One year on from his first visit, Peter Ellegard returns to Tui’s Tuscan resort of Castelfalfi to see how it has been updated and enjoy some R&R
“Ghigo! Ghigo!”, my guide Rabab calls out, at which a huge male wild boar trots out of bushes towards us, pushing against the enclosure’s wire fence, grunting in obvious pleasure as Rabab bends forward to greet him.
Immediately, a series of high-pitched squeals erupt from a small pen behind us, where an excitable boar piglet is demanding similar attention. Rabab duly obliges and calms little Franca down by reaching over the shorter fence to give her some welcome back scratching.
I’m not on safari or in a wildlife park but in the extensive grounds of a remarkable leisure project set deep amidst the rolling hills of Italy’s Tuscany region between Pisa, Florence and Siena.
Until 2007 Castelfalfi was a ghost village, having been deserted in the 1960s like many other villages across Italy as hardship in the decades after World War II forced their inhabitants away in search of work.
That was when an unlikely saviour – in the form of Germany-based holiday giant Tui – stepped in and snapped up the ruined medieval hilltop hamlet, complete with its eighth century castle, 15th century church and surrounding 2,700-acre estate of vineyards, olive tree plantations, farmland and a wilderness forest, besides an overgrown golf course from a previous abortive leisure scheme.
Since then, Tui Group has resurrected the entire village and surrounding estate as an upmarket golf and leisure resort – Toscana Resort Castelfalfi.
In the process, a former tobacco factory was converted into the four-star, 31-room La Tabbaccaia hotel and, in 2017, the luxury 120-room Il Castelfalfi hotel that is the flagship property of top-of-the-range Tui Blue Selection brand and a member of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts LVX Collection, was also built. Tui has also renovated 48 village apartments and turned several farmhouses into villas for people to buy, with rental options as well.
It is actually a year since my encounter with Ghigo and Franca, both adopted by the resort after being orphaned by hunters. Castelfalfi PR specialist Rabab Latrache visits them most days, hence her strong rapport with them, and she introduces me to her porcine pals while taking me on a tour of the resort and grounds.