When we travel to Italy, we enjoy staying at B&Bs, agriturismo lodgings, or hotels, depending on the place. We’ve found that, for romance, historical interest, and that exciting feeling of traveling back in time, nothing beats staying inside an actual castle. Here are six places we’ve found over the years that offer just such an opportunity to become medieval castle dwellers.
1. Castello Vigoleno
Vigoleno, in Emilia Romagna to the west of Parma, is a stunningly beautiful small walled castle town. Today just five residents live there year-round. It's free to enter the castle walls and stroll through the cobblestone streets; the town can be explored in about 15 minutes. For just a few euros you can climb the castle tower, visit a few rooms in the castle and see the ancient prisons. Inside the town wall is a small bar where you can sample the local wine, a restaurant outfitted with furniture and paintings from the castle, and of course the B&B where you can spend the night. Just outside the walls is the unpretentious but excellent mom-and-pop restaurant "Bollicine & Tortafritta"; eating here is like eating in your grandmother's kitchen, if your grandmother is an excellent Italian cook. Rooms overlook the castle walls, and the four-poster beds are a nice touch. Rooms from 90€.
2. Castello Gargonza
The 13th century walled castle town of Gargonza is set deep in the woods in central Tuscany. It’s an incredibly romantic setting. Free wifi is available in the shared common space, which is in the same building breakfast is served. The shared space includes a lobby with comfortable couches and chairs, plus a beautiful outside garden with tables – a perfect place to enjoy a glass or two of wine before a nice walk. There is also a small store within the castle walls that sells locally made soaps, candles, olive oil, and crafts. The remoteness of the area means that at night, and early in the morning, there is total silence – except for the chirping of birds and the hooting of owls.
Just outside the castle walls is an excellent restaurant that boasts amazing views over the valley; be sure to try the risotto of prosecco and strawberries if it’s in season. Rooms range from double rooms to full suites, and start at 120€.
3. Castello Quattro Torra
Quattro Torra ("Four Towers") is a privately owned castle that is still the primary residence of the family who lives there. One of the towers has been turned into a lovely B&B. There are three rooms to rent; we recommend the Tower room, which is a sitting room and bedroom on the top two floors of the Tower. The bedroom offers incredible views out of the Tower windows, on a clear day you can see the medieval town of Siena. Be careful on foggy mornings; if you open the windows the fog will roll right into your bedroom and surround the bed with fog! It's like sleeping in a cloud.
There are no restaurants nearby within walking distance, but it's just a short drive to Siena. Or better yet: shop in Siena for cheese, bread, salumi, fruit, wine, and chocolate, and have a picnic in the castle gardens surrounded by roses and olive trees. Breakfast is served in a communal room just a few steps down from the Tower. Rooms from 170€.
4. Castello di Rivalta
This charming hotel, Residenza Torre Di San Martino, is located within the walls of the Castle of Rivalta. Rooms are snug and cozy and the beds are very comfortable. The Castle is still occupied but large sections are open to the public for visiting. Best of all, one of the best restaurants in Emilia Romagna can be found here: Antica Locanda del Falco. There is an excellent alimentari (foodstuff store) attached to Del Falco; they will happily open it on request so you can buy local artisanal chocolate, cookies, oil, cheese and more.
There are a few little stores (selling wine, oil, cheese, salumi, and crafts) within the castle walls, but they are only open on weekends and festivals. There is also a small wax museum here. In our opinion it's worth it to stay at San Martino just to eat at Locanda del Falco. Rooms from 130€.
5. Castello di Montalto
Tucked away in the woods of southern Tuscany is the beautiful Castle of Montalto, which is still occupied by owners Diana and Giovanni, who rent many of the rooms and towers out to guests. In the summer they organize a weekly barbecue for guests. There is a swimming pool here as well. The grounds are extensive; one of the great pleasures here is to take long walks through the vineyards, the castle grounds, and the woods. In the winter, you may hear gunshots in the woods from the hunters who were going after rabbits and wild boar (which you might find on your plate later on). If you’re lucky (and polite), Diana might invite you up to her living room for tea or wine; it's a stunning large drawing room with wood paneled ceilings, bayonets and crests decorating the walls, a grand fireplace – it feels like you are in a dream.
The nearby town of Castelnuovo Berardenga has some great restaurants; or you can just stay in, stoke up a wood fire and fix yourself something in your private room. Rooms from 130€.
6. Castello di Valenzano
More than a thousand years ago, a fortification was established overlooking the ancient road along the Arno River in Tuscany's northeast Casentino region. The fortress was built up over subsequent centuries, falling into the hands of various factions as wars determined local power. It has been in the Rondinelli family since the 18th century, when major renovations and design created the present building - a neo-Gothic storybook castle. Take a magical stroll through the grounds, admiring the mixed architecture, taking in the aroma of the fruit trees and wood smoke from the restaurant’s grill, and enduring the glares from the gargoyles adorning the walls.
Look for the recurring crest featuring a flock of swallows - the sigil of the Rondinelli family. Visitors can lodge in the castle for reasonable rates and enjoy a romantic restaurant on-site. It serves up beautiful plates of traditional regional cuisine, specializing in wood-grilled meat dishes.