Paolo Kastelec & Philip Robinson Villa Fontelunga, Arezzo, Italy
“When it comes to design,” says Philip, “I think it’s important to match aesthetics with comfort. I’ve been to so many places that look nice, but are uncomfortable. There’s a girl across the valley who owns a restaurant. The second we walked in, we went, okay, somebody’s got a good eye here and it turned out that she’s also a set designer. But like us, she hasn’t gone over the top. She’s chosen a mixture of traditional and modern elements, so it doesn’t feel like the place has been totally designed.
“That’s not very Italian, however. Italians love classic style, whether it’s classic modern or classic traditional. But for them there’s nothing in between. The French are very good at mixing old and new. And that’s what I like to do. If someone’s coming to Tuscany, I don’t think they want something super-modern that’s been stripped clean of all that feels like Italy. I think this place feels like Italy, doesn’t it?” he asks.
It’s a leading question, but I totally agree. Fontelunga feels like an amalgam of the best from around the world. It’s a place that celebrates travel, incorporating elements from South Africa and even Mexico. I love its eclecticism and the way the devil is in the detail.
My arrival here has coincided with one of the dinner parties Philip and Paolo host twice a week for guests and their friends. I’m relieved I packed a linen shirt – suitably Italian, informal yet sophisticated.
We start with sparkling wine and canapés on the lawns overlooking the villa’s olive grove. The wine flows and flows and soon everyone is chatting and laughing. It’s the perfect way to meet fellow guests, but we also get to know some of Paolo and Philip’s friends from the area. I find myself talking to Australians, Americans, Argentinians and quickly learn that my own journey from London has been one of the shortest: this little corner of Tuscany clearly has a reputation across the globe for its incredible hospitality.
As we make our way inside to eat, we’re shown to our seats at a long table, each person carefully placed to ensure they meet someone outside their group. I’m sitting next to a couple from Texas.
Conversation is broken only by the arrival of the food: a salad bursting with flavours, pasta made by mamma, vegetables that taste of the hot Tuscan sunshine and a chocolate pudding that’s rich and decadent.
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Paolo explains that all the ingredients are locally sourced, his whole body expressing that passion Italians have when they talk about food.
As the plates are cleared, Philip suggests we take our drinks outside, so we make our way to the pavilion. With its huge open fireplace and deep-cushioned chairs, it’s only partially enclosed and we gaze out at the night sky.
There, Philip and Paolo regale everyone with anecdotes about Tuscany and the story of how they met and fell in love. As they chat, the bond between them is obvious.
“I always say I’m the only Englishman in the village,” jokes Philip, “but really we’re the only gays.”
I’m surprised and say the place feels gay-friendly.
“Oh yeah? That’s because I educate them,” says Paolo.
“Anyone who knows Italy will tell you that it can be quite a conservative place,” says Philip, “because the church is so prevalent. “So I think the gay-friendliness is mainly down to Paolo. I’m a little more reserved, but he was brought up in an incredible environment where his parents were always utterly cool with him being gay.”
“It was very unItalian,” laughs Paolo.
“So when I came on to the scene, I was welcomed with open arms,” continues Philip. “My own parents are very cool. They took a little time to warm up, but we got there in the end. We got married in London in 2006 (‘the law in Italy only changed in 2017,’ chips in Paolo), but we had the wedding party here and invited all the locals. They’ve never stopped talking about it since, because it was their first gay wedding party. By doing that, we somersaulted our way out of the closet and normalised the issue.
“But we don’t go skipping down the high street past the church hand-in-hand in high heels,” he laughs.
I get the sense there’s a lot of love for Philip and Paolo in the community. And the feelings are clearly mutual. In my mind, it’s this that makes Fontelunga unique. You’re not staying in a hotel. From the moment you arrive, the villa is your home and you’re part of the family, the village even. The couple’s warmth and informality make you feel as if you’ve always lived here. This is a place to simply ‘be’. Though there’s plenty to do in the area, the beauty of the villa is allowing Tuscany to seep into your soul as you unwind, switch off, read, walk through the grounds or swim in the pool.
As yet more wine appears on the table, another log is thrown into the fire and I sink into my chair and look out again at the sky. I’m at home and among new friends, my glass is full and I couldn’t be happier. For I have found my perfect room with a view.