Enjoy Tuscan sun and superb hospitality at the luxurious Borgo Santo Pietro estate near Siena
Tuscany is God’s gift to the planet. The perfect movie backdrop; a haven for foodies and oenophiles and an artist’s dream, her rolling hills and sentinel cypress interspersed by honey-coloured stone villas are dreamily compelling: a beguiling romance in the making.
And it’s here, among the winding roads of the Val de Merse that I’m being chauffeured in a Mercedes S Class to the 5-star Borgo Santo Pietro spa estate – just 45 minutes from hilltop Siena. You can arrive at Pisa, Siena or Rome airports – or even charter your own helicopter – all are within easy reach of this extraordinary Tuscan retreat.
We’ve taken the coast road from Pisa, stopping for lunch at Relais Poggia Ai Santi, high above the village of San Vincenzo. Hilltop views across the Tyrrhenian Sea alongside home-made pasta and fine organic wine induce profound relaxation. So by the time we arrive at Borgo’s impressive wrought iron gates just outside Chiusdino, I’m ready to immerse myself in this luxury hotel’s seductive landscapes and accommodation.
A long avenue of majestic sun-lit cypress trees leads up to the main house: A magnificent 12th-century restored villa nestled in a 270-acre estate with breath-taking views across the forests and fields of the Valle Serena.
Borgo’s owners, Danish couple Jeanette and Claus Thottrup (fashion design and construction background) were looking for a holiday home in Tuscany back in 2001. About to leave the region empty handed, they were en route to the airport when a friend suggested they look at Borgo – then a ruined villa – located on an ancient pilgrimage route near the abbey of San Galgano. It was love at first sight.
Fast forward 18 years and this extraordinary couple have created an exclusive 5-star luxury retreat with 20 rooms and suites, deep in the undulating Tuscan Maremma hills – and now a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux Group.
In addition to the eight grand rooms in the villa (the best suite is the Santo Pietro) and 12 garden suites, there’s an infinity pool with bar, a Michelin-starred restaurant, a spa, 11 hectares of vineyards, and a working organic sheep farm with cheese-making facility. Add to the mix bountiful orchards and vegetable fields, alpacas, beehives, chickens… and you’ll see why Condé Nast readers have voted Borgo Santo Pietro their No. 1 resort in Europe. The exquisite courtyards, terraces and gardens all flow into each other, scented with jasmine, rose, honeysuckle and cypress.
The communal spaces in the grand main house – enveloped in golden-hued Tuscan stone – have been beautifully and imaginatively restored: An impressive entrance hall with baronial fireplace leads into the dining and lounge areas. The attention to detail here is astonishing: a Medieval-Baroque smorgasbord of antiques, tapestries, frescoes, glass chandeliers, capacious comfy sofas, exquisite plant arrays and lit fireplaces. I feel completely at home.
Luxury Rooms and Suites
Near the main house, among the 13-acre grounds are two Pool House suites of 85sqm with their own private gardens and pool. Most rooms and suites have fireplaces. I’m staying in the stunning and very spacious La Casa dell’Unicorno Garden Suite. The size of a house, this is luxury estate living at its best. Imagine exposed wooden beams, stone flooring with vintage sofa and chairs; a giant glass chandelier adding to grandeur of the space.
The capacious hand-carved four-poster bed is endowed with a special mattress (from Denmark) and the softest linens from Italy, alongside beautiful antique furniture. The ensuite bathroom has his-and-hers basins, an enormous freestanding bath and superb power shower. Amenities are from Borgo’s own organic skincare range. The Retreat marine algae mineral bath salt with essential oils of Sandalwood, Neroli and Rose; The Revival low foam recovery shampoo with damask rose, orange peel, lemon and rose geranium, and The Purity hand and body cleanser are all gorgeous and leave my skin silky smooth.
The Unicorn Garden Suite boasts not one but three French doors: follow the first to an outside dining terrace with fireplace and a large canopied day bed on a raised grass area. The other leads to a sunken patio with loungers, bordered with blossoming white camellias and lavender. The garden faces southwest with sunny and shady areas in which to rest, read and eat – I love the large dining table next to the fireplace. The third door opens onto a delightful Mediterranean courtyard with Moroccan day beds to lounge in and a selection of tables and chairs set among lemon trees and a central fountain. Water is a recurring theme at Borgo with the soft trickling providing a relaxing backdrop.
A bottle of Spumante and a selection of canapés along with a welcome card await me, next to an exquisite flower arrangement. Modern accoutrements are discreetly hidden: The plasma TV and DVD player concealed behind a unicorn-motif panel, and the aircon is low level. Add touchscreen lighting, fully loaded iPad with music, and Borgo’s concierge app. Plus an iPod and dock. There’s even an old-school DVD library.
I decide to catch up on Game of Thrones (confession: I haven’t seen a single episode) but such is the magic of Borgo I’m not in the mood for anything other than relaxation. Blissfully, the shutters on every window ensure deep sleep during my stay. Pillow lavender-infused chocolates appear at turndown, together with bottled water. I feel cocooned from the rest of the world yet am only a minute’s walk to the main house.
Borgo Santo Pietro Gardens
I meander around Borgo’s grounds before supper; the pink-hued sky a dramatic canvas in this Tuscan paradise. The main house and garden suites at Borgo Santo Pietro are nestled in 13 acres of formal, yet relaxed gardens, each divided into Italianate-style sections. Designer Valstad Helle has collaborated with Jeanette to create a series of masterpieces. Each garden flows seamlessly into the other: the flower garden (used in Borgo’s own organic Seed to Skin skincare range) and herb gardens; a lake with Giverny-style bridge and plantings; a vegetable garden; pool area, shady terraces and hidden rose-canopied arbors for Italian-themed movie nights and boules.
This enchanted haven instantly connects me with nature and I feel grounded and peaceful. There’s a freshwater infinity pool with its own bar and jacuzzi next to the Trattoria Sull’Albero restaurant. Surrounded by canvas parasols and wooden loungers, this idyllic location boasts hidden alcoves in which to escape the midday sun. Shady spots for reading, sipping tea and stronger stuff abound. Even though the rooms and suites are at full capacity, such is the grand scale of Borgo Santo Pietro I only see other couples at dinner as I wander among the tranquil gardens and terraces. The estate is beautifully designed and like a symphony, each area plays its part to create a work of art.
As well as the formal gardens, Borgo Santo Pietro’s farm-to-plate philosophy is evident in the massive orto (culinary gardens). Walk or cycle among edible flowers, herbs, vegetables (more than 200 types) and fruit trees. All the organic produce is grown according to lunar cycles and biodynamic principles, with the produce used at Borgo’s Michelin-starred restaurant Meo Modo, and at its sister Michelin-starred restaurant in Florence – La Bottega del Buon Caffè.
Trattoria Sull’Albero Restaurant
In addition to the exquisite accommodation and gardens, the main attraction at Borgo Santo Pietro is the award-winning farm-to-table culinary experience. Choose from two restaurants: the relaxed Trattoria Sull’Albero is adjacent the pool area and constructed around a colossal ancient oak (Sull’Albero means ‘in the tree’). This extraordinary being is without doubt the guardian of the entire estate and takes centre stage in the restaurant. There’s an outside terrace here with magnificent views across the rolling landscapes of the Valle Serena, including the estate’s own vineyards.
I dine beside a welcoming open fire at the Farmers Market – held every Monday evening. A mouth-watering buffet of fresh local fare, mostly from Borgo’s own organic orchards and vegetable gardens. Live piano classics segue into bass and guitar jazz riffs adding a heady cocktail to the succulent flavours and eclectic wine list. Chianti and Brunello especially recommended. I linger long this evening… and devour the superb Tuscan fish stew here the following day. Pizza, game, fresh fish and even wild boar are also on the menu. Bravo Head Chef Stefano Pezzini and team!
Meo Modo 1 Michelin-starred restaurant
Meo Modo – Borgo Santo Pietro’s Michelin-starred restaurant – is located on the ground floor of the main house in a beautiful dining room. Here, Head Chef Giovanni Di Giorgio and his brigade weave their magic over six-, eight- or twelve-course tasting menus with accompanying wine flight. The atmosphere is refined, seductive and romantic. My dinner begins with intriguing amuse-bouches accompanied by a superb Spumante Dosaggio Zero Cantina della Volta.
Starters include a succulent prawn with veal and marsala, and Jerusalem artichokes with cauliflower and walnuts, while first courses are a refined medley of home-made pasta filled with rabbit, or risotto with roasted onion and lamb. I enjoy a beautifully presented and prepared sea bass with asparagus and bottarga. Dessert is a fabulous sottobosco and there’s also a fine cheeseboard on offer, accompanied by Borgo’s organic honey and fruit chutneys, or a choice of mascarpone cheese with wild berries.
Breakfast – my favourite meal of the day – is also served in the main house – buffet style in the former kitchen. I sip my coffee at a table on the heated terrace outside and enjoy early morning vistas of the Valle Serena. Tuscan-soft landscapes of forest, meadow and farmland punctuated by cypress and oak. Wild boar frequent these forests, which is why Borgo’s sheep herd is carefully guarded by a live-in shepherd dog.
It’s the most beautiful location in which to indulge in a medley of divine Italian cheeses, meats, honey from the estate, jams, home-made bread, yoghurts, and Italian cakes (with gluten-free options too). My scrambled eggs – from the estate’s own hens – are superb. Ditto the cheese omelette. Flavour-bursting cherry tomatoes are as sweet as the silky smooth honey from the Borgo bees. Borgo Santo Pietro is now 50% self-sufficient, while both restaurants are 90% organic.
Borgo Santo Pietro Organic Farm Estate
Before taking the Vespa out for a spin, I walk around the grounds: a total of 250,000 trees and bushes have been transplanted here in the formal gardens and orchards. The Borgo Santo Pietro estate is certified organic and now covers some 270 acres, thanks to the recent acquisition of the adjacent farm. I wander down to the free-range chicken coops (think colourful Brighton beach huts and almost as large), opening one of the hatches to discover warm freshly laid eggs.
Nearby are a series of beehives, while milk is collected daily from Borgo’s sheep which is made into artisan yoghurt and cheese at the estate’s dairy. There’s a focus on maintaining the delicate balance of the land and the integrity of the soil here. The result is an organic landscape that respects livestock and the earth, with farmers, gardeners and chefs working together at Borgo Santo Pietro to create a true farm-to-table experience, with flavours and textures to match. The experience heals mind, body and spirit – you’ll receive generous inner and outer nourishment here.
Borgo Santo Pietro Seed to Skin Skincare Range
The healing theme continues at Borgo with the estate’s own regenerative organic skincare range – Seed to Skin – available to buy online at seedtoskin.com and at net-a-porter.com. I visit the laboratory in the adjacent hamlet of Palazzetto. Here the team hand-make the organic products, which are also available in Borgo’s rooms and suites. None of the process is outsourced. The products are also used in the heavenly massage and facial I experience later that day.
Jeanette trained in natural remedies at Neal’s Yard in London and is a passionate advocate of the healing power of plants and minerals: “We’ve created a natural molecular system with Seed to Skin,” she tells me. “A powerful combination of science and nature.”
Borgo’s Seed to Skin three-legged logo represents the past, present and future, with a nod to the herbs in the Borgo gardens: Rosemary for remembrance, Basil for joy and the present and Marjoram for the future. The date 1129 is significant as the local village has hosted pilgrims since the 12th century.
Dr Anna Buonocore, who has a PhD in Pharmacy and Cosmetic Scient and Technology, works alongside Jeanette and laboratory manager, Cristina Guidarelli, in developing the Seed to Skin skincare range. “Seldom in my career as a scientist have I had the benefit of creating products made with such quality active ingredients,” she tells me.
“We mix the plants we grow at Borgo with other active and wild ingredients from the sea and small growers, which are wild forested from across the world,” adds Jeanette.
“Each Seed to Skin product is the result of passionate scientific pursuit alongside proven clinical studies.”
Borgo Santo Pietro Spa
The unique Borgo spa is located among the gardens, a short walk from my Unicorn Garden Suite, and has two al fresco treatment areas among the jasmine, honeysuckle and roses; and two indoor therapy rooms. The ever-present birdsong and fountains are calming, while the interiors here echo the grandeur and refinement of the main house: Stone walls, open fireplace, natural oak tables, antique stone floors, exposed beams, grand chandeliers and giant candelabra.
An exquisite flower display adorns the centre table and I’m offered a refreshing tea on arrival before being led to my treatment room. The energy feels tranquil, refined and grounding. A range of therapies are available, from the Ayurvedic Shirodhara to mani-pedis. All the products used are from Borgo’s Seed to Skin skincare range.
My therapist Laura is outstanding. We begin with a salt foot bath with roses for a mild detox, followed by the Seed to Skin Candle massage. This exquisite experience involves a candle infused with avocado oils, shea butter and coconut extract being melted and poured over my skin then massaged with very flowing connected movements. Spa brochures are apt to suggest you’ll feel a ‘profound sense of wellbeing’ but in Borgo Spa’s case this is true. The room temperature is perfect and I feel warm and comfortable throughout – even falling asleep.
This divine experience is followed by an extraordinary Ritual by Seed to Skin Facial. Using firm massage techniques my skin is soothed, rehydrated and calmed, thanks to Lauren’s skill and natural plant-based formulas sourced from flowers and herbs in Borgo’s gardens. The very best massage and facial I have ever experienced. Book her
Activities at Borgo Santo Pietro
If your preference is for more physical activity, you can practice your serve on the estate’s tennis courts, play badminton or basketball, or take the Borgo bikes out for a spin around the grounds. Try wild swimming in the River Merse at the bottom of the estate or hike out into the Valle Serena and melt into the lush landscapes. You can also visit the on-site dairy farm where goat’s milk is made into delicious cheese.
Other activities include ballooning, flower arranging, painting lessons, and fabulous cooking classes with dear Mamma Olga who lives with her family in Palazzetto. She doesn’t speak a word of English, but with the help of our interpreter and lots of smiling and gesticulation I turn out a pretty cool tagliatelle pasta.
I love the feeling of family at Borgo. The Italians here have such warmth and open-heartedness. During my visit the Serbian American artist Vlatko Vojnvic is in residence at the artist’s house by the lake and gives regular classes. I meet up with him at the studio. “Everybody can be an artist, whatever they are painting,” Vlatko tells me. “It’s just a question of letting go and being in innocence.”
Attractions near Borgo Santo Pietro
Siena is only 45 minutes’ drive from Borgo Santo Pietro, while Florence can be reached in under an hour. Visit the group’s other Michelin-starred restaurant here – the fabulous La Bottega del Buon Caffè helmed by Head Chef Erez Ohayon. Take Borgo’s sexy red Ferrari for a spin, or hop on the Vespas and visit nearby Chiusdino. This hilltop village is the birthplace of Saint San Galgano, a Templar knight who renounced all worldly goods and plunged his sword into a stone, thus heralding the myth of Britain’s King Arthur. The stone – buried to its medieval hilt – can be seen inside the nearby Hermitage of Montesiepi.
This fully restored Templar church rises majestically above the enigmatic ruins of the Abbey of San Galgano which is also open to the public. There’s a café adjacent to the Hermitage with panoramic views over the valley, and a small shop with souvenirs and foods from the region. Pilgrims and knights rested here en route to Jerusalem and both sites have extraordinary and very tangible energy.
Jeanette and Claus haven’t restricted their creative talents to bricks and mortar, they’ve also created Borgo Santo Pietro’s very own yacht, the Satori. The couple’s passion for sailing – and their own design talents – inspired them to design and construct a stunning 41.5m schooner with the kind of luxurious interiors and state-of-the-art technology you’ll find at Borgo Santo Pietro. Satori’s experienced Turkish captain will take you to the best Mediterranean locations, including the South of France, Italy, Greece and Croatia.
Lavishly designed with 5 double cabins (one is a master suite and the other converts to a spa), a galley and all the toys you could want, Satori is in high demand. Enjoy cuisine prepared by chefs trained at Borgo’s Michelin-starred Meo Modo, and at the Group’s Michelin-starred La Bottega del Buon Caffè in Florence. There’s also an air-conditioned wine cellar with 250-bottle storage – more than enough to keep the most avid oenophile happy.
Relax and recharge at Borgo Santo Pietro
“How often do we give ourselves the time to stop and rest? To become still and connect with our higher selves?” Jeanette asks me over lunch at Trattoria Sull’Albero. Good question. And in my case, not often enough.
“At Borgo we aim to give guests an experience of themselves,” she explains. “To recharge, refresh and hopefully return home with new perspectives.”
Borgo has around 30% repeat guests, so clearly Jeanette’s vision is working. “I’m not really a hotelier,” she confides. “More than anything I want to touch peoples’ lives and make a difference. Which is why I’m so passionate about our skincare range Seed to Skin. We use completely organic products that work from the inside out.”
Have guests had life-changing epiphanies at Borgo?
“Yes!” Jeanette reveals. “I’ve had many guests tell me they’ve sought out new directions in life after staying with us. That’s so inspiring!”
Borgo’s inherent healing energy is so subtle you may not immediately notice it, but it will be working its magic on you, whether or not you believe in things unseen. It certainly has a profound effect on my own body, mind and soul during my stay.
Indeed, Borgo’s Seed to Skin skincare motto is a reminder of the restorative qualities at this exquisite retreat: “You are as young as your passion. As old as your fears. As vital as your courage. As limited as your judgements.”
Ideally you need to stay at Borgo Santo Pietro for at least a week. That will give you time to relax and enjoy the spa, the grounds, the suites, the restaurants, and the farm. And to venture farther afield to Siena, as well as local hilltop villages and wineries. Engage with all your senses during your visit: Listen to the birdsong and the wind in the trees. Feel the sun on your body; savour the extraordinary cuisine and allow yourself to melt into the stillness.
Borgo Santo Pietro estate has a truly magical quality, thanks to its ancient healing legacy and exquisite grounds and accommodation. A luxurious sanctuary in which to completely relax and recharge: After only a few days you’ll be feeling, as I did, part of the lovely Borgo family.
Grazie mille Borgo Santo Pietro – tornerò presto!
Where & How
Cost: Room rates from £495.
Where: 110 Loc. Palazzetto. 53012 Chiusdino (SI) Tuscany Italy.
How: Phone +39 0577751222 or visit borgosantopietro.com to find out more and make a booking.