This restored stone farmhouse sits in the middle of gorgeously green lands under the Tuscan sun. Conti di San Bonifacio is a working farm and wine estate where tables display wines straight from the vineyards for guests to taste and all of the space has a designer finish. It’s a rustic retreat that will feel like your own rural outpost – hire all five rooms and pretend you live on your own winery (one with magnificent views from every angle).
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Two glasses of Conti Di San Bonifacio Estate prosecco and a platter of cold meats
Double rooms from £555.94 (€621), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €1.30 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include Continental breakfast.
On Thursday evenings in the summer, the hotel hosts live cooking and cinema nights; guests can sit at the bar to watch the chef at work before settling in for a classic piece of Italian cinema (with English subtitles).
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, outdoor pool, CD/DVD and book library. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD player, Tiziano Terenzi bath products.
Our favourite rooms
We love the Conti di San Bonifacio Suite for one simple reason – it’s huge. Three of the walls have windows, there’s a huge four-poster bed delicately draped in muslin and a huge bath in the huge bathroom. For lots of natural light in a smaller space, pick a Junior Suite. Room 3, a Hill Top Terrace Deluxe has plenty of windows and a freestanding claw-foot bath tub in the black-, gold- and silver-speckled bathroom. Olive Grove Junior Suites 4 and 5 both open directly onto the garden.
Your sommelier’s nose for sampling the wine; some chic linens you won’t mind getting a bit dirty in the Tuscan countryside.
Dogs are welcome in all rooms except the Courtyard Club.
Extra beds are €50 a night; cots are €30. Babysitting with a local nanny can be provided with 24 hours’ notice. The restaurant has a children’s menu.
All of the tables have views out to the pool and vineyards through the arched windows; in summer, gather around the large wooden table outside on the veranda to enjoy them even more.
There’s no need to dress up for dinner – this rustic retreat will feel like home.
Chef Elisa Barsotti creates classic Italian dishes – osso buco, wild boar alla cacciatora and tortelli Maremmani (a Tuscan dish with ricotta and spinach) – using organic ingredients. Food is presented in Mondrian-esque arrangements, or are scattered about the plate like a Miró painting; they're amost too pretty to eat, but you'll find it hard to resist. The candlelit tables are dressed with crisp white linens and stemware, and you might be seated on a Bauhaus chair from the Twenties. Your hosts will take any dietary requirements into account when considering the daily menus – and requests are welcome. Breakfast and lunch are served in the Tree Lounge Bar.
The cosy Wine Library bar sits between the hotel's living rooms, and it lives up to its moniker with an impressive selection of vintages. Alternatively, head to the Vineyard Bar for cocktails made with fresh ingredients and timeless Tuscan views.
Breakfast in the Tree Lounge Bar is served from 8.30am to 10.30am; lunch is from noon to 6pm. Dinner in the restaurant in served until 9pm. The bar is open from 11am to midnight.
The nearest airport is in Pisa, 100km from the hotel.
Grosseto is the closest train station, 25km away. Trenitalia trains will connect you to the rest of the country (www.trenitalia.com).
The hotel is around 25 minutes from Grosseto. The drive from Florence should take around two hours; plan for three hours from Rome. There’s free parking.
Pick up a helicopter at Rome airport and land in the hotel grounds.
Worth getting out of bed for
You’ll be staying at a wine residence, so indulge in some of the super Tuscan wines served on site; the hotel holds wine-tasting events and can arrange a trip to Montalcino, which is famed for its Brunello wine. They’ll also teach you how to make traditional Tuscan food with a cookery class. Castiglione della Pescaia beach is around half an hour from the villa. Bicycles are available for hire from the hotel – set off on a tour of the hilly countryside (or do it on horseback). The hotel can also help to organise boat trips, sailing lessons and diving. Fishing trips sail from Piombino, a 40-minute drive away. The nearest golf course is Punta Ala Golf Club, but it’s members only at weekends. The hotel has a guide on hand to take you on personal tours of cities including Florence, Pisa and Siena.
Dine within the fortress walls in Grosseto at Il Canto del Gallo on Via Mazzini (+39 05 6441 4589). Canapone on Piazza Dante lays on a menu of meat and fish dishes for lunch and dinner (+39 05 6424 4546). And for pasta freshly made on-site, head to Il Tordaio on Via Batignonese (+39 05 6440 2081). In Gavorrano, try Il Fanta on Via Terranova for an unusual menu (+39 05 6684 4995), La Colonia on Pian del Castagni for pizzas straight out of a wood-fired oven (+39 05 6684 4015) or La Vecchia Hosteria on Via Marconi for classic Maremman dishes, including meat and game specialities (+39 05 3351 4980).
Some places in the world have such good advance publicity that before you even get there, you’re already in love with them. Paris is one such place. New York is another. And Tuscany? Cue some serious sighs. Let’s just say that if you ever had to imagine what heaven looks, smells and feels like, Tuscan countryside would be quick to spring to mind. There’s something so incredibly evocative – and a little unreal – about that landscape of long twisting roads and mediaeval towns, ancient olive groves, vineyards bathed in extravagant sunshine, and flat plains studded with handsome piles of farm-houses. And afterwards – long after you’ve come home, unpacked your bags and loaded up the images onto your computer – there’s still a sense that the whole thing was a dream.
Conti di San Bonifacio Wine Resort inspires that same reverie. The two-hour drive south from Pisa is pleasant enough. It’s pretty much a straight road through an alternating mix of pretty countryside and hair-raising autostrada until you turn off into a long narrow dirt track, clatter over a little bridge and then, just when you’re convinced you’re lost, the resort looms into sight. Sitting high on a knoll with commanding views of distant hills and that glorious vista of cypress, stumpy olive trees, private vineyard and blue horizon, the wine resort was, certainly for these Smiths, everything an Italian holiday should be. And then some.
Let’s start with the owners: a real life Italian count (that’s his name on the resort, and yes, he’s unreasonably gorgeous) and his statuesque satin-skinned English wife. The house itself is a 100 years old and when the San Bonifacios first stumbled on it 10 years ago, it was a wreck. A lot of restoration work, patience, sheer willpower and money later, the place has been transformed into a bijoux resort that feels less like a hotel than a very tastefully decorated, cosy, intimate home that just happens to have a few house guests in for the weekend.
Credit for much of this intimacy goes to the Conti’s wonderful manager, Amanda. Brooklyn-born and trained at the Culinary Institute of America, she delivers old-fashioned hospitality, charming company and terrific home-cooked meals with good humour and an infectious laugh. Our first dinner of asparagus risotto, and thick loops of bucatini flavoured with pancetta and softly caramelised onions set the tone for an Easter weekend of laid-back calm, unobtrusive service and lots of lush Syrah and Cabernet Franc produced in the San Bonifacio’s small private vineyard.
And because there are only five rooms, it’s so easy to slip into a state of mind where you actually believe that you own the place. The best rooms are in the east and west corners of the house. Here, it’s all very shabby chic, as if Martha Stewart had dropped by recently and edited out anything that might either seem contrived or detract from the illusion. Maybe that’s why there are no clocks in sight anywhere. Or room numbers.
Instead, soft colours seduce the senses. Taupe and linen frame blonde wood beams and tiny beaded chandeliers. Great pelts of cow hide soften the stone floors while the artfully aged desks, armoires and bookcases are stacked high with design magazines, travel books and photography opuses. And like a Merchant Ivory moment, shuttered windows open out over the terracotta-tiled roof where in the morning mist – serenaded by a soundtrack of gentle cooing of doves – the distant cypresses march across the landscape like arboreal supermodels.
Downstairs, the French doors of the vast living room – tastefully decorated by the Countess in a low-key mix of pale colours, deep sofas and vintage furniture rescued from fleamarkets in London – open out into the swimming pool, pretty patios and lawns bordered by lavender and blue-flowered rosemary bushes. All this I in fact note only in passing. While two guests signed up for an in-residence wine-tasting class and one learned how to make pasta with Amanda in the vast kitchen, I spent an unapologetically significant amount of that weekend curled up on the sofa alternating between languid naps and watching a Nigella Lawson cooking show that I’d picked from the huge collection of DVDs and CDs. ‘Are we seriously watching Nigella cook? Mr Smith murmured. ‘We’re in Italy!’ ‘But she’s cooking risotto,’ I countered. ‘It couldn’t be more appropriate. And I’m so incredibly relaxed right now. That’s what a holiday is all about. Go see what’s for lunch…’
Happily, the weather behaved during the weekend but such was the spell of indolence, we rarely ventured beyond the pool deck much less moved a muscle unless a meal or a drink was involved. One afternoon, Amanda served a lunch of rigatoni flavoured with nothing more than slivers of zucchini, olive oil and lemon. So simple and, like so much of Italy, so good. We ate in silence, trapped between the hypnotic view and the occasional cascade of notes from the wind-chimes. In the distance, a late afternoon breeze ruffled the olive leaves with a silvery shimmer. That night, we shut the shutters, drew the drapes and climbed into the soft white-linened bed and slept without any dreams. But that was probably because we were already in one.
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