Published by Telegraph Travel, October 2017
Torre di Moravola, Umbria, Italy: 9/10
This is destination architecture at its finest. Bringing barefoot luxury to the Umbrian wilderness, the designer-architect owners have transformed an ancient, crumbling watchtower into a sleek and sophisticated design hotel with a flawless ‘medieval modern’ aesthetic. It’s a worthy design pilgrimage.
Positioned on a mountain ridge 450m above sea level, Moravola’s panoramic views are the same as they would have been 1000 years ago and the vista is quite literally breathtaking. The hotel feels more isolated than it actually is, however: it’s a 20-minute drive from the region’s busy E45 thoroughfare, and a 10-minute drive from the medieval town of Montone. The final approach to Moravola is on steep, winding gravel track – not for the faint hearted.
Owners Christopher Chong, an architect and former Norman Foster associate, and designer Seonaid Mackenzie have transformed the thousand-year-old tower into a boutique hotel with seven bedrooms, cantilevered terraces, pavilions, fire pits and a 25m infinity pool. The contemporary architecture and minimalist interior / exterior design is exquisite and has attracted deserved attention from international design magazines. From the manicured piazza, guests pass beneath an ancient archway and bright stairwell to a dining room with hand-built tables and bench seating under a chandelier, and an open stainless steel kitchen with sloping stone walls. Upstairs are two interconnecting sitting rooms with a 12th-century fireplace, simple yet inviting furniture, and coffee table books on fine art. It’s high design, but the mood is relaxed.
Service & facilities: 9/10
Seonaid and Christopher are excellent hosts. Without prior experience in hospitality, their approach is unlike that of a conventional hotel or B&B and is all the better for it: you will more likely feel like cherished guests in a beautiful home than a customer. There’s no division of staff and guest by way of reception desk or bar, and no space is out of bounds – indeed, guests may pad barefoot into the kitchen, grab a bottle of water from the fridge or perch on a barstool while a member of staff shakes up a cocktail. The resulting mood is one of a private villa rental, or a days-long house party with extremely tasteful and attentive hosts.
The 25-metre infinity pool and immaculately furnished pool pavilion occupies the highest spot on the property, and has fantastic views of the tower and surrounding valley. Under the pool are the spa treatment rooms, a bathroom, towels and water fridge. A new spa is currently under construction and is expected to open during Summer 2018. Yoga, pilates, Indian healing treatments and massages can be arranged by prior request.
Each of the seven bedrooms is named after its location around the central axis: West Tower Suite, North Tower Suite, etc. Most rooms have been designed as individual towers with a floating steel staircase and the bedroom above. Low wooden bed frames are custom built and sumptuous bed linen is from Zucchi Collection. The priciest Main Tower Suite has a spectacular lounge area with soaring ceilings and a mezzanine gallery. Rooms are decorated in a minimalist style with textures of ancient stone, curved concrete imprinted with woodgrain and marmorino plaster walls whose muted colours were inspired by the paintings of Piero della Francesca. There’s no minibar, just a fridge with still and sparkling water. Guests may request snacks and drinks from the kitchen.
Bathrooms have sunken ‘pietra serena’ stone bathtubs (there’s only one room with no bath), rainfall shower heads and toiletries from sustainable German brand ‘Please Turn off the Water while Using Me’. The ‘less-is-more’ approach stretches to every detail: taps and cupboards are smooth and handle-less – it took me a few attempts to open the wardrobe and turn on the shower.
Food & drink: 8/10
Chong is a skilled chef who takes inspiration from Italy’s ‘slow-food’ movement by using locally sourced ingredients and vegetables from the kitchen garden to create light and flavoursome dishes that are quite different to Umbria’s traditional, heavy fare. In October, he served tempura courgette flower and sage leaves; garden beetroot salad with pecorino; fish risotto with squid ink; and a panacotta with winter berries. The food offer is only available to resident guests and is served either on the terrace or in the dining room by the fire.
Breakfast is one of the best I’ve had in Italy. Served at the table, it consists of freshly squeezed juice, granola, natural yoghurt, freshly baked bread, local conserves, and seasonal fruit. A la carte cooked options include baked eggs with prosciutto and tomato.
Value for money: 7/10
Rack rates from €320 in high season (1 June – 30 September) and €260 in low season (1 April – 31 May; 1 October – 31 November). Breakfast, water and fresh fruit included. Moravola’s destination architecture does not come cheap, but the sophisticated clientele find great value in the high-end finish, personal service and privacy. Wi-Fi works best in communal areas due to thick stone walls, though ethernet is also available.
Access for guests with disabilities?
Not really. Babies and teens are welcome, but the atmosphere is very grown-up.
Localita Moravola, Zona Corlo, 06014 Montone, Italy (+39 075 9460965; moravola.com)