Strada di Bagno Vignoni
San Quirico d'Orcia
Tel: 39 0577 889 000
The thermal waters of Bagno Vignoni, a tiny spa resort just off the main SS2 road (a.k.a. Cassia) south of Siena, have been famous since Etruscan times, even before the ancient Romans arrived. This resort hotel, however, sparked a resurgence in hot thermal treatments when its luxurious spa opened in 2004, offering massages, beauty treatments, and gallons of hot water from a natural spring. By the time the water reaches the huge outdoor thermal pool, it's a pleasant 36 degrees, and it stays that way all year round, making this a good option even out of season. Other places to get wet include an indoor thermal pool, a kids' thermal "fun pool," and a cooler sport pool for those who want to swim without breaking a sweat. Children are well catered for (there's a Kids Club for ages four and above), while adults will enjoy three steam rooms (one built in a stone grotto), an olive-wood sauna over a lake, and sumptuous relaxation areas with views across to the castle of Rocca d'Orcia. Even the gym has a thermal spring running through it. Further enticements include 90 spacious bedrooms, many with terraces, and a glass-roofed restaurant flooded with natural light.
Closed early January to early February.
170 Via Fillungo
Tel: 39 0583 950 856
A fully air-conditioned seven-room town house hotel accessed via a palm-shaded courtyard, Palazzo Busdraghi is easily the nicest hideaway within Lucca's town walls. This upmarket B&B occupies the second-floor piano nobile of a 16th-century palazzo that has been in the Busdraghi family since 1701 and combines period elegance (in one of the rooms there's even a wardrobe that belonged to composer Giacomo Puccini) with contemporary color, thanks to extensive use of warm reds, golds, and oranges. Our favorite room is number 5, with its whitewashed wood-beamed ceiling and ringside view of busy via Fillungo (footsteps and voices are the only noises you'll hear if you open the soundproofed windows, as Lucca's centro storico is off limits to unauthorized private traffic). Service is friendly and willing, and guests with their own computers can access the hotel's Wi-Fi network for a small fee. If you're arriving by car, call ahead for directions to the hotel's nearby car park, which is included in the room price.
Tel: 39 0577 75 1222
The Sienese monks who stopped at the Borgo Santo Pietro more than 800 years ago wouldn't recognize the place today. Danish owners Claus and Jeanette Thottrup have rebuilt the old stone exteriors and added chandeliers and beautiful trompe l'oeils to the extensive public areas and six guest rooms (another three garden suites are planned for this summer). The effect is elegant, with useful modern touches: Oil paintings open to reveal flat-screen TVs, an extensive DVD library is on hand, and claw-foot tubs look plucked from an Italian castle. Rose-lined pathways lead to secluded benches, a lovely orto (vegetable garden) that provides the restaurant with its greens, and just-planted fruit orchards. Danish chef Thomas Brieghel is only 28, but his tasting menus at the standout restaurant are already generating talk of a Michelin star.
25 Via della Sapienza
Tel: 39 0577 222 073
A near-perfect example of the small, historic boutique hotel, this six-room charmer situated just below the church of San Domenico has two very strong calling cards. First, its unparalleled view across Via Fontebranda to Siena's central hill, crowned by the Duomo, and second, the way it manages to be both classy and elegant without feeling remotely frosty: The book-lined lounge, with its honesty bar, antique piano, and panoramic terrace, invites guests to live the aristocratic lifestyle well away from the tourist hordes. Two premium-price rooms, Camporegio 5 and 6, enjoy that view (5 even offers a small terrace), but the other four rooms, which look onto pedestrianized Via della Sapienza, are no less attractive, sharing their pricier neighbors' rich silk curtains, smart antique decor, and firm mattresses with pure linen sheets. Breakfast, served on the terrace in good weather, is a real feast, with homemade cakes and lots of fresh fruit. Parking is not included in the price (call ahead for advice on the best spots), but the hotel offers free ADSL Internet access.
7 Strada Spicciano
Tavarnelle Val di Pesa
Tel: 39 055 806 470
The big Tuscan novelty of 2006, Castello del Nero is a top-end hotel set amidst the vineyards of Chianti. Though plenty of other castles and villas in the area now take in paying guests, this is one of the first to offer luxury facilities and customer serviceat prices to match. If you can't do without 24-hour room service, a huge heated outdoor pool, an ESPA holistic spa, two flat-screen TVs in each room (one in the bedroom, the other in the bathroom), cashmere blankets, and an evening turndown service, then Castello del Nero is pretty much obligatory. The 12th-century castle and adjoining buildings were converted by Sting's favorite interior designer, Alain Mertens, into 50 rooms and suites, some of them adorned with restored floor-to-ceiling frescoes. In the historic suites, most of which are in the main body of the castle, Mertens offers a contemporary take on the feudal theme, with antique-style claw-foot bathtubs, Philippe Starck stools, and twisty-columned four poster beds; many also have working fireplaces. The simpler (and cheaper, though by no means cheap) "Tuscan rooms" go for a more subdued, country-house version of the same oldnew blend. A standout feature is an outdoor vitality pool in the shelter of a long arcade. The La Torre restaurant is in the hands of a young Roman chef, Alessio Mecozzi, who uses vegetables and herbs grown on the estate in his light and healthy take on the Tuscan tradition; he also presides over the hotel's afternoon cooking classes.
Strada Spicciano, 7
Tavarnelle Val di Pesa
Tel: 39 055 806 470
With its 700 acres of centuries-old cypress trees and impressive gardens, Castello del Nero feels much like the fiefdom of a Tuscan lord—and in fact, the original structure has belonged to various noble families since the twelfth century. Frescoes and vaulted ceilings give the design grandeur and formality, as do the terra-cotta floors, claw-foot tubs, and sumptuous four-poster beds done in the baldachin style with fabric headboards. The 50 huge guest rooms designed by Alain Mertens (Madonna and Sting are among his clients) are airy and light, with beautiful fabrics and subtle colors. Florence is a 25-minute drive away, and the property offers free twice-a-day shuttle service. The only caveat is that the hotel imposes feudal tax—like charges for any extras—breakfast costs about $40 a person, a glass of prosecco is $20, and Internet service is another $26 per day. ESPA is included among the 2007 Hot List Spas.
Strada di Vicarello
Poggi del Sasso
Tel: 39 0564 990 718
Near the village of Sasso d'Ombrone, 40 minutes' drive northeast of Grosseto, Vicarello is a 12th-century feudal castle perched on a rocky spur with views west to the sea. The atmosphere is that of a discreet house party, presided over by charming hosts Aurora and Carlo Baccheschi Berti. Aurora lived in Bali for 18 years, something that comes through in the five suites—three in the castle itself, two more in the grounds—which mix Indonesian furniture with contemporary rural art. There are two swimming pools—which means that much of the time guests have one to themselves. Lavender, rosemary, and a whole bank of ground roses cover the slopes just below the castle, with terraces of olives and vines down below. Suites have real working fireplaces (it can get quite chilly here out of season), and breakfast—much of it based on produce made, grown, and/or baked by the hosts—is served in a huge country kitchen. Signora Baccheschi Berti also organizes impromptu cooking courses for those who want to do more than just go for long walks or lounge around the pool.
19 Località Monastero d'Ombrone
Tel: 39 0577 570001
The latest Italian hilltop hamlet to morph into a luxury hotel, Castel Monastero serves up a perfectly curated version of the Tuscan lifestyle, right down to its stylish but safe contemporary-country interior design. Those who know and love the real Tuscany might find the 76-room village-hotel a little airbrushed, but there's no denying that the setting—in the wild Ombrone valley on the edge of the Chianti Classico wine zone—is spectacular, and the restoration of this fortified abbey turned wine estate can hardly be faulted. The appointment of British chef Gordon Ramsay as culinary consultant generated media mileage, but it's head chef Alessandro Delfanti who is in the kitchen turning out tasty, conservative variations on Tuscan tradition. The views back across to the village-hotel from the terraced infinity pools are sublime, and the spa by Urban Retreat—proprietors of the day spa at Harrods in London—offers an impressive range of beauty and revitalizing treatments with highfalutin names like Diamond Sublime. The bedrooms in the central castle buildings are soberly elegant, with wooden wainscoting, Chesterfield sofas, Rubelli silk curtains, exposed overhead beams, and a color palette of creamy magnolia and dark cocoa. Be warned, the rooms can be a little gloomy; this was originally a medieval monastery, and windows, where they exist, are generally small. Rooms and suites in the outlying properties, including a self-contained butler-serviced villa, tend to be more spacious, bright, and airy. The good-size bathrooms are lined in dark volcanic stone and feature rain-head showers; many also have tubs. Unlike many Tuscan luxury retreats, Castel Monastero has opted for a flexible pricing policy that (at least by current Italian standards) is almost reasonable for a luxury resort. When demand is low, classic doubles start around $560 per night, including breakfast.—Lee Marshall
Tel: 39 0577 80 7078
In the heart of Brunello wine country, the nearly 4,500-acre Castiglion del Bosco is one of Tuscany's most impressive debuts in years. While the resort's spa, golf course, and equestrian center won't be completed until 2010, there is already plenty to attract in this medieval borgo, or hamlet, which includes the noble family's original villa and 16 large suites (with 10 more in the works). The accommodations have huge living rooms and massive showers and are done in a refined country style with leather chairs and heavy draperies. A former priest's house now holds the two restaurants: one the unpretentious Osteria, which serves simple pastas; the other the Ristorante Del Drago, a more formal affair. It's also the site of cooking classes and wine-tastings (the property produces its own vintage). With many cozy spaces in which to enjoy a glass of wine, and a fleet of discreet staff to cater to your whims, you'll feel like the master of your own estate.
85 Via Banchi di Sopra
Tel: 39 0577 56 011
Siena's only real luxury hotel sits right in the heart of the city, two minutes from Piazza del Campo. Its 51 individually decorated rooms mix old-world elegance with modern panache. Rich fabrics, antiques, and oil paintings raise the comfort level, while Internet access (though it's not free), pay-TV, and CD players in some rooms provide convenience. Several rooms on the second floor have vaulted frescoed ceilings, and the rooftop suite, the Altana, has wraparound views of Siena. Opened in 2002, the impeccably restored building—originally a Renaissance palazzo—includes a chic wine bar with eye-catching armchairs in a bright glassed-in courtyard on the ground floor, next door to which is a more traditionally elegant restaurant in a couple of Belle Époque dining rooms. Service is professional but can appear a little frosty compared with Tuscany's many hands-on, family-run establishments.
Tel: 39 0577 877 700
Set amid 7,100 undulating acres of vineyards and olive groves near Montalcino, Castello Banfi, maker of some of the region's best-known wines, has opened its doors to overnight guests, having converted its former workers' lodgings into sumptuous accommodations that embody Tuscan-style good living. The 14 individually styled rooms, housed in conjoined eighteenth-century stone buildings adjacent to the estate's twelfth-century castello, have retained some atmospheric elements of the original structures, from wood-beam ceilings to deep-set windows to terra-cotta floors, and are done in a cheerful, elegant Tuscan palette, including softly patterned silk draperies, plump couches, and absurdly comfortable beds with romantic baldachins. Special touches include a gratis bottle of Brunello, an LCD TV hidden in a false bookcase, and free high-speed Interneta rarity in these parts. The large, well-lit bathrooms also come with comfort in mind, equipped with heated towel racks, sizable glass-walled showers with rain showerheads, and toiletries made with Sangiovese grapes grown on the estate. The service throughout is warm and efficient, and the hearty breakfast (included in the room rate) exceeds the typical Continental-style offerings, while the two excellent on-site restaurantsthe intimate Michelin-starred Ristorante, and the more casual Tavernaoffer well-prepared Tuscan dishes and, naturally, a strong house wine list. A small pool overlooks the bucolic landscape of vineyards.
Località Il Borro
San Giustino Valdarno
Tel: 39 055 977 053
Centered around its very own medieval hamlet, this 1,700-acre property in the wilds of the Arezzo region is owned by Ferruccio Ferragamo—son of Salvatore, founder of the famous Florentine fashion dynasty. The estate includes a lavishly restored ten-bedroom villa in English-country style, with an indoor pool and a formal Italian garden—the whole thing rented en bloc with staff (for the full bells-and-whistles experience with chef, sous chef, and waitress in addition to the default option of maid and assistant, we're talking a cool $50,000 per week in high season). There are also 12 apartments for rent in the medieval borgo (village); these are comfortable enough, with rustic Tuscan wood-beamed ceilings and cotto tile floors—and although the borgo's rather twee artisan workshops (imported, rather than original) strike a false note, the houses themselves have been sensitively restored, avoiding the fake retro approach that spoils some other Italian village conversions. Better, though, are the 16 apartments located in farm buildings scattered around the property. They have more light and more style than those in the village, and each has the use of a pool. A classic osteria serving traditional local dishes in the hamlet, much patronized by local day-trippers, completes this idyllic Tuscan retreat.
Open March 10 to November 10 and for two weeks over Christmas and New Year.
370 Località San Martino
Tel: 39 0575 612 679
A delightful 17th-century villa surrounded by cypresses, olive orchards, and vineyards, this Relais & Châteaux property is personally managed by owners Silvia and Riccardo Baracchi, and their attention to detail makes all the difference. The 20 spacious rooms, some with modern frescoes and four-poster beds, have original cotto tile floors and are elegantly furnished with antiques and tapestries, yet the atmosphere is unpretentious, relaxed, and sunny. The Michelin-starred restaurant in the former limonaia (a greenhouse for young lemon trees) is one of the few chic eateries in the area, with elegant table settings and polished service. The outdoor terrace has a stunning view of Cortona and the valley. Silvia Baracchi personally oversees the waitstaff, while chef Richard Titi heads up the kitchen. Many dishes on the menu are of the hearty, rustic variety: baked stuffed turbot with zucchini and marjoram flowers; marinated shellfish with spelt panzanella and balsamic vinegar; wood pigeon stuffed with pears and pistachios, cooked in red wine. There's a vegetarian menu, too (most of the vegetables and herbs are grown in the hotel's garden), and the superb wine list includes the estate's own red, Smeriglio.
Closed three weeks January–February.
Tel: 39 0564 858 111
It's hard to find a reason to leave this sumptuous 50-room resort with its heated pool, private pebbly beach on the Cala dei Santi, and superb (but pricey) restaurant. Set in a natural amphitheater on the rocky Argentario coast, this exclusive resort's accommodations are discreetly spread out in villas nestled among pine trees and cypresses. Rooms are spacious and light-filled, and decorated with comfortable luxury in mind; most have terraces overlooking the sea. The privacy factor draws aristocrats and muckety-mucks from the fields of entertainment, the arts, and banking: A staff of more than a hundred is on hand to cater to their every whim. Even if you're not staying in the hotel, a meal at Il Pellicano is worth a detour. From June to September, lunchtime here consists of an informal but spectacular buffet on the stunning seaside terrace overlooking Porto Ercole, with an array of exquisitely fresh fish and meats; make your choice, and it will be custom-barbecued for you. In the shoulder seasons and in the evenings, the elegant dining room serves a creative Italian menu that rates a Michelin star (the only one on Monte Argentario). Choose from tagliolini with lobster in a pea and barley cream, a delicate thyme-scented roast turbot with potatoes crushed with shallots and fennel, or lamb shank with spelt and Swiss chard. The wine list offers more than a thousand labels.
Open April to October.
Castiglione della Pescaia
Tel: 39 056 494 4800
Alain Ducasse's divine new country inn takes its name from the sweeping allée of umbrella pines and cypresses that lead to the entrance to this 1,200-acre estate. Nine rooms in the main villa, once the hunting lodge of Leopold II, the last grand-duke of Tuscany, and 24 in the connected fattoria (farmhouse) are designed with sponged apricot walls, Como silks, and voluptuous modern couches strewn with pillows; bathrooms are particularly luxurious. L'Andana is also equipped with an outdoor heated pool and whirlpool tub. A sensualist's spa opens later this year, half of an eventual 18-hole golf course will tee off by year's end, and a Ducasse restaurant is scheduled for 2006. At the moment, the food is in the hands of Ducasse protégé Christophe Martin, whose sophisticated take on Tuscan cuisine makes the most of authentic ingredients and fresh seafood from the nearby Tyrrhenian coast.
Gaiole in Chianti
Tel: 39 0577 744832
Tel: 39 0577 744801
A thousand-year-old monastery on 2,000 acres of Tuscan countryside, La Badia di Coltibuono recently opened its eight guest rooms to the public (previously, they were available only to participants in its residential cooking courses). Though simple and absent of high-tech gadgetsyou won't even find a cell phone signalthe five renovated monks' cells and three larger rooms are full of charm, with original terra-cotta floors, shelves of books, pretty cotton drapes and bedspreads, and stuffed armchairs or chaise longues. With its cloisters and massive downstairs fireplaces, the monastery is architecturally impressive, and rooms take full advantage of the region's breathtaking vistas. After a stay that includes walks in the woodlands and hearty Tuscan meals in La Badia's restaurant, you'll be completely recharged.
Radda in Chianti
Tel: 39 0577 738 833
Simple pleasures are the order of the day at this seven-room haven deep in Chianti country—a glass of wine by the pool, a wide-screen view of rolling hills topped by walled villages and the occasional castle, or a stroll through the surrounding woods. Run by affable hosts Guido and Martina Bevilacqua, La Locanda works because it reflects its owners' laid-back sense of style and relaxed attitude toward profit margins: So bath products are by Bulgari and mineral water is free—as are the Amadei chocolates that are offered to guests on arrival. The honesty bar in the lounge offers not the usual array of supermarket spirits but a wide selection of Tuscan wines, some of them very fine indeed. Rooms are done out in warm Tuscan country style, spiced up with the odd piece of colonial furniture and some Bevilacqua family photos; the best ones are the four that face that view. Though it's quite a long drive down a dirt track from Volpaia, the nearest village, the payoff is total peace and seclusion. There's no restaurant as such, but since most guests are reluctant to leave, a fixed-price Mediterranean menu is offered in the evening five days a week, Thursdays and Sundays excluded.
Open April to October.
67 Viale Amm. Morin
Forte dei Marmi
Tel: 39 0584 783636
This summer playground on the Tuscan coast is known for its tony beach clubs and nightlife, but until now has lacked the kind of chic small hotel that would lure a more design-minded guest. Set a block back from the boardwalk, Principe has brought a 1960s Italy-meets-Miami aesthetic to the beach: Wood cube beds come with plush white linens, glass-box bathrooms have huge rain showers where curtains create a peekaboo effect, and custom-built sofas and chairs mix with white shag rugs. In addition to its own decked pool and cabanas, the 28-room property is affiliated with the area's only beach club (the Marechiaro), which has a great restaurant, white terry-covered chaises, and 28 gazebos staffed by majordomos. Principe also has a rooftop restaurant and lounge complete with a DJ, low (what else?) white sofas, and an illuminated fiberglass barall nods to sleek Miami counterparts. The service is uniformly professional. The main caveat is about the prices: Gazebos at the beach club cost an extra $210, and on the room service menu even a prosciutto-and-melon starter is a whopping $42.
Via Val di Luce
Val di Luce Abetone
Tel: 39 0573 60961
The ski-friendly Val di Luce in the Apennines stays true to its storybook mountain setting with materials like pine and travertine used throughout the open public rooms, library, and lounge bar. Yet the resort still pulls off a fresh design that's more sophisticated than rustic. The 77 rooms and suites, comfortable and contemporary with fluffy duvets and subdued plaid carpeting that breaks up the neutral tones, range in size from slightly cramped classic doubles to very spacious family suites that sleep four to six, many with well-equipped kitchens. Every room, however, has a balcony with mountain vistas, and bathrooms, while small, are attractively done in pine and marble. Though the Tuscan restaurant is pleasant and reasonable, the real treat here is the large and wonderful spa with several pools and a long list of sybaritic treatments. The dormered architecture of the resort curves around a central mini-version of I. M. Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre, and inside it is the spa's crystal pool, from which you can gaze at mountain views or a starry night.
Via San Cresci 31/32
Greve in Chianti
Tel: 39 055 884 0004
Not content with proving that a Scot could breeze into Florence, open a restaurant (Beccofino), and have Florentines themselves queuing up for a table, the indefatigable David Gardner has now moved into the hotel business with equal panache—and, so far, equal success. Inaugurated in the spring of 2006 in a baby-blue villa just outside the Chianti wine town of Greve in Chianti, the hotel comprises just ten bedrooms and suites—designed, like the rest of the place, by Florentine interiors wizard Riccardo Barthel. This is shabby-chic with the accent on the chic. Some rooms even feature flat-screen TVs encased inside antique mirrors. The garden, centering on a formal Italian section of box hedges, is a delightful refuge, and there's a decent-sized pool nestling amidst the olive groves. Gardner put one of his Beccofino chefs, Pugliese Francesco Fineo, in charge of the hotel restaurant: Fineo's contemporary Italian menu is based on local ingredients (some of them grown in Villa Bordoni's own kitchen garden) but not confined to Tuscan staples. It's an encouraging sign that the restaurant has already started attracting plenty of outside custom; and the hotel's cooking courses have also proved a hit. Another thing to like is Villa Bordoni's contained pricing policy: Finding a superior room of this quality at a low-season rate of $255 is a rarity in the increasingly expensive Chianti area.
Closed November-February (apart from the first week in January).
5 Via Cunicchio
Foiano della Chiana
Tel: 39 0575 660 410
On a rise overlooking the fertile Chiana valley, a few miles west of Cortona, this foursquare, blushing-pink villa was bought by three friends—two English, one Italian—and opened as a nine-room hotel in 2000. It's a stylish refuge, rejecting the usual Tuscan clichés in favor of a relaxed, urban look enlivened by some little scenic flourishes—four-poster beds with slender obelisks at each corner, transparent curtains of colored gauze—that betray the hand of one of the owners, Philip Robinson, production designer on such films as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Howards End (a risqué thank-you photo signed by the latter film's stars, Helena Bonham Carter and Emma Thompson, takes pride of place in the downstairs toilet). The convivial atmosphere is that of a country house weekend (complete with "dinner parties" for guests on Tuesdays and Fridays) except this weekend goes on all season, from mid-March through to the end of October. The swimming pool is a delightful lounging spot, especially at sunset. Three other smaller villas—one with its own pool, the other two share one—are available for weekly rental.
69 Via Empolese
San Casciano in Val di Pesa
Tel: 39 055 828 311
Il Poggiale, opened in 2003, is a welcome addition to the local scene; it's also excellent value for money by local standards. A 16th-century patrician villa with characteristic pietra serena entrance loggia and deep-red terra-cotta floors, this rambling family home has been transformed into a 22-room hotel that still has an intimate country house feel. There is nothing ostentatious about the place, but the makeover has been done with style and taste, with pastel-painted walls, Moroccan rugs, comfy silk-striped armchairs, and antique furniture finding a happy modus vivendi. There's a sense of space throughout, enhanced by the decision to leave plenty of communal areas—including a huge drawing room and a library—rather than squeeze more rooms out of the complex. It can get pretty chilly in winter, but the lovely long pool among the olive groves benefits from the breeze at the height of summer.
4 Via Doccia
Tel: 39 055 567 8200
Tel: 800 237 1236
There are those who rank this venerable luxe classic, now owned by Orient-Express, as the ultimate Grand Tour hotel. A former monastery, in part designed by Michelangelo, the 46-room property surveys the city from a lofty perch up in Fiesole, a villa-dotted hilltop village that has long been the Florentine aristo's favored refuge from the summer heat. It's San Michele's romantic setting that makes it such a perennial favourite—especially for weddings and honeymoons—with lemon trees on flower-edged terraces, a heated outdoor pool, and the elegant Loggia restaurant, which frames Florence and the Arno valley from an arcaded terrace. The rooms vary in size and aspect: Some are in the main building, others (such as the romantic Conservatory suite) hidden in the grounds. All are done out in an antique style that never feels gloomy thanks to summery magnolia-hued walls and opulent fabrics. Service is impeccable, and chef Attilio di Fabrizio's thrice-weekly Italian cooking classes are well worth signing up for. Despite the high price to stay here, expect to be charged for every little thing, except the shuttle bus that takes guests into central Florence in around 20 minutes.—Lee Marshall