A 16th-century villa with period features, Hotel Palazzo di Valli is a charming place to spend a long weekend in Tuscany’s famous hill town.
WORDS & PICTURES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS
Perhaps the trickiest part of any city break is finding a place to stay that enjoys both the convenience of proximity and the beauty of a rural vista – and nowhere is that more the case than Siena.
See, the UNESCO-protected citadel sits amongst some of Tuscany’s most arresting scenery, of the mist-wrapped sort that’ll stop you at the shutters every morning. It also, though, possesses a city centre of astounding intrigue – from the architectural to the cultural.
What to do? Well, if you’re willing to see charm through rough edges, there’s no better blend of the picturesque and the convenient than Palazzo di Valli hotel.
Nestled just a 10-minute walk from Porta Romana – one of the city’s many towering gates – it’s a further 15 to the Piazza del Campo, famous for hosting the biannual Palio, on a route that takes you past many a church-front, coffee house and statue, all worthy of admiration.
Inching our MINI between the narrow gates at the foot of Palazzo di Valli’s long, walled driveway, things have a hint of the palatial – a feeling that persists upon arrival. Green-painted shutters rest within faded-cream walls as a view of the sort that usually graces postcards stretches out in front of the terrace.
Climbing the steps towards the reception, there’s a low-season sense of calm about the place, with wicker chairs stacked beside heavy wooden doors and mural-adorned walls.
In fact, throughout our stay, there’s a feeling that things here are best not rushed. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s October or simply that the hosts – unfailingly friendly, welcoming and laid back – know that their 16th-century setup possesses that sort of faded Tuscan charm that sees international visitors flocking to the region year after year.
That same knowledge does mean that some aspects could do with a little attention. The bathrooms, for example, would do well to see a refresh, while organisation at breakfast wasn’t of the highest order. With the eggs and croissants not replenished, one morning’s breakfast was a little underwhelming.
Nevertheless, there’s no question that Palazzo di Vallo possesses character in spades. From the tiled reception room to the ornately framed mirrors, if things here are dated it’s because they’re appreciated that way.
With well-sized rooms fitted with heavy, wooden wardrobes, sculpted lamps and pastel-shade bedheads, this feels like the kind of retreat in which a retired Bond might opt to stay: a sense of prior opulence pervades, gradually being usurped by a reflective contentment.
So it is outside, too, where benches on the stone terrace observe a landscape of rolling hills; benches upon which one can easily imagine well-dressed women and men, having returned from a night of limoncello and thrills in the city centre with bow ties undone and heels removed, enjoying a cigar and a midnight conversation.
Some hotels set out to achieve boutique luxury in the fashion of times gone by; others begin with that boutique luxury, and evolve to remain as reminders of those times. Palazzo di Valli is very much the latter.
It’s not of the ilk of the boutique, effortless hotels to be found elsewhere in Italy. It is it’s own sort of space – and that’s no bad thing.
Frescoes and heavily draped windows will not be to every taste – though the wooden beams in some rooms are unquestionably wonderful – but there’s a tranquility here that’s not guaranteed with every three star hotel.
Indeed, whilst the Wi-Fi can be patchy and water pressure less than the best, that’s probably not the point. See few, if any, centrally located hotels are content to let the focus fall upon the cities they call home. Many, by their nature, become the event itself.
Palazzo di Valli is a calm place to rest, as a base for discovering the astounding Siena that awaits on its doorstep, without sacrificing the kind of comfort that guarantees a good night’s sleep.
This is the sort of hotel where, whilst there’s a guide for guests, asking is the way to go. Think concierge, not comprehensive leaflet – and, for some, that’s exactly what a stay in Siena should be. From restaurants to activities, meaningful recommendations were but a conversation away.
In fact, it’s hard to argue with grounds in which one can sit beneath olive trees, where a Tuscan breeze that’s been blowing for centuries wraps itself around the simple, picturesque building that’s home to Palazzo di Valli. It’s not perfect, but it is imbued with a sense of serenity which can only do well to set one up for a stellar long weekend in Siena.