This boutique hotel in Tuscany captures all that is good and great about the Italian way of life: refined furnishings in a restored 13th-century period property; gorgeous grounds punctuated by Cypress trees and stone fountains; fabulous food and wine at Meo Modo restaurant; warm family welcome; and a pleasing menu of gentle outdoor activities and sensual spa diversions. Borgo Santo Pietro is perfect for bone idle aristocrats and bohemian urban escapees.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of spumante and either your own selection of handmade chocolates made by the in-house pastry chef, or a selection of canapés on arrival
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £513.77 (€565), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include a bottle of prosecco, cooked breakfast, fruit and flowers. You can also rent the villa in its entirety, fully staffed, for €78,700 a two-night stay (including tax, but excluding food and drinks).
Wander through the estate’s lush forest or wander down the paths that meander along river and through the fragrant herb fields; guests can borrow Borgo Bikes and cycle there too.
At the hotel
Spa; free WiFi throughout; 13 acres of grounds; hot tub; cookery school; tennis, badminton and basketball courts; bocce pitch; small playground; bikes to borrow. In rooms: plasma TV, DVD player, iPad and dock; most rooms have fireplaces.
Our favourite rooms
Dedicated Danish owner Jeanette has kept the essence of the original building intact without scrimping on modern luxuries. Flatscreen TVs are discreetly hidden behind paintings and touch-sensitive controls keep the lighting just so. Rooms feature hand-picked antiques, open fireplaces, bespoke hand-carved beds and exquisite views. In the Valle Serena Suite you can look out across the valley from a fireside roll-top bath; the suite also has twin marble sinks and a huge, Rococo-style bed. Honeymooners will love the lavish Santo Pietro Suite – French doors open out onto a vast private balcony from the living room, and there's a Roman steam bath and shower as well as a roll-top soaking tub in the ensuite bathroom. We also love the feminine bathroom of the Via del Pellegrino junior suite, with its white and silver claw-foot bath and glass chandelier.
The organic lines of the free-form freshwater infinity pool help it blend in with the graceful contours of the landscaped grounds. Wicker and wood sunloungers, canvas parasols and a pool bar demand sun-soaked lazing.
Truly feel like a Contessa on a country retreat in the rustic splendour of the on-site spa. Built using natural stone, and accentuated with exposed wooden beams, chandeliers and Buddha statues, the delicate floral perfume of the surrounding gardens drifts through. Plonk yourself down on a taupe sofa, by the ornate fireplace, in the huge reception room, while you wait to be whisked to one of four treatment rooms (two indoors, two in the garden). Treatments are concocted from organic herbs, oils and plants (and the hotel's own Seed to Skin products are thrown into the mix), and massages and facials are tailored to each guest (the signature Bee-Sting Facial and BeeSlim Ritual are both dreamy). Ayurvedic treatments, mani-pedis and tip-top primping and preening are on the menu too.
Broad-brimmed sunhats and sleek swimwear for lounging by the pool. Digital cameras for capturing your expeditions. Leave your iPad and walking boots at home: both are available to borrow.
Bounty from the on site bio-dynamic farm is used in the hotel's restaurant. The 220 acre estate has sprawling vegetable fields, a working organic sheep farm and dairy, 11 hectare of vineyards and a forest where Borgo’s pigs roam freely.
On request, little Smiths can stay in some guest rooms. Please request when booking.
The restaurant menu features fresh produce grown in Borgo Santo Pietro's own organic fruit orchards and vegetable garden; most other ingredients are locally sourced. The hotel recycles as much as possible.
For lunch, we recommend a table overlooking the Lemon Tree garden for the best views of the Serena valley, and for dinner, a candlelit table in the romantic Rose Garden.
Loose linens (nipped-in waists + Italian cuisine = lengthy spell on the fainting couch).
Breakfast is served in the open-plan kitchen, with a cosy crackling fire in winter. In Michelin-star-holding Meo Modo restaurant, chef Andrea Mattei whips up an Italianate storm of Mediterranean seafood and handmade pasta at lunch and dinner. Experience the estate-harvested delights of the four-course Earth to Plate menu, savour the local delicacies on the five-course Tuscan Traditions menu, or for a very special meal, have Andrea create a bespoke tasting menu for you. The à la carte is peppered with prandial wonders too: oxtail-stuffed agnoletti pasta with salsa verde and pecorino, suckling pig with home-grown beetroot and apple. and lobster spaghetti. Sull'Albero Trattoria, Brasserie & Bar is built around a giant spreading oak amd has sweeping views of the Valle Serena and the estate's vineyards. Take a seat on the terrace or by the cosy fireplace and order fresh, local fare, including wood-fired pizzas and house-made prosciutto.
Take drinks at the poolside bar, or anywhere in the hotel grounds: you'll be given a cordless phone so you can summon something to sip wherever you are. Try a signature Borgo cocktail of champagne and white rum over fruit-flavoured granita.
Lunch is served at Meo Modo from 12.30pm to 3pm; dinner is from 7.30pm to 10pm. Snacks at La Trattoria Sull’Albero are available from 11am to 11pm, and drinks are served until the last guest trundles off to bed.
Breakfast can be brought to your bedside from 8am–11am; a lighter snacking menu of antipasti, salads and sandwiches is available from noon until midnight. Items can be ordered from the restaurant menu (they'll cost 25 per cent more, though).
The closest airport is Florence Peretola, an hour and 40 minutes away. Perugia and Pisa airports are both two hours away.
The closest train station is Siena (35 minutes away), which can be used to reach both Florence and Pisa with just one change. For information on trains in Italy, see Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.it).
The hotel can pre-arrange car hire on request; it's a good idea to have your own wheels, as the nearest town, Monticiano, is almost 9km away by road. The hotel can organise transport or a guided tour with a local expert; they can even arrange to drop you off at the beach in the morning and pick you up in the evening. The closest motorway is the E78.
Worth getting out of bed for
Borgo Santo Pietro's cookery school attracts professional chefs, so if you really want to impress at your next dinner party book a course. Learn how to make, pizza, pasta, breads, desserts and Tuscan classics (gnudi dumplings, peposo beef stew) with chef Olga, using ingredients from the surrounding olive and nut groves, orchards, herb and biodynamic vegetable gardens and the hotel's greenhouses. Then find the ideal wine pairing at a wine-tasting session. Horse-riding in the green grounds and Vespa hire can also be arranged at the hotel. Watch out for open-air opera performances in the roofless remains of the Cistercian abbey of San Galgano – tickets are scarce though, so book in advance. There are many legends associated with the abbey and its hermitage, including fanciful knights' tales – there's even a sword embedded in stone (reputed to predate the story of Excalibur) preserved in the neo-Etruscan hermitage, where there is also a wonderful fresco cycle by Sienese master Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
The coastal plain, spa towns, and beautiful beaches of Maremma – Tuscany on sea, if you will – constitute a secret corner of the country that's largely bypassed by the crowds that flock to Florence and Siena. It's within an hour's drive of Palazzetto. Maremma is also becoming a popular golfing destination, with a very attractive course at Punta Ala. You're also perfectly located for exploring the vineyards of Chianti.
The village of Palazzetto is only a five-minute walk away, where you'll find a local pizzeria with a wood-burning oven at the Albergo Ristorante il Palazzetto. Otherwise, your best bet dinner-wise is probably the town of Monticiano, or Siena, a half-hour drive away, where there are some fantastic restaurants. For more suggestions, ask staff at Borgo Santo Pietro for their recommendations.
On the walking route between San Galgano and Monticiano is Salendo Wine Bar, a local place serving cold Tuscan specialities and wine – perfect for a lingering lunch on a sunny day.
Candles burned from every end, we’d been mixing hard work and benders. Our break in an elegant villa with spa in the middle of the Val di Merse was perhaps undeserved, but certainly needed. Moments after arrival, Mrs Smith and I are ushered onto a scenic terrace blushing with lemon trees and offered our first Negronis. It’s like an injection of pure, instant relaxation.
Borgo Santo Pietro is an ancient building dating back to the 12th century, carefully restored by the energetic Jeanette Thottrup and her husband Claus, an elegant, understated Danish gentleman. The renovation of the building must have been a hell of a job, but it has been worth the effort: the villa and its estate is perfectly restored and fully functional – with well-stocked frigobars.
The Borgo has just eight suites – large, inviting bedrooms that overlook manicured grounds mazed with long hedges and gravelled paths. Once we were installed in ours, a plate of fresh fruit arrived along with delectable squares of white coconut ice and an excellent bottle of Franciacorta. Suitably refreshed, and it being sundown, we wandered out, falling upon an Eden of secrets – a herb garden here, a fountain there; pergolas under which divans were scattered; peacocks appearing and disappearing. Further along, there were prepared courts for outdoor diversions such as pétanque and lawn tennis. We strolled under a portico, beside a rockery and swimming pool. A pervasive feeling of peace and warmth accompanied the fading day.
Our first night, we dined at the hotel, and had an excellent meal. Friendly and attentive service is helped along by the high ratio of attendants per guest. The cellar is looked after by the young sommelier Mirko Favalli, equipped with knowledge and a desire to please, as well as chutzpah in choosing some obscure and pleasantly challenging wines. We had much to discuss. It is hard to recall the number of courses (well, they were numerous), but I will never forget the 1995 Faccoli sparkling wine; Mrs Smith, meanwhile, took great interest in the prized Manni olive oil and triple choice of salts on the table: a black variety from Hawaii, pink from a river in Australia, and white from Trapani.
After a meal like that, we needed a bit of a lie-down. Thankfully, good-sized, classy rooms are further enhanced by an impeccable choice of mattress – a line specially flown in from Denmark. The following day, after a reviving slumber and an energising breakfast in the garden, we hit the area’s less-beaten tracks, steering clear of Siena and San Gimignano, where lightning-bursts of flash photography could be seen from afar.
We embarked on a round trip from the mediaeval village of Chiusdino – the first part on a panoramic road on the top of hills, passing ancient settlements and alpine forests. Next, Radicondoli, another mediaeval village; a few miles further is Mensano. This picturesque town’s 12th-century church has 14 column capitals and a Romanesque sculpture cycle by Pisan master sculptor Bonamico, and Mrs Smith is intrigued by a labyrinthine pattern set into the diminutive piazza outside its main entrance. A small family trattoria in the ancient centre here – Osteria del Borgo – serves honest, inexpensive Tuscan food at tables outside. Perfetto.
Casole d’Elsa, the livelier of the small towns we saw, holds communal barbecues on Sundays in the summer. It is also home of the excellent Osteria del Caffè Casolani, which has a pleasant rustic space inside and tables outdoors. There is no written menu, and the verbal offering is limited, but impeccable. Home-made pasta with wild pig ragu and a selection of local cheeses and charcuterie together with pulses made a perfect alfresco lunch. After two glasses of vernaccia, when we asked for a refill they casually gave us the rest of the bottle. ‘It is nearly finished – have it.’ A quick reminder that we were a thousand miles away from our home city of London.
From here, the old blue Lancia (driven by our guide Alfonso) crossed the valley and segued into gentle hills and isolated old farms, and we headed to Scorgiano. This settlement of just a few huts is the only point of sale for the Montagnola farm, which has 1,500 acres of land and forest, mostly dedicated to the organic raising of Cinta Senese. These pigs are cured in a similar way to Iberico ham. Great for us – not so mouthwatering a fate for them.
Back at base, a pianist playing West Coast jazz on a 19th-century rosewood Steinway eased us into our evening while we, in considerate undertones, discussed the inscrutable selection of art. What seemed the bust of a stern schoolmistress we deduce in fact to be someone’s elderly aunt. Another portrait of an old dame had these Smiths agreeing that there was something teasingly exciting about it: perhaps a reminder that brains plus money is always sexy.
On our last day, before lunch, Mrs Smith paid a visit to the spa for a one-hour massage that ended up being two; then she disappeared to the nearby river for a skinny-dip. I opted for a seat by the pool, plunging in occasionally – a preliminary ritual before the next Negroni. Too quickly, though, our driver’s car wheels were crunching their way down the gravel drive. As we glided through the Borgo’s gates, we looked up at the two enigmatic sphinxes guarding the entrance. Unlike them, we were grinning from ear to ear.