One of our favourite places to stay in Italy, Relais La Corte Dei Papi is an intimate and charming retreat, renowned for authentic Tuscan cuisine and luxurious spa suites. Most of all however, Relais La Corte Dei Papi is known for its exuberant owner, David Corte Dei Papi and his mother Gabriella, who are always on hand to welcome guests into their home with a smile. We sat down with David to learn more about this extraordinary getaway.
‘This is my family home,’ David tells us, gesturing at the hotel’s beautiful 17th-century farmhouse. ‘I was born in this house and grew up here with my family. It was a farm, and my grandparents were the seventh generation of farmers.’ David has fond memories of his childhood here, but when his grandparents died the house stood empty for many years, until David and his mother Gabriella decided to restore it. ‘We couldn’t afford to restore it just to live here, so we decided to open a little restaurant,’ David recalls. Piece by piece, the old house was opened up to accommodate guests, yet still retains the atmospheric original furnishings, richly evocative of the building’s history. Original wooden beams, terracotta flooring and exposed stonework bring the property to life, and the surrounding gardens are lush with vegetation planted by David’s predecessors, including an olive tree that has been providing shade for over 900 years.
Every corner of the property holds a special meaning for David, but none more so than the hotel’s restaurant, his favourite spot. ‘I am very close to it as I have so many beautiful memories there,’ David explains. ‘When I was a child, I was always with my grandfather, and I have a beautiful memory of making wine with him there.’ David has continued this wine-making tradition to the present, and he also produces olive oil, but ‘in very small quantities, just for our guests.’ The restaurant holds a special place in David’s heart for another reason; it was where the idea that would become Relais La Corte Dei Papi was born, when David and his mother opened their crumbling house’s former cellar to the public. ‘My mother is a wonderful chef, as was my grandmother, and I had always worked in hotels, restaurants and bars,’ David says, explaining the decision. Although the venture started simply – ‘We only had 8 tables – like a trattoria’ – the restaurant soon found success with the most discerning customers of all, the Cortona locals. The secret behind its success is David and Gabriella’s commitment to local, seasonal produce. ‘We change the menu at least five or six times a year. We only do fresh dishes and everything is homemade,’ David tells us.
Of course, Relais La Corte Dei Papi is renowned not only for its food but also for the elegance and sophistication of its accommodation. ‘Our suites are very spacious and are very unique in Tuscany, where most rooms are quite small,’ David tells us. The crowning glory of Relais La Corte Dei Papi has to be the stunning spa suites, which feature an unparalleled level of sybaritic luxury. ‘In every spa suite, the clients have a private spa,’ David explains, ‘They can enjoy their own steam room, their own sensory shower and Jacuzzi, exclusive to them.’ David is particularly proud of these suites, seeing them as a defining feature of the hotel’s identity. ‘We are a very small property, and we want to offer a very special, romantic experience – this is one of the thing’s we’re famous for.’
Whether enjoying a pampering session in the privacy of your own spa, or relaxing beside the pool, there’s plenty to do at Relais La Corte Dei Papi, especially for those that want to explore the culture and landscape of this corner of Tuscany. ‘We are in a beautiful area in the middle of Tuscany,’ David tells us. The hotel team is always on hand to ensure guests see the very best of what’s on offer, including cooking lessons and wine tours. The walled city of Cortona, made famous by Frances Mayes’ ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ is one of the best-preserved and most beautiful in the region. ‘Usually our guests contact us before they arrive, asking us for recommendations,’ David says, ‘They really trust us in this, which is very important for us.’
There’s so much about Relais La Corte Dei Papi that makes it special, but at the end it all comes down to the extraordinary personalities of David and Gabriella. David agrees, saying that his guests ‘love the idea of the owner being very close to the guests. I’m here all the time -when they arrive, for breakfast, when they leave. I like to be here all the time for any needs during their stay.’ No request is too large, it seems. David recalls that when the hotel first opened, it’s first guests were ’a lovely couple from England who came for dinner and decided to stay. At the end of their stay, they asked to re-book for the next year.’ There was just one snag. ‘They wanted a pool,’ David says, laughing, ‘I said – Don’t worry! We’ll build it for you for next year.’ David’s mother, Gabriella, still takes an active role in the hotel as well. ’My mum is now 76 so she’s not in the kitchen anymore, but she’s always around – we shouldn’t forget that is still her house!’ David says with a smile, ’She takes care of the garden and she loves being involved with the chef and the menu.’It’s a reminder that Relais La Corte Dei Papi is unlike other hotels. There’s a tangible sense of welcome and hospitality that makes this place so very special. As David says,‘I think our hotel is different to other hotels because it’s really personal. Everything I do in my hotel – it’s me, you know.’