10am, but flexible (by half an hour) subject to availability. Earliest check-in, noon, reception closes at 8pm but late check-ins can be arranged directly with the hotel.
Double rooms from £234.25 (€275), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include breakfast. From April until the end of September, free entrance to beach club Bagno Cavallone is also included.
Guests can use the pool and lounge areas post check-out, if they have time to kill before a flight. If you want to brush up your Italian cuisine, the hotel offers cooking lessons on Tuesday afternoons at 4pm – they're popular so be sure to book in advance.
At the hotel
Gardens, and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: iPod dock, gourmet minibar with Skinny Champagne and Amedei chocolate, free bottled water and Erbario Toscano bath products. Guests have access to private beach club, Il Cavallone, only 10 minutes away in Lido Di Camaiore.
Our favourite rooms
Aurora’s panoramic terrace has an outdoor fireplace; inside, it’s elegant and luxurious, with a green and gold palette, black and white photographs of nudes, and a shower- and tub-toting bathroom. If you crave space, opt for the taupe- and grey-hued Colle, a suite with a fireplace-adorned sitting room, Fifties armchairs decorated in animal print, Tiffany lamp stand and four-poster bed. It’s an easy sneak to the pool from the suite’s terrace.
The slim rectangular pool in the leafy gardens has a stone patio dotted with sun-loungers and umbrellas.
Swimwear for a cooling dip; a notebook to jot down the contact details of guests you befriend over dinner. Don’t bother with bath products – the in-room treats (Erbario Toscano) are divine.
Cots are €30 a night and are available in the Alba, Colle, Noce and Olivo rooms; extra beds cost between €65 and €85 a night depending on the season and can be accommodated in some Suites, Superior and Deluxe rooms (ask when booking).
One of the terrace tables in clement weather; the communal kitchen table if there’s a chill in the air (unlikely).
A garment in one of the hotel’s signature colours: chartreuse, olive, dusky grey or pearl pink.
There’s no formal restaurant, but twice a week (on Wednesdays and Saturdays), guests are invited to a sociable dinner hosted by Riccardo and his friends. Candlelit tables on the terrace set the scene for a magical meal (washed down with plenty of prosecco and local wine). Typical dishes include home-made ravioli, sesame seed-coated tuna and farro with pesto. On Monday evenings, a light dinner of soup, bruschette and the like is served. A generous breakfast spread (cheese, charcuterie, quiche, cake, muesli, cereal, conserves, bread and fresh fruit) is served outside in a leafy green pocket of the grounds; lunch follows suit.
Help yourself to drinks from the honesty bar, and enjoy them in one of the many peaceful perches: outside on the terrace, in the gardens, by the pool, or in one of the cosy lounges.
Help yourself to the breakfast buffet between 9am and 11am; lunch is served around 1.30pm–2pm and dinner is served between 7:30pm and 8pm (one sitting only).
No room service, but it’s wise to save your appetite for the three main meals.
Pisa airport is just under 30km away, with connecting flights to London Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted. Expect to pay around €90 for a taxi to the hotel.
Viareggio station is 8km from the hotel, Pietrasanta is 5km. The former has connections to Geneva and Florence; there’s a service connecting to Pisa at the latter. Taxis to the hotel cost around €25.
The town of Lucca is 25 minutes away; Pietrasanta and Viareggio are a 10-minute drive. There is plenty of free parking for guests. GPS can't pick up the hotel's actual address, so put in: Via Dietro Monte, Camaiore. The hotel has a sign on Via Dietro Monte, directing guests up the hill to the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Rise early one morning and drive the scenic hill route that leads to Lucca. (Avoid the beautiful walled city in the afternoon, when it gets touristy.) Pietrasanta is a hub of artistic industry: visit one of the studios (Riccardo can arrange a guided tour) and look out for exhibitions in the centre of Piazza del Duomo and the church of Sant’Agostino. Admire the glamorous locals at Forte dei Marmi and indulge in some high-end shopping in the boutiques. Take a boat trip up the coast to Cinque Terre, pose on the sand at Il Cavallone beach club (www.bagnocavallone.it) and hike in the hills of Parco Alpi Apuane. Or, stay closer to home and take one of the hotel's cooking classes, held weekly on Tuesday afternoons for a maximum of six guests.
In Pietrasanta, head to chic and whitewashed Libero (+39 05 8479 0452) for a light meal of crostoni or carpaccio with a glass of wine.Trattoria Il Marzocco (+39 05 8471 446) at 64 via Marzocco serves delicious dishes that nod to Sicilian, Moroccan and Indian influences. Set in the hills a 20-minute walk from the hotel, La Dogana (+39 05 8491 5159) dishes us regional takes on meat and fish; in the summer, the veranda has pretty sea views. For faultless fish, head to Trattoria Buonamico (+39 05 8496 1038) at 25–29 via Sant'Andrea, Viareggio. Antipasti are generous; seafood, succulent. Set in an old farmhouse, Osteria Vignaccio (+39 05 8491 4200) delivers on dazzling views and Tuscan cuisine cooked to ancient recipes. Typical dishes include ribollita (Tuscan minestrone), pasta e fagioli (pasta and bean soup), suckling pig, sautéed sausage, and cod with leeks. The restaurant is tucked away at 26 via della Chiesa, in Località Santa Lucia di Camaiore.
When I was 17, I had a fantasy about how I wanted my life to be. I wanted to go to Florence and paint, draw, and sketch. And be very, very romantic. Alas, an overprotective uncle saw how distracted I was by English schoolboys, thought that I would never be able to cope with Italian men, and dashed my dreams of heading off to the atelier schools with the long-haired Chelsea girls and dreadlocked ex-Etonians. Now, a decade later, Locanda al Colle has reinvigorated my lust for Tuscany. These days I am greedier than that schoolgirl: why settle for the hustle and bustle of the city when you can have rolling hills and rural romance, too?
Locanda al Colle combines the best parts of a home and a hotel: there’s no reception desk or uniforms or paid bars, and the owner, Riccardo, has created an atmosphere of luxurious informality that never compromises the level of professionalism. He has cleverly arranged the nine bedrooms, giving each of them individual features so you can stay in one that seems tailor-made for you.
Mr Smith and I were checked into a top-floor room that has a slanted chestnut-beam ceiling, stone floors, elegant antiques, a state-of-the-art shower and a bath (so we were both happy). Our favourite bit though (on this we agree) is a private roof terrace complete with a day-bed for lounging on when the sun is too hot, and a fireplace to keep you warm once it has gone down. Other rooms are suitable for families or larger groups, with private gardens or kitchens, but with our secluded room and long stints alone by the swimming pool, there was nothing more we needed.
Riccardo has a great eye, and was buying up Grayson Perrys and Mark Francis pieces before the big gallerists. Over two decades spent travelling around Europe working in fashion, he has accumulated an exquisite and eclectic collection of furniture, re-upholstering chairs owned by Mussolini’s son-in-law to make them ‘less Fascist, more funky’. He’s filled the Locanda with these treasures, each piece beautiful in its own right, combining them seamlessly with the traditional Tuscan architecture to create a guesthouse that feels immaculate, every detail considered, but not so precious that you can’t run around trying out every armchair for size.
Locanda’s location makes for plenty of adventures. On our four-wheeled excursions, Mr Smith pointed out that my yelping at the Italian drivers was probably more dangerous than anything they were doing. Half an hour away was the walled city of Lucca, where we hired bicycles and rode the 30-minute loop; it’s amazing how much guilt it relieved when we tucked into our daily pizza. In under an hour, we were in the middle of Florence, climbing over the side of the Ponte Santa Trinità to picnic on one of its buttresses. Hidden from passing tourists, with a beer, a gelato and an unopened sketchbook, there was lots of snogging – making up for that unromantic all-girls art-history school trip all those years ago.
Versilia’s long stretches of sandy beach were within a 10-minute grasp; Pisa’s famously leaning tower only a bit more. When we got lazy, Pietrasanta was just 5km away. This compact, unspoiled, pedestrianised town has impressive churches, galleries, antique shops and a bell tower that the padre allows you to climb up, even if you are wearing a short skirt. There is also Paul Smith’s favourite dining room, Enoteca Marcucci, which has one of the best wine lists in Italy, and which, incidentally, selected all the house vintages for the Locanda. After a quick hit of culture, some sightseeing, and a splash of good old Catholic guilt, we could be back at the hotel before the bubbles fizzled out of our remaining prosecco.
The meals at the house are worth staying in for. Like in all great Italian homes, the main kitchen is at its heart, and there is always someone in it squeezing fresh blood oranges or filling the building with appetising aromas. We ate on the patio when it was warm enough and in the kitchen when it wasn’t. There is no menu – Riccardo and his friends just create delicious unpredictable yet classic dishes, such as slippery mushrooms in filo pastry for breakfast. Riccardo has a knack of anticipating exactly what you desire, before the thought even crosses your mind. ‘Yes, of course I want a glass of pink prosecco with my tiramisu.’ Grateful sigh. ‘Yes, of course I want raspberry cheesecake for my breakfast.’
Once, while watching The Godfather, an Italian friend interrupted a kitchen scene to tell me – with no trace of irony – ‘People think that in Italy we eat spaghetti and meatballs all the time, but we don’t! Only, like, three times a week.’ When it came to our very last meal, as I hadn’t been able to find the classic dish on any menu during our escapades, Locanda’s kitchen rustled some up with what they had in their cupboards. As greedy as my demands were, as ever, they did everything they, or we, could think of to make our stay as perfect as possible. Locanda al Colle – thanks for making a schoolgirl’s dreams come true.