A forgotten castle in Tuscany: Castello di Fighine

I have been lucky to visit many beautiful places in my home region of Tuscany but Castello di Fighine is so special, it is hard to describe in words what kind of place it is. Picture a hilltop in the middle of the rustic southern countryside and an empty, 11th century hamlet, brought back to life after sitting for centuries in ruins that had been taken over by nature.

Joy Ulfane, the South African owner, shows me her old photo album of the castle’s history, and the first photographs are of the vines, trees and even cows that were its residents when she and her husband Max arrived in 1995. Max and Joy Ulfane fell in love with it and began rebuilding it 1995, stone by stone, room by room, eventually recreating not only the castle, but also all of the other buildings, turning the old watch tower into a beautiful home that they call Casa Janine (this is where they lived while the castle was being restored; you can tell it was adored as it feels so homely). They are in their 90s now and they still come to stay at the castle.

There are now five houses and two apartments, a church, a theatre and gardens within the walls of the castle, accommodating up to 34 people. The hamlet of Fighine is high up on a hill at 600 metres above sea level, several minutes drive from San Casciano dei Bagni, an ancient spa town where stunning bronze Etruscan statues were recently uncovered and near the border of Umbria.

The remarkable thing about the dwellings — I can’t call them apartments, they are so much more than that — at the Castello di Fighine is that nothing feels new. It feels as though these rooms, the fireplaces, the doors, the light fixtures have all been there. Partly it’s due to the most careful and thoughtful restoration done with the help of some incredible period decorators, David Mlinaric and Hugh Henry, London-based interior designers. Partly I think there is just something about the place, something that feels very soulful.

Possibly the most surprising thing of all in this picturesque little hamlet of self-catered lodgings in the middle of wild southern Tuscany is the addition of a Michelin starred restaurant. There was the remnants of an old school house within the castle — the Ulfanes decided it would be a good place to put a restaurant and asked their friend Heinz Beck (yes, the three-Michelin-star Heinz Beck) to look after it. Open for lunch and dinner, you can visit even if you’re not staying in the castle accommodations.

It is absolutely magical and an utterly quiet little gem. In spring, when we were here (in 2023), it was incredibly peaceful and so quiet, light years away from the hustle and bustle of Florence. It seems entirely a secret spot.

Getting there: Fighine is halfway between Rome (170km) and Florence (150 km) and about an hour and half’s drive south of Siena and just under an hour from Orvieto in Umbria. A car is the best way to get around this area for sure, it is very secluded but also you’ll want to have a car so you can go exploring (if you can tear yourself away from the fireplace/swimming pool/gardens, depending on the season you visit!).

[Note: I was invited to visit this beautiful property and the restaurant in spring 2023. The words, impressions and photos are all my own — Emiko x]

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