Swaying there in the olive groves, the Tuscan sun is beating down on us. A juicy, just-picked fig is melting in my mouth. It’s not your average Friday afternoon. Mrs Smith puts her hands in mine and we consider how long we could get away with staying at Villa Fontelunga before work notes our absence…
We’ve been beaming non-stop since we arrived. Our first sight of this bright sienna-coloured padronale near Cortona inspired our highest-watt smiles, and a smidgen of smugness. Traditional ivy-festooned blue-shuttered villa on the outside, modern interior design magazine on the inside, this boutique B&B makes houses on those flashy property TV shows seem positively dull. Greeted as though we’re old friends of the owners Simon, Philip and Paolo, we soon have a welcoming glass of local red wine in our hands.
Philip whisked us on a personal tour of the property; Fontelunga unfolded as somewhere wonderfully elegant and undeniably Italian. Between massive terracotta plant pots on the gravelled courtyard are old-fashioned tables and chairs. From here, there are views across a faultlessly landscaped garden to valleys that an artist could make thousands from.
A hidden nook is full of Tuscan elements combined with an exclusive LA rooftop feel. If there’s a spot better suited to lounging in the shade, I’d like to know of it. OK, perhaps where I then saw a swing for two… Further snooping reveals a tennis court, and now there’s fresh-fig-eating. A quick game of hiding behind olive trees later (it’s never not funny to jump out and shout ‘Boo!’ at Mrs Smith), we seek out our suite. After grabbing another fruit from the tree and a glass of Chianti from the honesty bar.
A converted dovecote houses our junior suite, and glass bricks transform nest holes into windows that throw magical shapes into our cosy double-sinked, deep-tubbed blue and white bathroom. White-washed walls and farmhousey flooring frame charming lived-in touches from one-time film-set designer Philip. Above the bed hang tiny glass orbs, lighting up the room as they catch the sun. Our bed peers through French doors onto our private terrace, steps from the pool, hills beyond. Taking advantage of free WiFi, we hop onto Spotify and load up some suitable music (think II Trovatore or the Intermezzo Cavalleria Rusticana. Not ringing any bells? Try imagining a slickly shot ad for olive oil or pasta sauce).
Newly revived, we’re back in the main villa following the lead of the cute resident Scottie dogs. This involves flopping on the comfy Barber Osgerby sofa, in an exposed-brickwork sitting room, where design flourishes and coffee-table books remind us we’re in Tuscany. (Meanwhile Mrs Smith sniffs out a few trashy mags hidden in the corner, perfect for poolside reading.)
Soon enough, Philip appears and asks our desires for dinner; quick as a flash he’s made reservations at Osteria del Teatro, a favourite of Anthony Hopkins. We jump in the car and head over the hills to Cortona, just one of the staggeringly beautiful mediaeval town an olive stone’s spit away. Duck breast and courgette-flower gnocchi devoured in a 16th-century dining room, we return home, close our shutters and lower the shades…
Morning arrives and sightseeing calls. We’re barely an hour from Florence and Siena, and even closer to Arezzo, so after a quick dip in the pool, some fruit and fresh pastries and another cup of world-class coffee on our terrace, we head to this most Italian of towns. Arezzo is where Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful was shot. ‘It is beautiful, pigeons fly, women fall from the sky – I’m moving here,’ says its hero Guido. If only we could too. (Although, disappointingly, it doesn’t actually rain Mrs Smiths. Not on the day we visit, anyway.)
After a day pretending to be movie stars – eating gelati, attempting the world’s hammiest Italian accents – it’s wonderful to retreat to rustic Villa Fontelunga. On Tuesday and Friday nights they host a four-course supper, and tonight it’s just us and some Australians. As Mrs Smith can attest, I get bored with stuffy hotel restaurants and this communal set-up is the ideal antidote. Less maître d’, more Come Dine With Me. Minus the badly made meals and ridiculing voiceover, obviously. We drink and make merry, adding our new friends on Facebook (gotta love that WiFi), eating humble, home-cooked food prepared with fresh ingredients.
Post-prosecco and canapés (oh, those zucchini fries!), we settle onto a long table in the open-plan kitchen for a parade of delights. Ravioli, local pork and veg, then a rich chocolate torte. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a dinner party this much – Mrs Smith and I almost forget that this is a hotel. Never has the cliché ‘home from home’ been a more accurate description – it’s like staying with distant relatives. Savvy ones armed with every secret on where to eat to parking your car without paying.
Too quickly our Tuscan adventure is over, and Mrs Smith’s suitcase is closed for the final time. Or maybe not? A final insider tip from our NBFs is that en route to the airport there are fashion outlets for Prada, Gucci, D&G and Armani. The only time I’ve seen Mrs Smith happier than when she finds a skull-patterned Alexander McQueen scarf at 70 per cent off was when she first set eyes on Villa Fontelunga.
Case crammed with designer steals, we head home, fantasising about being back in that king-size bed overlooking olive groves and Val di Chiana vineyards. Jolting me from that daydream is the harsh beep of an airport metal detector. I delve into my pockets to find the keys to our suite. Now really, wouldn’t it be rude not to return them in person?