Tuscany is wonderful. There are maybe only three or four places in the world that are more beautiful than Tuscany, but none of them are so damningly near to our own bleak, grey island.
In Tuscany, tall cypress trees stand in long lines like great leafy quills, jabbed into the rolling green countryside by some unseen quill-collecting giant. Olive trees glide past the windows of your rental car as you wind around ancient walled towns and biscuit-brown villages. “Olives,” you say to your partner for the 50th time on the trip, as you point at what you suspect might be a grove. Olives indeed.
Where? Stay at Fontelunga Hotel & Villas, a beautiful guest house set in the quiet hills around Cortona, and run by lovely hosts Paolo and Philip, who discovered the wreck of a building in the year 2000 and promptly set about renovating it into the stunning boutique venue it is today.
The nine rooms are enormous, some contemporary, some classically styled, with an informal shared dining area downstairs that feels warmly communal. The service is the kind of service that doesn’t feel like service at all: cocktails and canapes are conjured upon arrival, nightcaps and chat about terrible 80s pop music before bed, and on-hand advice about things to do and places to visit in the area.
There are also two private, self-catering villas apart from the main house, with their own pool, available for couples or families looking for a little more seclusion.
Ask about: An afternoon trip to Avignonesi just a short drive away for a tour of the vineyard and its cellars. They’ll let you ride around Tuscany in a hot air balloon, or on horseback, though not both at the same time.
The food: Nearby La Lodola restaurant is a reminder that pasta in Italy is nothing like the stuff you pick up on your Tesco shopping run. Fresh, local ingredients are used to create simple, flavoursome dishes.
Top tip: Three generations of dogs live at Fontelunga, and all of them will sleep on your lap given half the chance.