Most Famous Guest: Cosimo de’ Medici.
Castello di Montegufoni near Monttagnana Val di Pesa, Chianti, is just 20 km south west of Florence and boasts an extremely illustrious history going all the way back to the 12th century (though the present castle structure mainly dates to the mid 17th). It has connections to Dante’s Divine Comedy and the infamous Medici dynasty of Florence for example, and has been steeped in art and politics since its very beginnings.
It is thus a very interesting place, with such a noble history granting it a special atmosphere. It is also quite a quirky place to stay, one which seems to deliberately avoid creating a hotel like vibe. This may not be to the liking of some, as there is less in the way of services and facilities but others will revel in the feeling of living in a castle as opposed to staying in a (castle) hotel.
Of note in historical and artistic trivia; the owner of Montegufoni, Sir George Sitwell, in 1922 reneged on an arrangement made with Picasso for him to come and paint the frescoes at Montegufoni. The Italian futurist painter Gino Severini was chosen instead and, though with some very fine results, many people still come to the castle, scan the ceilings and are suddenly enormously curious as to what Picasso might have done with them instead.
The accommodation is all self catering, which contributes to the castle stay experience, and there is a great array of choice (check the booking page here); from double studio rooms and an enormous, 310 square meter, five bedroom split level apartment in the castle itself, to two and four bedroom classic Tuscan villas with private garden in the castle grounds.
The interior design ranges from cosy and rustic to grand and palatial, even room to room in the same apartment. Most ceilings at the property are of the classic sloping wood beamed variety but others also display some very impressive brightly painted frescos.
Antique furniture abounds throughout the property with very few modern pieces to distract, and all have classic open fireplaces which add to the rustic ambience. All in all every space has a distinct old world charm, and though you will have high standards of comfort, a stay here is very much an enchanting step back in time.
The kitchens may disappoint some, though well equipped they tend to be on the small size, more kitchenette than kitchen in some cases. The larger the unit/the greater the number of guests, the more this might become noticeable.
Though the accommodation is self catering there is a restaurant at the castle too. It serves up classic Tuscan food and local Chianti wines, and you can enjoy some lavish multi course evening meals here. Ingredients are locally sourced and organic as much as possible, and they also have a special menus for children too. Breakfast too (not included in the room rate) is served in the dining room every morning.
There is an outdoor swimming pool in the gardens and a small children’s playground too, and the views all around are wonderful; classic pastel shaded Tuscan hills lined with cypress trees and with glimpses of far away villages and the towers of other ancient castles.
Just a short distance from Florence city centre, and just at the edge of the Chianti region, the castle is a good location for exploring much of what Tuscany, both rural and urban, has to offer. Florence airport is less than a half an hour away by car while Pisa is less than an hour, and you can be in such places as Arezzo, Lucca, San Gimignano and Greve in Chianti in not much more than a half an hour too.
The original owners of the Montegufoni Estate and the builders of the original Montegufoni Castle in the early 12th century were the Ormanni family, one of the most powerful local clans of the time. Their power was already somewhat in decline at that stage and would never recover as can be judged by their mention in Dante’s 14th century Divine Comedy; ”I saw the Ughi, saw the Catellini, Filippi, Greci, Ormanni, and Alberichi, even in their fall illustrious citizens…”
Not long after the castle was built the Florentines would successfully attack it and it was left in ruins until the 13th century when a man by the name of Gugliarello Acciaioli took it over and made it a home for himself and his family.
This family, the Accaiolis, would, over the next few hundred years, also make a name for themselves as one of the richest and most powerful in Tuscany mainly though the rapidly developing local banking industry.
These riches would lead them over time to extend and upgrade the castle and estate substantially to suit their new found status, with seven separate building being constructed around the main building.
Niccolò Acciaiuoli, born at Montegufoni in 1310, went on to gain the rather clunky title of Grand Seneschal of the Kingdom of Naples and became a close confidant to the King of Naples, Luigi Taranto. King Luigi, in fear of an attack on his kingdom by Louis the Great of Hungary in 1348 took sanctuary in Montegufoni, and in general, under Niccolò Acciaiuoli, the castle would become a place for many important political and religious figures of the time to meet and network.
Niccolò’s son, Donato Acciaioli would maintain the political importance of Monetgufoni and held a host of titles including Roman Senator, Duke of Athens and, another clunky one; Gonfaloniere of the Republic of Florence. It was he, in 1386, who built the impressive tower that still dominates the castle today.
His sons too would hold titles and be very well politically connected, and, despite the odd falling out with the powers of Florence, Montegufoni went into the 15th century under the moniker the ‘court of dukes’.
The centre piece to the castle, the aforementioned tower, got a stylistic upgrade in 1546 when another Donato Acciaioli renovated it to resemble the Arnolfo tower of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, while also building the great hall known today as the ‘Gallery’ and in those days as the ‘Armory’. Important figures continued to pass though Montegufoni with Cosimo de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and member of the infamous banking family, being a guest in 1612.
The next major change to the castle was in 1650 when the seven separate buildings were combined into one and the entire property was restored in grand fashion.
This was probably the height of the Acciaioli family’s power but by the 18th century their fortunes had dwindled and the estate as sold to the Baracchi family. By that stage too the castle’s reputation as a meeting place for the rich and powerful had declined and the Baracchis lived there in relatively unassuming fashion until 1909 when the famously eccentric English aristocrat, politician and writer Sir George Sitwell bought it from them.
He was an avid fan of classic art and the castle would become home to many important works. It would become famous too as a sanctuary of art during the Second World War when more than two hundred priceless works from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence were hidden there for fear of looting. Examples include Ghirlandaio’s Adoration of the Magi, Botticello’s Primavera and Giotti’s Madonna of Ogni Santo.
Sir George survived the war only for a year, passing away in 1946, but not before treating the property to some tasteful design and decoration work both inside and out. He was a particularly keen gardener (he wrote a book on the subject; ‘On the Making of Gardens’ which can still be bought), and it was he who designed the castle gardens that we see today.
He made one possibly great error though, when in 1922 he turned down an arrangement made his son Sacheverell for Picasso to come and paint the frescoes at Montegufoni. He chose the Italian futurist painter Gino Severini for the job instead and with, it must be said, some very fine results.
The Sitwells would, for much of the first half of the 20th century make the place a hub of artistic activity and a meeting place for many foreign artists. In their heyday George’s three children Osbert, Edith and Sacheverell were heavily involved in art and literature, as authors, influencers, collectors and researchers, but as the century wore on the Sitwell’s finances began to dwindle and Sacheverell’s son, Reresby, would become the last of the Sitwells at Montegufoni when he sold the estate to Sergio Posarelli in 1972.
WHAT OTHER GUESTS SAY:
“Loved staying in the Castle! Fabulous setting. Very comfortable room with a superb balcony overlooking the hills of Tuscany. Great restaurant with reasonable prices. Convenient to Florence and other cities in the region…”
“Right in the middle of Chianti, wonderful surrounding, minutes to wineries, 20-30 minutes to Florence. The apartments are huge and tidy. The castle itself is really spectacular, worth a visit even if you’re not staying…”
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- Via Montegufoni, 18
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