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April 23, 2008

New Place for a Pause in Tuscany

A view of Borgo Santo Pietro

by Ondine Cohane

Here in Tuscany, news travels fast. When word reached me a few weeks ago of a new luxury hotel preparing to open outside Siena, I ventured over to see it before the paint dried. Having lived through the maddening, gargantuan process of managing an Italian renovation with my husband, I am always curious to meet people who've gone through the same craziness.

Owned by Claus and Jeanette Thottrup, a London-based Danish couple, Borgo Santo Pietro is a 13th-century palazzo that once served as a resting place for monks and pilgrims on their way to Rome. For five years the Thottrups labored over a complete restoration of the structure and especially the grounds, which have been transformed into a stunning oasis of systematized green in this wide, wild valley.

When I arrived, they were rushing about with the harried air of a couple awaiting their first guests for a big party, unpacking spa products while hovering nervously over the painters. They needn't have worried. The place is extremely well done and comfy, with that slightly baroque boudoir design that's popular now--a rejection of the more minimalist style that used to characterize boutique hotels--with painted walls, one-of-a-kind chandeliers, thick silk draperies, and antiques from Italy, Denmark, France, and England--all handpicked by Jeanette. The place is kept from feeling dark with huge windows and lighter paints.

But it was the outside that was particularly impressive, with rose, fruit, and herb gardens, a pool, a basketball court, and a playground to keep the kids entertained. An old pilgrim path the Thottrups restored leads into the local town, and an outdoor fireplace on the dining terrace overlooks the valley. I have always liked this area because it's off the beaten path and near one of the most beautiful abbeys in the country, San Galgano, a towering ruined basilica with no roof and a grass floor. On a sunny day you can lie on the ground and it feels like you are looking up at a huge framed painting of the sky.

More reading:
* Check out our video of Ondine's own Italian villa.


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