hills of Tuscany.
From sightseeing mode in Florence, we switched immediately into relaxation beach mode as we were greeted by the staff who were a delight to chat to and told us all about the place we were staying – every room has its own design and each piece of furniture has some relevance to the family history of the Barberinis.
Our room faced out onto the hills and overlooked the mountain village of Scarlino which is steeped in history and has a castle to explore as well as cobbled streets and local bars and restaurants.
From our floor-to-ceiling windows, we were able to look out and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the region while sitting in the luxurious and modern furnishings that just made this place so accommodating.
Our handmade stone bath sat in the main room and offered equally enticing views of the world outside.
Sat in the middle of the Maremma wine region, it seemed only right to follow the recommendations of the staff when choosing a bottle to sit on the veranda with – they chose the sensational Maremmante Syrah. This red was mouthwatering and was washed down beautifully with a plate of antipasti meats and cheeses.
Although there is no restaurant at Relais Vedetta, they are happy to accommodate your requirements and can offer light snacks and drinks on request.
Waking up to the September sunshine engulfing our bedroom, we had not a care in the world as we headed down to enjoy the breakfast which is included in the price and offers traditional Italian foods sourced locally. This hotel prides itself on using sustainable energy and eco-friendly products and it does give you a real back-to-nature kind of feel.
The swimming pool is a real highlight here and offers a magical place to sit and soak up the rays with its superb views over Follonica. Its secluded spot makes it a quiet place to enjoy the sunshine. This is the kind of place you can just sit around with a good book and enjoy, but it is also a great base to explore the region.
In the bay of Scarlino, the newly-built harbour is the home of hundreds of fantastic boats and an ideal spot for fishing.
If you are looking for more of a beach however, head around the bay and find a white sandy beach with shallow blue waters that is a great place for a swim or a splash and also has a range of watersports on offer.
Further round the bay is Follonica which is the biggest town in the area and has a much bigger beach and promenade with lots of cafes and restaurants. It is a busier, more touristy beach but has more facilities.
Being on the coast there is an abundance of fish restaurants to choose from if you want to head out for a meal – including a Michelin starred restaurant – but we opted for the more traditional Piazza Vittorio restaurant overlooking the harbour, which has been operating for more than 20 years and attracts visitors from all over Tuscany.
The recommendations were well justified as we enjoyed some super-fresh seafood including king prawns and scampi accompanied by a local white wine and finished off with some crème Catalan and the obligatory espresso.
While there is so much to see around this area and a hire car is probably recommended, we opted for two days of pure relaxation and Relais Vedetta offered this and more.
With only six rooms, this is the kind of place where you feel at home – albeit a much hotter, more beautiful and luxurious home (than mine anyway!)
I cannot recommend this hotel enough.
Natalie stayed at Relais Vedetta, Scarlino, for two nights booked with Chic Retreats. Rooms start at 220 Euros per night and the whole villa can be booked out starting at 8,500 Euros per night.
To book or for more information visit www.chicretreats.com or call 020 7307 2797.