Sprung from a love story – one spanning decades of high-end hospitality, no less – a modern spin on Italian rusticity, and a name with a knowing wink: Borgo 69 and Mr & Mrs Smith have common interests, it seems. After meeting in London in 1990, Philip Robinson and Paolo Kastelec followed their heart (and Paolo's heritage) to Italy, and after restoring legendary Villa Fontelunga, set about licking into shape this labour of love (named for its street number, FYI). Philip's past life as a film-set designer has come in handy: upcycled furnishings, market-sourced antiques and luxe local materials (travertine, woods, marbles) join elegantly with Tuscan terracottas and greens and the odd beamed ceiling. Settle in with gentle games of boules, a swim in the infinity pool whose edge gives way to the glory of the Val di Chiana, or have the concierge send you off in a classic car to local vineyards, to a falconry session, or maybe a hot-air-balloon ride. Then, let your hosts wine you, dine you and…send you to bed very content.
10am. Earliest check-in, 4pm. Occasionally earlier check-ins can be accommodated, on request and subject to availability.
Double rooms from £230.42 (€257), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates usually include a Continental breakfast spread of freshly baked cakes, pastries and bread; juices; cereals; yoghurt; granola; coffee and tea. A minimum three-night stay is required, but you’ll likely want to stay longer.
Alongside fruits and vegetables harvested onsite, the hotel’s boutique sells things Phillip and Paolo love in the area: leather bags by Officine904, bespoke tote bags with the hotel logo and deliciously scented Ortigia bath products. Pet-lovers will thrill at seeing the owners’ five doggies (and one cat) scampering around the estate.
The hotel closes annually from 6 January to 21 March.
At the hotel
Private tennis court, boules court, courtyard, gardens, shop, bikes to hire, concierge, laundry, free WiFi. In rooms: Smart TV, sound-system, coffee machine, fireplace, central heating and air-conditioning, Ortigia bath products.
Our favourite rooms
All of the villa’s have been lovingly tended by interior-design expert and former film-set dresser Phillip, who’s chosen luxe local materials (wood, stone, travertine, marble…), antique and upcycled pieces, and modern furnishings that bring some urbanity to this remote country corner. All villas have a full kitchen and a private terrace (number 11 has two for maximum alfresco time), and they’re all very lovable, but number six wins our favour for its cosiness and number seven enjoys a prime position by the pool.
Set in a peaceful grove just beyond the villas, the 20-metre infinity pool (heated during October, November and December when the weather cools) looks out over the edge of the valley to the historic town of Cortona and the run-wild Val di Chiana. There are changing rooms, beach towels to borrow and parasol-shaded sunloungers from which to enjoy the view in repose. There’s some stylish landscaping around the pool area (we enjoy the mini fountain that trickles into the water) and the circular arch that frames the view is the spot for like-garnering Insta snaps.
No spa onsite but the concierge can arrange for a local masseur to come work out your knots in the privacy of your villa. And yoga lessons in the open-air are planned for the future.
You’ll need a headscarf for top-down drives through leafy surrounds. And, if you haven’t read Under the Tuscan Sun – Frances Mayes’ memoir that launched a thousand expats – here’s the best place to do it; the movie adaptation was set in nearby Cortona. Beware: may cause emigration.
One of the villas is adapted for guests with mobility issues; however the rustic nature of the setting makes public areas tricky to navigate unaided.
Very welcome and well-looked after here. The borgo’s privacy and generously sized dwellings make family holidays a breeze (as long as you don’t have to field awkward queries about the name, that is).
The hotel is well geared towards little ones; juniors will especially love the pool and bombing around the grounds.
The two- and three-bedroom villas will very comfortably sleep a family.
Play tennis or boules onsite. Wine tasting and historic-town-hopping may not thrill little ones that much, but falconry sessions and safe spates of biking will keep them distracted.
The pool is 1.4 metres deep, has Roman steps and is fenced off. It’s unsupervised, but parents can plonk down on a sunlounger and keep watch on their water babies.
Having a full kitchen gives you the chance for flexible mealtimes and to cook for finicky eaters. But the restaurant’s small plates, pastas and such will appease little appetites too.
Just ask your gracious hosts and they’ll arrange a local sitter.
The owners of Borgo 69 have gone to great pains in designing the villas to make them energy efficient, with decorative ventilated walls, and eco-friendly heating and cooling systems. The hotel is largely supplied with energy from photovoltaic panels and there are refillable products in the villa bathrooms. Food here is especially green, with many ingredients garnered from the fruitful gardens and olive grove.
The world might move at a leisurely pace in these parts, but it’s still wonderful to watch it go by. Sit on the terrace and Tuscany’s greenery unfurls before you.
You’ll clock up a lot of romantic wafting time here, so bring the breeziest of togs.
Emporio di Ines is named after Paolo’s mother, so there’s a high bar set, but it’s met with aplomb in the delightful Tuscan cookery and Venetian-style cicchetti you’ll dine on here. Some ingredients (rocket, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and more…) are grown in the hotel’s kitchen garden, and most other ingredients are sourced from not that much further away, likely the local farmers’ market. And the organic feel continues in the double-height dining room which is dressed with whitewashed wood beams, natural linens, leather accents and pendant lights in wire frames – it’s all carefully curated: Phillip even spent around six months choosing the cutlery. Large windows frame the countryside, and there are shaded tables on the terrace too. Mamma is undoubtedly proud.
The bar is more a state of mind here, so take your pick of pews on the terrace, a gazebo in the grounds, your own living room… Wines, both local and far-flung, biodynamic and natural, are as excellent as you’d expect from this vine-clad region, but the hotel’s list of just five cocktails allows them to focus on making the Italian classics very well: say, a sparkling Aperol spritz or a kick-delivering negroni.
Breakfast from 9am to 11am, lunch from 12.30pm to 2.30pm, and dine from 7.30pm to 10.30pm.
Borgo 69 enjoys an empyrean placement between Siena and Arezzo, handily close to an arterial autostrada, yet deeply entrenched in vine-clad countryside.
San Francesco d’Assisi airport that serves Perugia is the closest at an hour’s drive away. Flights from major cities in Italy, London, Brussels and Rotterdam arrive direct here. Otherwise fly into Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci Airport, just over an hour’s drive away, which serves a wider range of European destinations; or Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport, a two-hour drive away.
Unusually for a stay in these kind of charmed rustic surrounds, arriving by train is fairly easy – Lucignano Station is a five-minute drive away, and you can reach it direct from Abrezzo, or from Florence in two hours with a change at Abrezzo.
The hotel makes an easy segue on a grand Italian tour, being positioned just 15 minutes from the well-connected Autostrada del Sole, a road that – while being wigglier than the ancients might like – does indeed lead directly to Rome from Florence. The drive from one to the other takes you through Italy’s most cherished scenery, and there’s private parking at each of the Borgo’s 12 villas.
Worth getting out of bed for
When you’re lost in Tuscany’s timelessness, life can’t help but slow all the way down. Borgo 69 may be more modern than other villas in the region, but centuries-old ways of passing the time still hold sway, be it a gentle game of boules, tennis match in the neighbouring court, learning how to cook like a true paisan, or simply sitting with a glass of wine and watching the world amble by. The hotel uses the Vamoos app to amp up your experience, so download it beforehand to help arrange your Tuscan adventures. But, the Val di Chiana – the largest valley in the Tuscan Apennines – is fertile ground for more adventures than just vineyard hopping – although that’s a deep well to dive right into while you’re here (just say the word and you’ll be off to the Avignonesi Winery – and so on – for a tour in a vintage Italian sportster.) Enjoy the view from on high in a hot-air balloon, follow one of the hotel’s trekking routes, or trot majestically through the fields and forests on horseback; or get acquainted with the local flora and fauna at a falconry or truffle-hunting session. Borrow one of the hotel’s fleet of bikes to head out to one of the many charming villages in the area, starting with Cortona, one of the earliest Etruscan settlements, known for its medieval relics and starring role in Under the Tuscan Sun. Pozzo della Chiana has healing springs and battle reenactments, Unesco heritage site Pienza has sweeping Val d’Orcia views and famous pecorino cheese for the nibbling, Montepulciano is famed for its gluggable vino nobile, and Arezzo is awash with Renaissance fortresses and churches, including the Church of San Francesco with its apse-covering fresco by Piera della Francesca. Plus, this is where you’ll find the antiques market (held on the first weekend of every month) which owners Phillip and Paolo foraged in for hotel statement pieces.
The ancient agricultural implements on the walls, red-checkered tablecloths and huge ham slicer at Pane e Vino are all signs that an excellent traditional lunch is imminent. Blithely munch your way through regional specialties (bocconcini di Chianina and rabbit), bruschetti with rustic toppings, fresh pastas, and fine cheeses and charcuterie: barrel-aged pecorino, Roccaverano robiola, Colonnata lard. Il Teatro (2 Via Giuseppe Maffei) has three distinct settings for an elegant dinner: a room styled like an ancient inn, with wood beams, an iron chandelier and heaving drinks cabinet; a cosy space lined with black-and-white photos; and a romantically fresco-clad room with vaulted ceilings. The chef is well-versed in the treasures of the terroir and makes must-try Tuscan feasts. And at La Loggetta in Cortona, you can people watch from under a shady Renaissance loggia, as you tuck into pici in a duck sauce, red-turnip gnocchetti with goat cheese in a pumpkin sauce and hearty ribollita soup. And, if you’re craving a thick slab of something meaty, then head to a favourite of the Borgo’s owners: Mengrello in Foiano, where the tagliata steak with rosemary and green pepper has stayed consistently good for around 20 years.
You’re rarely a few steps from a sugary treat in this swathe of Tuscan villages, so there’s a high bar for gelaterias. Two of the best include sweetly named Snoopy, in Cortona, where scoops wear little chocolate-dipped-cone hats, and fruit sorbets offer a lighter alternative to dense chocolate or tiramisu ices. And in Arezzo, Carlo Gelateria Cioccolateria Caffè has superlative seasonal takes alongside chocolate salamis and cakes.
Nightlife tends towards the more sedate ‘sit and sip’ type here. For a laidback aperitivo head to Caffe Tuscher in Cortona, a welcoming space where owners Massimo and Daniela are both members of the Italian Association of Barmen and Supporters, so their recommendations for wines, cocktails and more are trustworthy.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this pursuit-of-pleasure hideaway in Tuscany and unpacked their jar of freshly picked olives from the hotel’s grove, local wine and more local wine, a full account of their bucolic break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Borgo 69…
Borgo 69: it’s certainly a name you won’t forget – but it’s not the only thing that’ll stay in your mind when you visit this superlatively styled Tuscan hideaway. This picturesque estate has just 12 villas to ensure your stay is perfectly private, each sports a modern take on Italian rusticity, and – something particularly close to our hearts – it was born of a love story… Yes, owners Philip Robinson and Paolo Kastelec swapped London for Paolo’s Italian homeland, where they restored Villa Fontelunga into a stay that rings with conviviality, showcases their remarkable good taste, and often intros guests to the locals over wine-lashed dinner parties.
Now with a family of five beautiful dogs (and a rules-the-roost cat) to support, Phillip and Paolo didn’t rest on their laurels when the good life became the lockdown life. They set about shaping their next labour of love Borgo 69 (69 being the street number, lest you let your imagination run away with you), a collection of one- to three-bedroom villas amid a grove of 200 olive trees and perfumed Mediterranean plants that fits seamlessly into a much-needed niche of mod Tuscan getaways. And, despite its cheeky moniker, it’s very welcoming to families, too. The owners’ flair for making guests feel like one of their own and their knack for luxury with ease will make you feel that these are the kind of dwellings you too could create if you just owned 12 Italian villas to have your way with. But, Phillip’s interior-design degree and film-set design experience has certainly come in handy: upcycled furnishings, antiques from the local market and luxe local materials (travertine, woods, marbles) join elegantly with Tuscan terracottas and greens and the odd beamed ceiling. Settle in with gentle games of boules, a swim in the infinity pool which overlooks the painterly verdure of the Val di Chiana, or don a headscarf to zip off in a classic car to local vineyards, a falconry session, or maybe a hot-air-balloon ride. Yes, by the time you leave, the number 69 will be more synonymous with superlative Tuscan getaways…