British tourists may have given Tuscany its "Chiantishire" epithet, but the appeal of converting rustic, historic properties into chic tourist accommodation is apparently universal. The Danish-owned newcomer Borgo Santo Pietro enters a market already groaning with luxury hotels; that it stands out from the crowd is because it perfectly strikes that tricky balance between luxury and informality.
In much of Tuscany's high-end accommodation, an atmosphere of stuffiness suffuses the opulence. Borgo Santo Pietro's welcoming ambience in part recalls the villa's past: 800 years ago it served as a resting place for pilgrims en route to Rome. Today, however, it's a temple of comfort for rather more indulgent travellers.
Radiating elegance and comfort the hotel – which opened last summer – is the result of an eight-year labour of love on behalf of owners Jeanette and Claus Thottrup. They bought the house to live in, but soon decided that it was far too special to keep to themselves. A meticulous restoration has subsequently transformed the property into a country-house style retreat with seven bedrooms, a spa, a freshwater infinity swimming pool and 13 acres of mature Tuscan gardens – all surrounded by inspiring views of the countryside.
The couple enlisted Thomas Brieghel, a fellow Dane, to run the kitchen and the result is a menu where classic Italian cookery meets superlative comfort food. You might chose a local favourite such as the slow-roast loin of Chianina beef with white bean hummus, morels and carrots for dinner – or you might prefer to lounge beside the turquoise pool, in which case you can opt for one of Thomas's melt-in-the-mouth Chianina beef burgers.
All the food is prepared using local free-range meat; the organic vegetables, herbs and fruit are all grown on-site. The prices, meanwhile, reflect the opulent surroundings: about €25 for a starter or €38 for a main course.
Guests can also try wine-tastings in the hotel's impressively stocked cellar. It excels, naturally, in Tuscan vintages, ranging from a €60 bottle of Gaja Magari to a 2001 Sassicaia for €210. Any subsequent feelings of disorientation can be shaken off with a ride through the countryside; mountain bikes are available for exploring the locality, including the ruined Abbey of San Galgano, one of only a handful of Gothic Cistercian buildings in Italy.
Borgo Santo Pietro, Locanda Palazzetto, Chiusdino, Tuscany, Italy (00 39 05 7775 1222; borgosantopietro.com). High in the hills of the beautiful Valle Serena, Borgo Santo Pietro is a perfect base for cultural exploration – an easy two-hour drive from Pisa, an hour from Florence and 30 minutes from Siena.
Time from international airport: Pisa airport, served by many airlines from the UK, is around two hours' drive away. To arrive in style, arrange to be picked up by Borgo's own chauffeur (the journey costs €190 one-way including champagne and drinks). Alternatively, take the train from Pisa to Florence or Siena (trenitalia.com). Hotel transfers cost €145 from Florence or €60 from Siena.
From the ornate bathroom fittings to the glittering chandeliers, the hotel is exquisitely designed throughout. The rooms all have antique fireplaces, hand-carved beds and antique furniture, but there are discrete touch-sensitive lighting and iPod docks too. The large Villa Serena suite is painted in evocative blues and golds, with a free-standing bath in one corner; the Giardin de Fiori room boasts an antique double bed, mahogany writing desk and 18th-century Gobelin sofa, as well as views over the villa's flower garden.
The gardens themselves are an especial delight, filled with fountains, pools, scented rose gardens and flower-filled avenues. There's also an excellent spa in an adjoining building which offers an extensive list of beauty treatments and massages, all using Comfort Zone natural products. The owners have made sure that children have plenty to do as well, with a tennis court, playground and a sunken trampoline – all sensitively located towards the back of the grounds.
Freebies: the beautifully packaged Italian organic products in all the rooms are from Erbario Toscano and include shampoo, conditioner, bath foam, shower gel and body lotion.
Keeping in touch: the rooms have plasma TVs and DVD players hidden behind paintings. There are also iPods loaded with a variety of music in each room and there is free Wi-Fi access in the common areas.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms start at €335, including breakfast – or you can rent the whole villa for an eye-watering €43,000 per week (including staff but not food and drinks).
I'm not paying that: Villa Fontelunga is a contemporary restoration of a Tuscan villa in Arezzo (00 39 05 7566 0410; fontelunga.com). Doubles from €179, including breakfast.