Il Borro: A Tuscan Dream Brought to Life
VALDARNO, Italy, September 20, 2016 – Il Borro is an exotically intoxicating 5 star luxury resort set in an exquisitely restored 11th century medieval village and the sprawling grounds of the former palace of the Duke of Savoy in the heart of the Tuscan hills outside the ancient towns of Valdarno and Arezzo.
This extraordinary and acclaimed Relais & Chateaux property literally transcends time and space to transport each guest into the incomparable feeling of living in a self-contained Tuscan village 1000 years ago.
Owned by the Ferragamo fashion family since 1993, Il Borro has transformed the family estate through their dedicated passion for restoring the glory of Tuscan tradition throughout the property, from the 19th century villa, to the vineyards and olive groves, to the original 500-year old wine cellar.
They have invested uncounted resources across the decades to restore the entire 11th century medieval mountaintop hamlet to a pristine collection of 30 individual suites in an atmosphere that is simply astonishing at every turn.
The result is a private Colonial Williamsburg or an Italian St. Paul de Vence without the thronging masses, indeed, filled with serenity and quiet beauty on a grand scale of design and luxury.
Once the ancestral home of the legendary aristocratic dal Borro family, and then the home of the Duke of Savoy for much of the 20th century, the property is divided between the fully renovated 19th century Grand Villa and a stone bridge connecting the Villa with the restored medieval village.
Il Borro sits on 1700 acres of vineyards and olive groves, and in addition to a stunning unique world class resort, also produces a collection of sensational Tuscan wines, olive oil, and honey.
The winery is renowned for its outstanding Super-Tuscan blend and its 100% Sangiovese Polissena. They also produce a lovely Chardonnay and a very limited supply of a desert wine. Their wines can only be found in restaurants or ordered directly from Il Borro, and they gladly ship to the United States.
Il Borro is tucked away on a crucial strategic hilltop in the midst of the Tuscan countryside, in the shadow of the Valdarno hills.
The massive front gates swing open to reveal horses in open pastureland on either side of the long driveway, leading past the sleekly designed low slung winery to the guest reception area.
The Grand Villa Il Borro is a gorgeous self- contained 19th century aristocratic extravaganza that sleeps 20, with three stories of sumptuous accommodations that can only be called extraordinary.
Partially destroyed during World War II it has been immaculately restored to perfection with a stunning vaulted dining room, crystal chandeliers, opulent bed chambers and antique furnishings.
Views from the Grand Villa look down across the medieval hamlet, to the Tuscan mountains to the east, and the valley below to the west.
On the bottom floor of the Villa is a full scale Victorian billiard parlor as well as a magnificent white stone terraced indoor swimming pool set under a series of beautifully vaulted arches.
The Villa is the centerpiece of a four-acre upper parcel filled with gardens, fountains, and sweeping lawns, along with a discreet private outdoor swimming pool set on the edge of a sprawling yard.
Next door is the Ferragamo family home, a beautiful low slung white two story mansion with an ancient chapel attached.
The level of luxury at Il Borro, and the single mindedly unique Villa, with its historic presence as the palace of the Duke of Savoy, is a perfect place for a luxurious wedding, birthday, or any other spectacular special event.
A small car whisks Il Borro’s guests from reception past the Grand Villa and across the 11th century stone bridge to the fully restored medieval village that is at the heart of Il Borro’s accommodations. The tiny car is necessary as the stone bridge and the streets of the hamlet are so narrow.
30 luxury suites are spread out across the village, and the restoration process is a continuing one, with another half dozen suites currently undergoing renovation.
The Marta Terrazzo villa is a fabulous one-bedroom suite with wooden beamed ceilings, a cozy living room with fireplace, plush furnishings, a large bath, and like all 30 suites, each is completely unique from all the others.
It has its own spacious terrace granting views of the Tuscan mountains, the Grand Villa on the hill across the gorge, and maintains the glorious air of living in luxurious antiquity.
The quality of the restoration is beyond meticulous, the creation of Il Borro a decades long labor of love, and the resulting restored medieval village has a charm and authenticity enhanced by a number of boutiques and shops.
Jewelers, a hatmaker, photographer, shoe store, a handicraft and artifact store, among others, are scattered in little shops throughout the hamlet, and there are several exhibits examining life in the ancient village.
This includes a scale model of how the hamlet looked in the 11th century, as well as an exhibit on the fairy tale Pinochio, set in a workshop that could easily have belonged to Geppetto.
At the top of the village is a lovely ancient church dating to the 12th century, now fully restored, where weddings can be held.
Il Borro also has 5 luxury farmhouses and two opulent villas in locations off the main property that are available for rental and provide for a special Tuscan experience, and even more privacy, including the lovely Villa Chiocci Alto in the hills above the estate.
The Spa at Il Borro is a wonderful garden spot across the village road from the Grand Villa, and is the perfect place for a romantic couples massage in their subterranean spa bath and steam room.
Sara, the spa manager, and her partner perform a spectacular dual massage that transports the mind and body even as it relieves the inner soul. There is also a fully equipped gym, and a casual restaurant for light snacks and wine.
Visitors to Il Borro can enjoy horseback riding, golf, regional wine tastings, and of course, the concierge will happily arrange any form of activity in the surrounding area, including guided tours to nearby Arezzo, Cortona, and Sienna.
For those who like to avoid the traffic there is a private airstrip on the property itself, that also accommodates helicopter traffic. The quality and caliber of the clientele of Il Borro would seem to demand it.
Il Borro has two fabulous restaurants set in a building just below the Grand Villa. Tuscan Bistro is their casual restaurant, on the ground floor, next to the wine cellar, and is where breakfast is served each morning.
The sensational fine dining restaurant, Osterio del Borro, occupies the second floor with sweeping views of the hamlet across the gorge.
Dinner at Osteria del Borro is a wonderful affair in a beautiful setting where a first rate staff creates an evening in culinary paradise with precision and charm.
The precociously talented 25-year old Sommelier wunderkind, Leonardo, explains the character of Tuscan wines and how the Sangiovese grape has different qualities when it is grown in Chianti, or Montelpulciano, or Montalcino, or here on the estate of Il Borro.
Executive Chef Andrea Campani is a brilliant presence in the gleaming glass-walled kitchen, executing contemporary takes on classic Tuscan cuisine with true panache, creating subtle textures and flavors, elegant and original, but also delivering an earthy Tuscan bistro edge when the cuisine calls for it.
Marinated wild boar with mushrooms, Jeruselum artichoke and mixed berries is phenomenal, the boar a juicy but perfectly aged medium rare, the sauce a revelation of taste with each morsel.
Wild boar in its many perambulations is a staple throughout Tuscany, but rarely if ever has it tasted better than at Osteria del Borro on this evening, so much so that even now it reverberates in the taste buds of the mind at the mere mention of it.
Red Mullet wrapped in black cabbage with a pumpkin puree is ridiculously tasty, the mullet crisp but tender, the sauce a fabulous counterpoint to the cabbage.
Carnarolli rice with beetroots, buffalo mozzarella and tonic water is a resplendent display of Chef Campani’s presentation and talents, a fabulous signature dish that is as exhilarating to eat as it is to look at.
Spiced venison with red wine and black cabbage is a classic Tuscan take on wild game, a lusciously tender filet punctuated with a delightful wine sauce.
A bottle of Il Borro Polissena, a full bodied, fruit forward, 100% Sangiovese wine, is a magnificent accompaniment to the evening and especially to the deer.
Rockfish and tomato with roasted artichokes and artichoke mayonnaise is crisp and succulent, the textures and flavors invoking a subtle explosion of taste.
A collection of tantalizing deserts arrive in sequence, followed by the gentle soothing afterglow that accompanies an evening of culinary joy, as the night winds down before walking though the golden moonlight, across the stone bridge, and up the hill to the medieval village.
That glowing walk, one of the tranquil delights of Il Borro, is repeated on another night after a casual dinner at the Tuscan Bistro downstairs from Osteria del Borro.
A different menu, with a simplified emphasis, cooked by the same kitchen, reveals a more basic approach to classic Tuscan food, but with equally exceptional execution.
Rosemary Pappardelle with duck sauce is extraordinary, and not to be outdone is the exquisite risotto with fresh fava beans and pecorino cheese.
A whole baked seabass fillet with olives, tomatoes, capers and zucchini is proof that the level of cuisine in their casual restaurant is as exceptional and unique as its upstairs neighbor.
A tour of the winery is a walk through the history of Il Borro, and also has a fantastic fine art exhibit acquired by the Ferragamo family in its collection of significant pieces of art related to wine and the ancient God Bachus.
Artworks by Manet, Rembrandt, and Warhol adorn the walls as well as hundreds of ancient etchings and ink block prints.
The winery tour continues into the wine cave, down a fascinating two dozen meters underground, sauntering through tunnels lined with oak casks filled with wine, for a special tasting of a series of Il Borro wines in a subterranean chamber.
Fortified from the tasting, the tour ends up in the massive original wine cave used by the dal Borro family and the Duke of Savoy, among others, for 500 years between 1490 and today, before emerging from the ground under the Grand Villa.
Three days at Il Borro is a fully immersive experience, revealing the authentic charm of a resort that is truly removed, beautifully serene, in the heart of the gorgeous Tuscan countryside, and in the shadow of the glorious Valdarno hills.
A final breakfast and a walk back to the village suite is wistful, long moments spent gazing at the beauty all around from the terrace of the room.
When the mini car comes and it is actually time to leave it is as if time itself had been crossed and suspended, if only for three days, and returning to our car was returning to the modern reality outside the property that must now be resumed.
Il Borro is a jewel in the crown of Relais & Chateaux 5-star luxury hotel experiences. Creating a world unto itself that is an island of calm in a sea of storms, it is, indeed, a Tuscan wonderland that awaits just around the bend, and thru the iron gates of another time and space.
Classic suites start at about $350 a night, Superior rooms are around $400 per night, Deluxe suites are about $450, while Prestige suites start at around $500 a night. Villa Cassetta in the Merlot vineyards starts at around $1500 a night, while Villa Chiocci Alto in the Tuscan hills is available for about $2200 a night.
Accommodations and pricing at the Grand Villa Il Borro is available from the property upon request.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles. @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal