A lazy escape to the hills of Tuscany is not supposed to induce anxiety, but as we crunch along the tiny gravel drive that leads up to the luxury Villa Bordoni, Mr Smith and I are a little nervy. Partly because we’re dyed-in-the-wool urbanites, and Greve in Chianti is just so very rural, and partly because I have just been executive-producing the TV series based on the travels of Mr & Mrs Smith’s editor and publisher. Weirdly, I’ve seen the Villa Bordoni on TV already and, weirder still, l feel I’ve ‘met’ the owners David and Catherine, having watched them being interviewed. Surely they’ll see through me the minute I arrive, and our undercover role will instantly be blown sky-high?
I manage to keep a lid on my déjà vu and fear of exposure as a fraud. And the moment we step into the Villa Bordoni for the first time, my anxieties melt into the kind of sigh of blissed-out relaxation for which you usually have to pay top dollar to a masseur. Just three years ago, the Villa Bordoni was a roofless ruin. Built in the 16th century by nobility, it has been lovingly modernised. The real skill has been in combining the original features of the house, from terracotta floor tiles to a spooky wine cellar, with present-day luxury.
The decor is a cunning blend of rich and poor, to emulate the grandeur-on-a-budget that the impoverished aristos might have favoured: a twig tassel on a curtain is very sumptuous-on-a-shoestring. Our room, too, combines the rustic with the elegant, housing a vast bed with a draped canopy. But for Mr Smith, the high point is the shower. A massive green-tiled wet room contains a hi-tech system capable of pumping gallons of water at you from every angle; a hydrotherapy spa would probably class it as a treatment in itself. Mr Smith is so entranced he begins to calculate whether he could knock down any walls back home to incorporate this kind of indulgence into his daily bathing habits. I can’t say I’d complain.
If indoors at the Villa Bordoni is wonderful, outdoors is sublime. We’re seated under a pine tree at the edge of the property’s walled garden, tucking into the freshest mozzarella and tomato salad ever, and we find that, after some chilled wine, we become hypnotised by the huge butterflies that glide over the lavender bushes. Beyond the garden wall, via paths where lizards skitter past us, we find the saltwater swimming pool, with its view of olive groves and rolling hills.
Under private pergolas, we occupy double sunloungers – all the better to talk rubbish without offending some of the more sophisticated guests. Lounging by the pool with the sun on my belly and a view of a lightning storm in the valley opposite is my idea of heaven, but Mr Smith has managed to find something to fret about. How, he worries, will he fit in a four-course dinner on top of the huge boozy lunch we’ve just eaten? Here again, David and Catherine have thought of everything, installing a thatch-roofed outdoor gym with a view.
The great cultural magnets of Florence, Siena and Pisa are within reach, and many of the hotel’s other guests are Americans keen to do the Grand Tour. But Mr Smith and I are rather more in the mood to explore the other great draw of Tuscany: its food and world-class wine. Guided by the concierge, we head out for a walk through the vineyards, hoping to get a feel for the rural heritage of the region that produces our favourite Chianti Classico. We got slightly more than we’d bargained for, and ended up having a rather too close encounter with a local dog that seemed spellbound by Mr Smith’s knees.
A bit further on through the fields, we stumble across a very elderly man in an eye-wateringly tiny pair of shorts and a skintight vest tending his vines, only to turn a corner and bump into his identical twin, identically dressed. David Lynch couldn’t concoct anything more out-there. Suitably spooked out by the countryside, we head towards the nearby village of Montefioralle – a cluster of stone houses clinging to a steep hill – where a few glasses of the local vintage help to restore our equilibrium.
The villa’s restaurant doesn’t open on Mondays, so the endlessly charming and helpful David sorted us out with a table at his favourite local, the Cantinetta di Rignana. The view of the valley, and the ravioli with ricotta and fresh truffles, had Mr Smith and me beaming with joy. And we earn our Wildlife Spotters badge by practically colliding with one of the famous local wild boars as we head back to the hotel. (I’m now convinced the You Are What You Eat adage is true; I swear the Sus scrofa looked us two porkers in the eye and saw kindred spirits.)
Breakfast on the terrace at the Bordoni is simple and elegant – fresh fruit, just-squeezed orange or pink-grapefruit juice, local breads and home-made jams, and traditional cheeses and cold meats. The owners’ restaurateur credentials are a huge part of Bordoni’s allure. For lunch, chef Francesco’s four-course tasting menu is, in Mr Smith’s view (and personal experience), worth bursting a button off your new shirt for. The squid-ink risotto is rich and perfect, and a dessert modestly called cheese mousse has us chasing the last smears round the glass like greedy kids in an ice-cream parlour, and regretting like mad that a car is already revving up on the drive to take us back to the airport.
As featured on our television programme The Smiths' Hotels for 2 for Discovery Travel and Living.