A once-in-a-lifetime experience (and much cheaper than a divorce)
Borgo Santo Pietro in Tuscany is hands-down one of the poshest, most beautiful and all-round amazingly picturesque places you could imagine
Borgo Santo Pietro: charming loveliness
Ten years ago, we got hitched in the back garden but in the months leading up to the Big Day I got entirely freaked out about the cheesiness of a proper “honeymoon”. Exotic hotels in farflung places promised dazzling sunsets, Champagne kisses and truly romantic walkways. It seemed entirely possible one’s feet would touch nothing but sandy beaches and rose petals. The ubiquitous offer of chocolate-covered strawberries, couples’ massages and hot-air-balloon trips tipped me over the edge. The couples in all the pictures looked so gooey-eyed and adoring. How could it not end in bitter divorce?
It all sounded way waaaaay too much, so we settled on a couple of nights in torrential Waterford (soothed by a delicious dinner in The Tannery) followed by a few days in sunny Seville. Fast-forward to 10 years later and although the faux romanticism of that kind of holiday still terrifies me, I wanted to do something to mark this monumental test of time – 10 flipping years. How did that happen?
Tuscany is somewhere I know I love despite the fact I have barely spent any time there. Mr Kemp – I hope he doesn’t read this – speaks pretty good Italian, which is, as far as I am concerned, one of the best reasons to get married in the first place. For years, I had been eyeing up the Borgo Santo Pietro, near Siena in the heart of Tuscany. One of the few mailing lists that no amount of GDPR was going to remove me from, the waiting finally paid off and a two-night, all-in mega deal was pounced upon.
You’ll understand why as soon as you look at the pictures on the website. This is hands-down one of the poshest, most beautiful and all-round amazingly picturesque places you could imagine. We spent two nights there, which converted to at least a week in terms of relaxation and weight gained. So often what you see online and what you end up getting are two entirely different things, but for once I was not disappointed.
We flew into Florence and got the bus into town before spending one night in an Airbnb en route to our final destination. In many ways, I wish we’d ditched that night in favour of a third in the Borgo . . . not having enough time to find the cooler parts of Florence, we ended up being lazy and strolling up the main drags, dodging tourists and the overcrowded smell of defecation and mass tourism. We couldn’t wait to get to Borgo.
My reluctance to eat carbohydrates disappeared on the first bite of the oven-roasted pizza I had for lunch on arrival. Charred dough, heaving with the perfect proportion of crushed tomatoes, homemade sausage from the farm (of course), rosemary and mozzarella plus lashings of their own olive oil and a delicious glass of Tuscan Chardonnay and I was smitten. In fact, I still regularly dream about it.
The rooms were ridiculously sumptuous. The grounds stunning and the spa just the right side of obvious: it was there to enjoy, but not in an “in your face” kind of way, the way so many golfing/luxury spa break hotels try to ram down your throat. Sure, you could go wild with activities (hot air balloons, cooking classes, taking a Vespa out for the day) but you could also be cheap and cheerful, borrow some bicycles or stroll around the 200 acres of rolling fields and 13 acres of organic gardens, which is exactly what we did each evening.
We also stumbled upon a little river to swim in, although the staff were vaguely horrified at the thought of swimming in such barbaric temperatures. We tried to explain the sheer torturous temperature of the Irish Sea, to no avail. So for both nights after cycling around the Tuscan hills, we strolled through the fields at sunset and then dipped into a deliciously cool stream before plodding back to our impeccable rooms, covered with muck but delighted with ourselves.We even played a game of middle-aged tennis and relished the fact the DVD library actually contained DVDs other than scratched copies of Mulan or The Little Mermaid.
Staff could not have been more gracious or welcoming. Despite the fact that we were on a super tight budget-offer with them – arriving by bus, rather than Maserati – we were never made feel like second-class citizens. A true sign of the best kind of hospitality.
Much of the food is grown on their farm – the simplest of salads oozed with fresh flavours and they have two restaurants on site, although both are eye-wateringly expensive. The fine dining restaurant was perfect for one night and although it got quite fussy in the way that most Italian Michelin-star restaurants can get (like overpriced footballer’s hairstyles), it was still a lovely experience.
But for me, the real standout food was in their casual restaurant with homemade pizzas, pasta and delicious salads with leaves just picked that morning. The entire cafe was built around this beautiful oak tree that made you feel like you were dining in the most exquisite treehouse. The food was dead simple and unfussy, complemented by a wonderful selection of Tuscan wines.
If we had unlimited funds and special anniversaries each year, we would be regulars. But I would argue that this kind of place – a bit like a Tuscan Ballyfin – is a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience of charming loveliness. And much, much cheaper than a divorce. So, get on their mailing list and if you get a chance, go.