Imagine you discovered a tumbledown 13th-century farmhouse on acres and acres of overgrown land in, of all places, Tuscany, Italy’s most mythologized romantic area. That is exactly what happened to Danish couple, Claus and Jeanette Thøttrup in 2001. Much of the old house they found was dilapidated or in ruins lying in piles of dirt and surrounded by fields of mud, but the Thøttrups, who were already in love with Italy, saw through the derelict jumble of dirt and stone to a simple vision. This old building nestled in a lovely valley just a short drive from Siena and an hour from Florence could be a dream home for their family and someday, even a luxury retreat for the well-heeled urban weary.
So struck were they with the history of the area and house and by the serenity of quiet valley and hilly-forested land that they decided to take on the project, however impractical. It was, as the couple describes it, “a spiritual connection.” They were determined they would bring the land and the old farmhouse, that eight centuries ago had been accommodation for pilgrims on the way to Rome, back to life. They were convinced a revitalized Borgo Santo Pietro could bring wellness, tranquility, and serenity to a 21st-century traveler.
The Thøttrups were not unused to challenging projects. Claus, a developer, had created startling residential and commercial buildings in the past. Jeanette had years of experience in fashion and interior design. For this Tuscany revival project, the couple drew on not only their own professional skills but also on the expertise of colleagues from Europe and Scandinavia.
For seven years they scraped and painted and carved and polished. The determined Danes scoured Italy and France for furnishings, fabrics, and antiques. Saving and restoring whatever they could of the old building, they sought out artisans to recreate the other elements of the building. The reborn villa had vaulted oak ceilings, exquisite marquetry, and heritage stonework. They added travertine flagstone floors, stone fountains, and opulent chandeliers.
The subtle integration of furniture and decorative elements from France and England in a traditional Tuscan context created a Euro-fantasy of a bygone era of elegance and aristocracy.
Their new home was a luxurious synthesis of English manor and Tuscan villa. The couple also revived the land around the old farmhouse with 13 acres of gardens and several hundred thousand carefully curated plants and trees including olive groves and vineyards.
Today manicured hedges and a rose garden create the ambiance of a British manor while elements such as a bocce pitch exude the energy of daily Italian village life. The scent of rose and lavender welcomes visitors at the end of their walk down a cypress-lined path to the front door of the villa. Inside, the lavishly appointed rooms are full of antiques. The mix of Italian, French, and English, furniture and conversation pieces creates a subtle international design dialogue. Frescoes, murals, and Persian rugs adorn the color-washed walls and flagstone floors. Sofas and chairs are upholstered with both colorful and subtle shades of textured fabrics such as tapestry and velvet. The walls, floors, and ceilings are in a neutral palette of off-whites, bronze, and grays and the rooms with diffused natural light in the day and illuminated by sparkling ornate chandeliers and decorative lighting pieces at night.
The couple was determined to share this tranquil 200-acre retreat as a villa rental and as a luxury boutique hotel, but this was not to be just any Tuscan hostelry. It would be absolutely perfect. While the original restoration included eight suites in the main villa, as the hotel evolved, they soon added garden suites in the style of the main house and an infinity pool that seems to disappear into the green hills beyond.
Now, 16 years later, Borgo Santo Pietro, tucked away in the hills of Tuscany, has 20 rooms and has also added a luxurious spa housed in what was once the old estate’s bakery. The spa, like the main building, is constructed of all local stone with a vaulted ceiling and high arched windows that maximize the natural light. An open stone fireplace offers welcome and warmth for those seeking a unique slate of bodywork and beauty treatments that includes a fascinating signature treatment, a bee sting facial (and the bees, naturally, are from the estate too). And why not have spa products from the 13th century as well? Santa Maria Novella products were born in the early 1200s and crafted by Dominican Friars. At that time the friars were creating medicinal products from their herbal gardens. Today, although the monks are gone, the products are still made with some of the monks’ tradition formulae and, of course, all natural ingredients.
Natural products highlight the restaurant menus at Borgo Santo Pietro as well. There the words “farm to table” are not just an abstract suggestion that the meals’ ingredients are fresh and local. The meals served at the hotel’s restaurants are, like its spa products, all natural, and not only local to the area, but from the estate’s own farm. Fruits, herbs, vegetables, olives, edible flowers and even honey are from Borgo Santo Pietro’s fields and restaurant menus are developed with and inspired by the estate’s farmers and gardeners.
Meo Modo, the hotel’s white tablecloth restaurant, under the guidance of Michelin-star chef, Andrea Mattei, offers congenial dining and boasts farm-to-table cuisine using artisanal ingredients from estate land. The chefs even make their own cheeses from milk from Borgo Santo Pietro sheep! The recent addition of the casual eatery, Sull’Albero Trattoria Brasserie & Bar offers guests a chance to sit out by the pool, hear live music and watch the chef create dishes such as fresh pizzas from scratch. And for those seeking a DIY gastronomic adventure, the small elegant hotel even has its own cooking school.
Even if it IS Italy there is a lot to do in addition to eating. This award-winning hotel will keep you as busy as you want with everything from tennis to truffle hunting or archery to bocce. Whether guests are, like the earliest pilgrims of Borgo Santo Pietro on a spiritual journey, gastronomic or romantic, the hotel is a sabbatical from the ordinary, a restorative spot for the weary, a glimpse of the life transcendent, and a chance to live out an idyll of a long-ago aristocratic life.