Tuscany may be top of many travel wish-lists, but for those looking for a lesser known Italian escape, the region of Le Marche is ideal. Located in the east of Italy, Le Marche is situated between the Sibillini mountains and the coastal town of Pedaso. But it is the historic town of Montelparo where in 2008 English couple Madeline and Tim Jones came across a run-down townhouse that had been a taverna until the 1980s, and decided to realise their dream of setting up their own hotel – Hotel Leone.
The property’s original heritage dates back to 1501 where documents refer to it as Palazzo Pellei ok, the name of a noble and powerful Italian family. Over the centuries the building evolved and in the 20th, an upper floor was added when the building was known as Taverna del Leone. When the taverna was abandoned suddenly by its owners in 1986 the doors shut for good and it was preserved in time. Some of the original pieces were used as part of the restoration undertaken by the Jones’s, giving the hotel a unique look and feel.
Hotel Leone was a real labour of love for the couple as everything from the art deco inspired bar area to spiral staircase had to be re-designed and built. The result is a welcoming home from home which offers guests a combination of unique accommodation, great service and wonderful food in a tranquil location.
Comprising eight rooms, two spacious terraces with beautiful countryside views, a secluded swimming pool and charming restaurant, Hotel Leone offers guests a personalised experience with no request seeming too much for Madeline, Tim and their staff.
Budget or boutique?
From the cosy living room with original flooring and impressive fireplace, to each of the individually designed rooms, the hotel is awash with personality and style.
Despite being an old building – parts date back to 1501 – Hotel Leone is light and airy, thanks to its outlook and the work undertaken by the owners. Where possible, architectural features have been saved and complemented by original antiques and more modern design-led furnishings. Tim rebuilt the main bar and reception area to reflect an art deco design, while Madeline chose the furniture for each room including all the themed bedrooms. The eastern influences could be seen in my room with its dark wooden carved furniture, Buddha artwork and plum and gold colour scheme. The spacious en-suite provided a walk-in shower with Duck Island toiletries and a handy kit for the pool containing flip flops and a towel.
Wining and dining
Finding somewhere fabulous to eat and drink is seldom a problem in Italy, and Hotel Leone’s restaurant is no exception. Tim, who trained at the Sunrice Global Chef Academy in Singapore, after leaving his construction business in London, cooks seasonal dishes with local produce and often a sprinkle of eastern influence.
Dishes in the restaurant included: grilled entrecôte steak served with porcini mushrooms rocket, tomatoes and truffle; pan-fried duck breast with creamed cabbage, pancetta and walnuts served with a balsamic caramelised pear and warm asparagus; and duck with egg, rocket leaves and honey, mustard and balsamic dressing. The kitchen has a traditional wood-fired pizza oven, made in Naples, therefore trying a pizza is a must.
When it comes to wine, Madeline has curated a small cellar from local producers and is on hand to advise on the bottle or glass that will pair perfectly with each dish.
Worth getting out of bed for
The beautiful views which can be enjoyed from one the hotel’s two main terraces. As Montelparo is 588 metres above sea level, the vista takes in the mountains across the countryside and hills to the Adriatic.
On our trip, which took in the Taste of le Marche gourmet weekend, we spent a day visiting an olive oil producer, a dairy farm which makes a whole host of cheeses and a family-run vineyard which has been given a new lease of life thanks to a takeover from the younger generation. If you’d like a more dedicated package, Hotel Leone offers experience deals that include a truffle hunting weekend and a wine lovers’ escape, on which guests can indulge in wine tasting and pairing from a range of local vineyards.
Montelparo itself is ideal for a leisurely stroll through the medieval streets, or why not sit outside the local bar and enjoy a macchiato? The town is also home to a museum hosting a unique collection of antique bicycles, carts, hand carts and trolleys used by local craftsmen.
The little jar of biscuits in the room was a lovely addition as was the small jug of fresh milk in the fridge, a must for tea making and biscuit dunking (for which the facilities are great).
Sitting at the foot of Montelparo with clear views to the sea, this beautifully restored historic townhouse offers an elusive combination of elegant accommodation, personal service and delicious cuisine.
Rates start from €150 per night for a twin room, €175 for a deluxe double, €200 for a suite and €250 for the two-roomed suite, all including breakfast.
Hotel Leone, Vittorio Emanuele II, 60, 63853 Montelparo (FM), Italy (Tel: +39 0734 782041, www.hotelleonemarche.com)