THOUSANDS of British holiday makers flock to Chianti for the wine but they don’t usually expect to bathe in it. The spa at the Borgo San Felice brings together the region’s best produce – fine Chianti wine and olive oil – and introduces them to its guests in a number of locations including the spa. I started with the vinotherapy experience, a bath of essences from the surrounding winery. The products are rich in polyphenols, which I am told will regenerate my skin. To finish: an olive oil massage.
I stroll through the old buildings that make up the Hotel Borgo San Felice. It’s a slice of terracotta heaven with tiny cobbled streets, its own chapel, 29 rooms and 17 antique-furnished suites. The hamlet roasts in golden sunshine.
Dating back to the 8th century, it is the only hotel in Chiantia Classico region with a winery. It was formerly owned by the noble Del Taja family from Siena who settled in the manor house in the heart of the village, now home to the hotel, restaurant, spa and wine cellar. The farm estate and winery offers guests the opportunity to sample the wines made on site, including Poggio Rosso (also the name of the hotel’s restaurant), one of the signature wines of Chianti Classico.
Tuscany is as much about the food as it is the wine. Michelin-starred chef and local Tuscan Francesco Bracali creates a whimsical menu for me, doodling his concepts in the margin of a sheet of paper: a small plate here, a pile of ingredients there. His dishes range from the fanciful (a “cappuccino” of artichoke with salt cod tripes) to the rustic (traditional Tuscan fare such as veal cheeks braised in milk) and it never disappoints.
The region may have long been a summer bolt hole for Brits but its secrets are being discovered by a wider audience. When I visited, management were awaiting the arrival of a Russian helicopter to recce the place for a huge society wedding. The hotel has also seen a huge increase in bookings from Brazilians following the popularity of a Brazilian TV soap opera set in Tuscany.
It’s a challenge to prise myself from the cellars and the spa, but 15 kilometres down the road is Siena, famous for the twice yearly Palio races. I prepare for my visit by watching the Bond film Quantum of Solace, which opens with dramatic scenes of one of the 2007 races. The beautiful fan-shaped Piazza del Campo at the heart of Siena has barely changed since the thirteenth or fourteenth century. It’s hard to imagine on a sleepy spring Wednesday that later this year over 28,000 spectators will watch ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the colours of 17 city wards hurtle around.
Back at the Borgo, it is time to watch the sun set over the Tuscan vineyards and make for the cellars. There’s one last glass of Poggio Rosso with my name on it.
The Hotel Borgo San Felice is now owned by German insurance giant Allianz, and is a member of the Relais & Chateaux hotel group
HOTEL BORGO SAN FELICE
53019 Castelnuovo Berardenga (Siena)
tel 0577 3964
Double rooms at Borgo san Felice cost from €336 (£285), for two people sharing a double room, including breakfast and all taxes.
A number of airlines fly to Florence, the nearest airport to Borgo San Felice, including budget airline Vueling, which flies from Heathrow www.vueling.com and
City Jet (cityjet.com) which flies from City airport.