I have always wanted to stay at the Ritz Carlton…
Recently, I traveled to Tuscany to meet with the Rosewood Hotels & Resorts Executive and Sales team. I left LAX on KLM non-stop to Amsterdam, then connecting to Florence. The KLM Business class was somewhat common as to what you would find on some International Business class seats these days. There was nothing exceptional about the experience. The seats and entertainment system were a bit old and the food was just OK, but the connecting network is great. Upon arrival in Amsterdam, which had a huge airport, I was able to walk to my connecting flight.
Upon arrival in Florence it was a short 45 minute ride to the Preferred Hotels & Resort property, Castello di Casole. The property has great views of the Tuscan area, the hills, villages and villas. I was greeted with a glass of Champagne to welcome me to this wonderful property. On my way to the room, I was given a tour of the pool area, spa, and 3 dining venues, one being a Michelin Star restaurant.
The room was great, authentic Tuscan, just what I expected. Since it was late in the day when I arrived, I had dinner in the pub/bar on property. The food was great. There was selection of grilled fish, vegetables, and a perfect glass of wine that was picked out for me by my waiter to compliment my dinner. While having dinner, it was very interesting to listen to the other guests chat at their tables about their day in Tuscany. Mostly North American guests, they all shared stories. With the room filled with wine and laughter, traveling companions by their side, it almost felt like being in a movie.
The next morning as I headed to breakfast the surrounding hills were beautiful. There were a few areas of fog mixed into the valley, the cool morning air continued the feeling from last night of feeling like I’m in a movie, and the light drizzle wet the paths through the property which made for great reflections of the morning sun. The sounds of nature all around made me feel like I was watching the final minute of CBS Sunday morning. After breakfast I enjoyed one of the many outdoor areas with space to sit, put your feet up and enjoy the surroundings. And of course, there was always a staff member around to just make sure you didn’t need a glass of water or coffee.
After just 20 hours at Castello di Casole, it was time to head to the Rosewood property, Castigilion del Bosco. I was wondering how the Castigilion Del Bosco could match my great stay at Castello di Casole. With Castello di Casole being only 45 minutes from Florence, 15 minutes from Sienna, very close to many hilltop villages and wineries, how would Rosewood compare?
It took about 1 ¼ hours to get to Castigilion Del Bosco. The hotel is an old village. There is a main street with accommodations on both sides (only about 36 rooms), 2 restaurants, a bar, living room, a small store and the Spa. Everything is pretty centrally located and while a “main street” seems big, it’s really only a few hundred yards long.
So for 2 days I enjoyed Castigilion Del Bosco, the food, the cooking school, the wonderful Tuscan setting; we toured some of the villas, the golf course and the private winery. The rooms were really nice, just as nice as the rooms at Castello di Casole, but not quite as authentic feeling, maybe a bit more modern (or classic modern if that helps).
After my stay at Castigilion del Bosco I really loved it just as much as Castello di Casole. It is a little farther from Florence and Sienna, but there’s plenty to do in the area (wineries, golf, villages). I truly loved both properties, but it’s kind of hard to not love the area, the food, the setting and the wonderful people of Tuscany. I’ve been to many places, but after one visit to Tuscany it has officially moved to the top of my list as a place to go again (soon)!
The funny thing about many countries, Italy included, is that there seems to be many planned (or announced in advance) strikes. This was the case on the day of my return flight from Florence, a Friday of course, and I’ve been told that happens a lot to allow for a 3 day weekend. But this Friday’s strike was a general strike of the transportation industry unions. It was said to be on from 10am to 6 pm, and my 10am flight from Florence was in danger of falling within those hours. So not wanting to miss my Paris to LAX flight, I changed my flight to leave from Rome. Rome is 3 hours from Tuscany and now my 6am pick-up was at the pleasant hour of 3am. 3 hours to Rome, 2 hour arrival before my 8am flight time and the last night of sleep I planned to enjoy in Tuscany was now down to 1 ½ hours.
The ride to Rome was fine (the first 40 minutes were on a somewhat bumpy road). The Rome Airport was clean and efficient and the flight left on time to allow me to arrive in Paris 4 hours before my flight home. Concerned about changing planes in Paris, as the last time I did that I ended up on the wrong side of the security line, I was glad to have a lot of time. The airport is now different and wonderful. From the time I landed, walked to get my boarding pass, cleared Immigration, walked to my gate, I was all done in less than an hour. The airport is beautiful and looks like a shopping mall. It is clean, organized and a breeze to get through. Had I done the same thing in London’s Heathrow airport, I would have encountered a lot more people, a lot more wait time, and a lot more angst in getting through the airport. So I headed for the club to wait out my next 3 hours in Paris, and with only 1 ½ hours’ sleep, I was concerned I might just pass out in the club and miss my flight, so I headed for the gate. At least there I felt I would have been woken up to get on the plane. After few shots of espresso and a brisk walk, I made it to my seat without nodding off.
The Air France 777 between LAX and Paris has some of the best Business class seats around. There was plenty of room, the food was great and so was the service! The entertainment system was much newer than the KLM system, but the selection was about the same. Either way the Air France 777 is a great way to cross the Atlantic. Stalling my “nap” to allow take off, a meal and a movie I closed my eyes 2 hours into the 11 hour flight and the next thing I know I only had 3 hours to go. I know many of you would have thought I would have said “the next thing I know I was landing” but I was really happy with 6 hours!
There’s so much more to my Tuscany experience I can share with you. The write-up and photos can no way come close to conveying this, so let me know when I can share more with you!
Steve Orens, President of Plaza Travel