Castello di Tornano

Four sisters inherited the castle from their parents Manfredo and Silvana Selvolini who bought it in the 1970s. It is now a luxurious hotel which offers its guests what they say is "the best Chianti Classico wine".


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@Castles_and_palaces is talking with the owners of Castello di Tornano. The castle which is located in Italy's scenic Chianti region was built more than a thousand years ago. It was first mentioned in documents dating back to the 8th century when it was Charlemagne's 17th year of rule in Italy. Manfredo and Silvana Selvolini bought the ruined castle back in 1970s and it took them 7 years to make it habitable and they then started the first agriturismo activity.

The four sisters: Tiziana, Patrizia, Barbara and Fabiola
Their children – the four sisters Tiziana, Patrizia, Barbara and Fabiola – made a tremendous work in the 2000s when they transformed the castle into a luxury hotel.
Castles and Palaces: Your castle is in Tuscany and you make Chianti wine. So my question comes naturally - is your Chianti the best Chianti around?
Castello di Tornano: We prefer to say that Castello di Tornano is the best Chianti "Classico" wine. By the way in 2002 great wines were produced for the first time: the Chianti Classico first of all, which was later followed by the superb Reserve. Our father started making wine back the 1970s.

CnP: I will definitely taste your wine! Could you please introduce your family.
CT: Our family is not a blazoned one as most of the castle owners are. We are descendants of wool merchants. In 1961 our parents Manfredo Selvolini and Silvana D'angelo married and later had 4 daughters: Tiziana, Patrizia, Barbara and Fabiola.
You know the funniest thing is that after the birth of Tiziana in 1962 and Patrizia in 1965, our father Manfredo, who wanted a male heir, had Barbara, a third girl in 1969!!! He said fine, I need to take a break. It lasted for seven years when he focused all his efforts on making a baby boy - the male heir. When the nurse came out of the maternity ward at Villa Donatello Clinic in Florence, she said… once again "what a lovely girl!!!" Fabiola was born. It was in 1976 and, sadly, all the hopes of having a male heir in the family gradually vanished.
CnP: Your father tried hard. Your family bought a ruined castle in the 1970s – it looks like making a splendid hotel out of it was a hard and long journey, wasn't it?
CT: There were two important figures linked with the restoration of the castle: two brothers Lorenzo and Alfredo Selvolini, Manfredo's father and uncle respectively. These clever and successful wool traders from the small village of Montegonzi, gave him a lot of advice in carrying out restoration works in Tornano.

So, the works lasted seven years, as it was quite difficult to keep all the old features of the main building. The idea of building the stairs inside the tower was particularly appreciated; it was built with three different materials each representing a different age: stone, wood and metal.

The careful restoration works carried out by our parents in 1974 gave luster to the castle. It became an elegant residence like a precious stone in the middle of vineyards and olive grove and woods.

We prefer to say that Castello di Tornano is the best Chianti "Classico" wine
CT: So, the works lasted seven years, as it was quite difficult to keep all the old features of the main building. The idea of building the stairs inside the tower was particularly appreciated; it was built with three different materials each representing a different age: stone, wood and metal.

The careful restoration works carried out by our parents in 1974 gave luster to the castle. It became an elegant residence like a precious stone in the middle of vineyards and olive grove and woods.

CnP: But still you had one more large-scale transformation in the 2000s.
CT: Exactly! But before that in the 1980 our family rebuilt and refurbished a farm house next to the castle so that it could accommodate foreign guests who only started to discover Chianti for themselves.

And then in 2000, we - the 4 sisters - started massive restoration works in order to turn the castle and the tower into rooms for our guests. There are more beds available and all the rooms have become lighter which is the key thing. Francesco Gioffreda (Patrizia Selvolini's husband) was entrusted with the management of this ambitious project. Patrizia and Tiziana chose the furniture. All the work was carried out in the winters of 2001 and 2002 and our castle hotel opened its doors in August 2002.
CnP: Have your parents told you why they chose this very castle?
CT: Our family lived in a large farm house next to the castle. In the late 1960s, our father Manfredo inherited the whole of it when he bought up his cousins' share. This beautiful farm house was located very close to the imposing Tornano tower. Our father cunningly managed to convince Baron Ricasoli Firidolfi to sell him the castle, that at that time was utterly run down and totally abandoned.

CnP: As far as I understand the only part which survived through all those turbulent times is the trapezoidal tower? It is more or less authentic – what's inside the tower now?
CT: The whole castle together with its tower is authentic, it has only different ages. Our best rooms and living rooms are located inside the tower now. On the top of the tower there is a terrace with a fantastic view.

CnP: Do you live in the castle?
CT: No, we don't live in the castle any more.
CnP: But I bet you still remember your first night there. What was it like?
CT: You know, we were all very young when we slept there for the first night but the eldest sister remembers that the first period, since the castle was under restructuring, we were all sleeping in the farm house next to the castle. Of course, it was a big emotion when we moved into the castle!

CnP: What's your favorite part of the castle?
CT: We love all of is so full of memories with our family that each corner or furniture brings us back in the past.
CnP: Any interesting findings during restoration works?
CT: At the main entrance of the tower there is a large excavation made by our father during the restoration. It is evident that the original stone walls go further down and we think that there may be a secret tunnel leading out.

CnP: You need to dig deeper! When I talked to the owners of the Gropparello castle they shared a story about how they found an ancient Celtic sacrificial altar nearby. Any unusual artifacts at Tornano?
CT: There is a trap door in the cellar created in the old prison. People used to say that the stains on the wall were caused by the blood of prisoners thrown inside. By the way the old castle prison is linked to the tower with this door. And it is there that our father Manfredo started collecting the first Chianti Classico bottles of wine produced on the farm.
CnP: A prison and a wine cellar. Your castle is very very old and it had its moments of glory. Could you share its history with me.
CT: Historians found the remains of a Roman necropolis with Capuchin-style tombs in Strada del Duca (Duke's Way), so we believe that the origin of Tornano dates back to the Roman times.

CnP: But it's hard to trace the origins now, so much time passed. I've read that the castle dates back to the 8th century and that three Longobard brothers donated Tornano to a local monastery and that the castle had turbulent times under Frederick Barbarossa.
CT: True. There seems to be a document dated the 8th century which states that – as you've rightly said - three brothers Atroald, Adonald, Adopald gave Tornano to a Monastery in Ripoli (Florence), that was founded by their great-grandfather called Adonald (we can't really say that these Longobards had great imagination in giving names!).

Then there's also data that both Tornano and nearby Campi were two castles belonging to Warnellottus from Tornano. In January 1167 it became rather complicated. Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa dispossessed Warnellottus of all his rights of ownership of his castles because he was found guilty of capturing an imperial messenger. The emperor gave these castles to his general Ranieri of Berlingero. And what did Ranieri do? He never pushed anyone to sell these possessions, as he was… a relative of Warnellottus, as they were both descendants of the Firidolfi family; but who wasn't?
CnP: Nepotism – this is what people call it these days. The castle was severely damaged later on, wasn't it? Did it happen during a siege or just because it was neglected and locals disassembled it brick by brick?
CT: It was simple and difficult at the same time – as always was the case in the Middle Ages. The lands were contested between Florence and Siena and the lords back then sometimes changed colors easily. Warnellottus did just that. Then during the devastating Aragon invasions in the 15th century Tornano lived up to its fame of impregnable place, held the invaders at bay and never surrendered, whereas most of the castles in our Chianti area were badly damaged or destroyed.

A hundred years later Charles V committed himself to fighting the Republic of Florence to restore the Medici family on the throne. His troops made up of Spaniards and Landsknechts invaded the Chianti area with Siena's troops following suite and caused a lot of damage.
There is a trap door in the cellar created in the old prison. People used to say that the stains on the wall were caused by the blood of prisoners thrown inside.
CnP: Thanks for this insight into the castle history. I've read that one of the castle gems is its swimming pool in the moat! Could you tell me about how it came into being?
CT: During the renovation done by the father in the 70's they discovered a piece of the antic walls and the moat. This is when the decision was taken to transform the moat into a swimming pool.
CnP: What's the most difficult thing in running your castle or any castle in principle?
CT: Running a luxury hotel (with all the comforts it is supposed to have) in a monument protected by the Ministry of Fine Arts makes it very difficult to conduct interventions each time we need to mend something. And the expenses to run and maintain it are high, too.

CnP: Why should I opt in favor of staying at your castle? What's so special about it?
CT: It is obviously the most beautiful castle in Chianti !:) Moreover, if you come to our castle you will feel like a king! We have 11 luxurious rooms in the castle and 5 in the farmhouse, with high ceilings and exposed beams, embellished with drapes, furnished with period pieces, and travertine and marble bathrooms. Each one has unique colors and furnishing. We also have 5 Tuscan rustic style apartments in the farmhouse for 2 or 4 guests. Each has its own private front door and private outdoor area (a balcony or a patio). An additional independent barn is just 50 meters from the castle, with a large private garden, heated outdoor jacuzzi for 4 people, BBQ, and spectacular views of the castle. All rooms have AC, digital TV, a safe, complimentary toiletries set with toweling slippers, high quality towels, hairdryer, kettle and/or espresso coffeemaker. We can accommodate 52 guests (or 60 with extra beds).

CnP: What's your best room?
CT: The best one is the rooftop suite "la monaca di monza" on the top of the tower with its 360-degree view!
CnP: Can you tell me who was your most extravagant guest and why?
CT: We had many extravagant guests. We would love to say that the famous dj avicii rented the whole castle in the season of 2016. He transformed one room of our cellar into a music recording studio. He recorded the last compilation in Tornano.
CnP: Looks like he was not afraid of this stained door in the cellar you have just told me about! Do you have castle ghosts?
CT: It seems there is an old white hair woman who shows herself in the mirror of one of our spectacular rooms in the tower.....but we are not telling you the name of the room otherwise nobody will ever book it :) ...but we can grant she is a good ghost....she is protecting our castle.

CnP: Okay, I have your word for it. What are the legends about your castle?
CT: One is related with its name Tornano: in Italian it can mean "they come back" but if you pronounce separately "torna"..."no" - it means "he doesn't come back". That was what people used to say when somebody tried to climb the castle back in the days.

CnP: Why is the hotel closed from November till March? Too cold?
CT: The Chianti area unfortunately dies during the winter. It is not too cold, it does not even snow, but unfortunately not too many foreigner tourists arrive and since we do not have a SPA at the moment (which could certainly improve our weekend winter internal tourism) we are closed.

CnP: What activities apart from a restaurant/wine/leisure can you offer?
CT: Well, to name a few – you can play tennis, enjoy our swimming pool in the castle's ancient moat, a game reserve, a recording studio surrounded by vineyards created in 2016 by the famous DJ Avicii to record his latest album. We have a chapel to celebrate your special occasions: weddings and other events. You can taste and buy our exclusive products right inside Tornano Castle's Tower in an atmospheric historic setting – the old prison. We have cooking classes in a relaxed, informal atmosphere where learning how to prepare a typical Tuscan menu will be a cultural and emotional experience. Also, our Chef offers traditional Chianti dishes, from homemade pasta to "Old Style" wild boar, rounding it off with his "cantucci" biscuits. At the end of the class our guests can enjoy the dishes prepared, accompanied by a glass of our excellent Castello di Tornano Chianti Classico.
CnP: Cheers! The route of the Eroica retro-cycling race runs close to the castle. Do you have a lot of cyclists staying during this time?
CT: Oh yes! we are always fully booked at least one year ahead!

CnP: What would you tell those dreaming of transforming a medieval castle into a hotel?
CT: Fortunately, there are not too many around!! :) Our parents have made their dream come true but not without efforts. It has been like making the colosseum...each stone has our parents' sweat and their economical efforts. It has been a pharaonic enterprise at that time... probably very difficult today without an important economic heritage.
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Tiziana, Patrizia, Barbara and Fabiola of Castello di Tornano!

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