Borgo della Marmotta is the kind of hotel you lose your heart (and your waistline) to. From a 17th-century hamlet, owner Filippo has created a rustic retreat that’ll soon have you under its Umbrian spell: romantic rooms with antique armoires and white-linened beds, tranquil olive groves and that deceivingly simple home-cooked fare that will never, ever, taste as good at home. You’re perfectly perched here for day trips to Spoleto, Assisi and Perugia, or you can just give in to the languid pace, take leisurely laps in the shrub-ringed pool and ask for another glass of spumante, per favore.
9am. Earliest check-in, 10.30am. Reception is open between 9am–1pm and 2pm–8pm. Any guests arriving outside these times should notify the hotel in advance, and there's a €20 charge for check-in after 8pm.
Double rooms from £134.89 (€150), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €0.80 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include breakfast (a generous Continental spread), served in what was once an animal pen (don't worry, it was a while ago).
The hotel runs an olive tree adoption scheme – take a tree under your wing (from €100 a year) and you’ll be signing up to a regular supply of Umbria’s ‘green gold’.
At the hotel
Gardens, library, free WiFi in communal areas. In rooms: flatscreen TV, minibar and Erbario Toscano products.
Our favourite rooms
Opt for a Superior Garden Room, for obvious reasons. All the rooms (each one set in its own building) are sensitively designed, with an emphasis on natural materials: ceilings striped with dark wooden beams, exposed stone walls, terracotta floors, wicker chests, local linen and cotton. Beds are either chunky doubles splashed with colour or delicate four-posters, and all rooms come with a private patio. Filippo’s mother is responsible for the interior design – she even painted the watercolours on the walls.
A vine-clad pergola leads to the Bondi-blue T-shaped pool, surrounded by lush greenery and overlooking Poreta and Castello di Spoleto. Dark wood recliners punctuate the pool edge, blending in with the trees and shrubbery. Guests should note that the outdoor, unheated pool is open seasonally, from 1 June–30 September.
Leave plenty of room in your suitcase – and fill it with bottles of the hotel’s own olive oil (Moraiolo, Frantoio or Leccino are all luscious blends), squeezed from the plump olives dangling in the garden.
Rise early to nab one of the tables outside, and watch the hens pecking around the garden. Clusters of olive trees provide plenty of shady options, too.
Fit farmer: linen and lumberjacks. If you’ve always had a yen to do so, now is the time to wear a straw hat and dungarees.
The owners provide a delicious – mainly home-made – breakfast spread of sweet croissants, conserves, cold cuts and cheeses. The breakfast room has plenty of original details: intricate stone work, a beamed ceiling, and an imposing fireplace. A simple but oh-so-good lunch and three-course set dinner menu (updated daily) is served every day except Tuesday and Wednesday; dishes include radicchio pie with pecorino cheese and pork loin with plums. When the restaurant's closed, ask Filippo for local recommendations.
There’s no set bar, but there’s a respectable line-up of spirits on a tray in the cosy lounge. Just help yourself, and log your liquors.
Sant’Egidio Perugia (PEG) is 40km away. Catch an internal flight or fly from London Stanstead with Ryanair (www.ryanair.com).
Spoleto is 10km away, and connects to Rome, Florence, Ancano and Milan (www.trenitalia.com).
Spoleto is a 10-minute drive away. The hotel has plenty of free parking (watch out for the hens, though).
Worth getting out of bed for
Take a tour of the family’s olive oil factory with Filippo, and choose an olive tree to ‘adopt’. Filippo will distribute advice on how to produce your own olive oil. The hotel can organise cookery classes for groups of up to 20, along with hunting, horse riding, bike rides and treks. Stock up on antipasti from the local delis to use as toppings for a home-made pizza, and test the hotel’s outdoor pizza oven. Go truffle hunting in autumn – Spoleto is famous for its black truffle. Unwind (literally) with a yoga class. Having exhausted the hotel’s extras, go exploring: seek out the ancient towns and villages nearby, such as Assisi (39km away) and Perugia (56km). In June and July, Spoleto holds its music and opera festival (Festival dei Due Monde); soak up the sounds with a concert or two. Go on a day trip to Porto Ercole, a beautiful fishing village two hours away by car.
Osteria del Matto (+39 0743 225506) at 3 Via del Mercato in Spoleto has an eccentric owner, Filippo, formerly butler to the famous composer and librettist, Gian Carlo Menotti. Expect lively service, and hearty, traditional fare – select your dish from the list on the blackboard. Il Tumpio del Gusto (+39 0743 47121; www.iltempiodelgusto.com) at 11 Via Arco di Druso, also in Spoleto, delivers a more romantic experience. Food is cooked with a deftness of touch, and the wine is worth the resultant hangover. If you’re keen to sample the regional cuisine of Umbria and Spoleto, stop off at La Torretta (+39 0743 44954) at 43 Via Filitteria in Spoleto. Try the antipasti della casa (house starters), strangozzi alla Spoletina (long, hand-cut pasta in a fiery tomato sauce), and crescionda, a typical, boozy dessert.
I love Umbria. It’s such a beautiful part of Italy – though I will immediately concede that’s a bit like saying Leonardo da Vinci painted some lovely paintings. It’s true, but it’s also trite. The thing is, this part of Italy is burdened by such a surfeit of God’s bounty, it’s difficult to express just how stunning it all is. And even if you’re not particularly religious, it’s impossible not to be moved by that vast sweep of grassy fields punctuated by ancient farmhouses and glowing 15th-century city forts sparkling from one distant hill to another.
It suffers a tad from little sister syndrome, often yielding the spotlight to its brassy, brasher sibling Tuscany – which, to me, always feels a little too obvious, its landscape heaving with vineyards, looming forests and mediaeval towns humming with tourists. Too much in-your-face beauty. All the more reason to nurture a tender spot for Umbria’s softer land-locked wildnerness, wider plains and longer horizons.
In Umbria, under a domed sky the varieted shade of a Giotto watercolour, something loosens up inside you. And though we’d eased the rented car out of Perugia airport barely 40 minutes ago, the air was already working its magic. By this time, we’d left the spaghetti junctions of the autostrada and were winding our way through the narrow lanes of Poreta.
The hamlet’s sense of quiet is perfectly matched by the rustic quality of the Borgo della Marmotta. Here, cloistered by high stone walls, a cluster of 17th-century farmhouse and stables have been transformed into a bijou hotel of barely 20 rooms. Rooms are set in what were once the hamlet’s stables, granaries, pens, mills and sheepfolds, and come styled with natural grace: wood, stone, linen and cotton. Even the paint is made from lime and natural pigments. The palette, like the philosophy, is low-key (though pops of tangerine and aqua brighten up some bedrooms). It’s all the product of Filippo’s mother, who led the hotel’s sensitive interior design.
There’s neither flash nor chintz here. It’s not that kind of place. Just a sequence of cobblestoned passages leading to rooms and out into pockets of greenery. Great vibrant bunches of wisteria drip from pergolas. Pots of lemon trees cast shadows on the sun-warmed flagstoned terrace. Olive groves open into a picture-perfect swimming pool framed by a vine-cloaked arbour.
‘Look at these roof beams,’ said Mr Smith, amateur builder as he padded through our Arancino suite, admiring the peasant chic decor of deep sofas, white-linened bed, antique armoir and cool stone floors. I went up to the tiny sauna to relax while plotting the evening’s dinner at nearby Spoleto (tip: the superb and absurdly cheap 14-course degustation dinner cooked by a 71-year-old mamma at Osteria del Matto is a must, especially since the Borgo doesn’t serve dinners. Ask the receptionist for directions). The hotel has only been open a few seasons. A gym and movie room are still in the works, though the rooms, in part due the provenance of the buildings and the striped back quality of the decor, already have a charming, lived-in patina.
Clearly, it’s been a labour of love, its tale made all the more engrossing when we discovered during evening cocktails in the hotel’s large living room that the owner Filippo Montani Fargna and his patrician family counted among their ancestors, one Pope Leo XII. ‘On my grandmother’s side,’ said Filippo. Tall and urbane, with doleful eyes and a fine trimmed beard, he looks like he just stepped straight out of a Botticelli; while his mother, silvery hair cropped just so, wrapped in a lush pashmina and a dazzling smile is simply majestic.
With a trinity of family dogs underfoot, sunk deep into sofas with a glass of spumante, jazz on the stereo, and a sidetable burnished with flame-toasted farm bread rubbed with garlic and drenched with olive oil from the estate’s 12,000 trees, it was easy to put out of mind, for a while at least, the outside world and just concentrate on this feeling of bonhomie. And a strange sense of having come home. That night, as we slept, a soft rain fell.
Happily, we’d arrived just in time for Easter and the next day, carried by the tolling of tenored bells from the village church, we came back from a walk up a gently wooded mountain pass to find everyone prepping for the Easter Sunday lunch. Loaded with platters and bottles of wine, staff hurried back and forth through the lawn between the main house and the kitchen/dining room. Filippo’s mother, wrapped in a new shawl, calmly navigated the activity, supervising the kitchen while stopping here and there for a chat with guests, her three dogs never straying too far on the rain-wet lawn.
It was a gastroholic feast – vast plates of food, simply cooked and barely seasoned so that the natural flavours sang through. Delicate gnocchi, their golden globes draped with sweet pea puree. Sunflower-bright polenta. A wheel of ricotta cake. A fragrantly charred cut of spring lamb slow-roasted for so many hours it surrendered without protest to the scrape of a fork. Custard tart with burnt sugar. If I were the sensitive type, I might have wept with happiness. Instead, I helped myself to seconds.
‘I love cooking,’ Filippo’s mother confided as she cut more lamb onto my plate. These were her family recipes. That night, we slept gently, without dreams.