The small town of Borgo Pignano, high on a hill in Tuscany, is extremely sublime and self-sufficient.
Not only does the wine come from its own vineyards, but rare pigs are allowed to roam freely in their forests before eventually becoming charcuterie. At breakfast, cut honeycombs dripping into small glass jars a few hundred yards from the drug’s beehives. The wheat grown in the lands below—the ancient, low-gluten grain Simolato Capelli—ends up on the table as bread and pasta.
Not bad when you consider that the owner of it all is a Cardiff boy.
Sarah Turner visits Borgo Pignano, a luxury country retreat in Tuscany that “feels thoroughly modern and still remarkably Renaissance.” Above is the property’s “show stop” swimming pool, which was built from a former quarry
The billionaire Michael Moretz was one of the first investors in companies such as Google and Yahoo. He has since turned to philanthropy, and he and his wife, novelist and sculptor Harriet Heyman, bought Borgo Peñano in 2000 when it was a block of dilapidated buildings surrounded by depleted farmland. It took more than ten years before it was ready to receive its first guests.
Today, with ingeniously hidden solar panels and a rainwater catchment area, it is a property that looks thoroughly modern and still remarkably Renaissance.
The prospects are great and so is the vision – it’s more than just agrotourism (the so-called agrotourism), it’s about rejuvenating an entire region.
Given the sense of opulence, room rates aren’t bad at all, from €300 a night (about £250), including breakfast.
View from the top of the hill, and on a good day the Mediterranean Sea can be seen from afar.
On the next hill is a plug-in viewing pool created from a former quarry – this part of Tuscany is famous for the limestone, especially the alabaster that fills the shops of historic Volterra.
There is also another children’s pool, along with carefully restored buildings, including a 12th-century castle (the Castillo), a chapel and a priest’s house.
With views over the vast, forested Castelvecchio Nature Reserve, it has the kind of landscape – green hills dotted with estates and avenues of cypress trees – that Leonardo da Vinci used as a backdrop for his paintings.
Pisa is an hour’s drive away, but once you’re here you can borrow bikes to explore the hilltop towns or hike to waterfalls, vineyards and orchards.
The Centrap in Borgo Pignano. Guests can enjoy views of the extensive Castelvecchio wood nature reserve
The ground floor of the Castillo opens onto a series of restaurants as well as lounges with squash benches and chess sets. Courtyards and French doors lead to the gardens. Follow the stairs and you’ll find pool tables and libraries.
Among the bedrooms and suites, Il Poeta may look small, but has a two-story bathroom with an armchair on top. Off one of the halls, an eccentric Marchesa has a secret entrance and an extra single room. Mine, Sala Musica, like the other rooms in the main building, has no TV, although it does have a full-sized grand piano in one corner. I went to sleep with the sound of owls.
Stefano Cavallini, who runs the Michelin-starred kitchen at London’s Halcyon Hotel, taught guests how to make ravioli with garden-picked sage and local ricotta cheese. Wood-fired pizza is served outdoors, fish is unloaded from nearby ports, and everything is sourced from the estate or local farms.
On the farm, Lisabetta produces drinks from wild herbs and flowers on the farm. Some end up with soap and shampoo in the rooms, others end up in the garden cocktail bar surrounded by lavender, butterflies and hardworking bees. I was excited when I planted a handful of beans and strawberries on my roof during lockdown. In Borgo Pignano it may be the same earthly chemistry, sunshine, rain and time, but it is on a much larger scale.
Sarah reveals that there are a few villas throughout the property – each with their own pools. Above is a bedroom in Villa La Lavandaia in Borgo Pignano
Another set of buildings houses a collection of classic Italian cars and scooters – not Ferraris and Lamborghinis, but bubble cars and beautifully restored Vespas.
There is an artist studio with Raphael emerging from the Royal School of Painting to work and educate guests. There are also horses for guests to ride, including a Shetland pony for children.
The first Borgo wine was produced in 2019 using ciliegiolo grapes and abrusco nero – “like the little-known actors in a family of stars,” says Raffaele, who oversees it all.
There is also the estate’s ‘Orta’, a market garden full of tomatoes, beans, onions and edible flowers. Nothing fancy, that’s for sure, but for food production in the most sustainable way, with rainwater catchment bogs and farming systems to naturally eliminate pests, but also tractor slits and fences to keep rabbits out.
Opposite the estate are a pair of villas – each with their own pools – and a small spa where treatments use ingredients from the property. But there is nothing more relaxing than sitting on the shady balcony with a chilled bottle of wine.
In the parks there are people playing chess, honeymooners, extended families and those just starting out.
If there’s one thing they have in common, it’s that they seem like people who prefer nature and elaborate meals to the latest high-tech gadgets in the rooms – even though the property’s wi-fi is powerful enough to penetrate foot-thick walls in ‘ an invisible but modern way. firm.
More important comparisons
Estate retreats are spread all over the world from Blackberry Farm in Tennessee to the Domaine des Etangs near Massignac in southwestern France.
In the UK, two other techies, Michael and Zucci Birch, who founded the early social networking website Bebo in 2005, are transforming the Devon town of Woolserie with a 90-acre farm that houses the town’s produce bar provided, while the 24-hour Rum Manor House will be ready in 2024 (Woolsery.com).
Just like with Borgo Pignano, great visions take time. But if you’re impatient with the new type of accommodation in Britain, head to The Newt in Somerset.
The Torridon Hotel (above) in Wester Ross, Scotland, has a two-acre kitchen garden that grows everything from baby broccoli to whitecurrants.
Pictured is The Torridon Suite at The Torridon, where breakfast doubles from £180 per night
It is the British sister of the South African property Babylonstoren Wine, which instead of merging vineyards on its 800 hectares, some of which are formed into a maze of completely British apples.
The 30-hectare farm is an integral part, with a colorful wheel of heirloom carrots, beets and other vegetables fed at both the informal Garden Café and the serious Botanical Rooms Restaurant.
The property is located away from Cold Comfort Farm, which has 23 rooms in the main house and more on the Farmyard which opened last year. Doubles with breakfast cost from £575 per night (thenewtinsomerset.com).
Harvard academic Gerald Chan was an early investor in pharmaceuticals before opening the 46-room Heckfield Place (pictured) in Hampshire in 2018.
Heckfield Place grows its own barley, wheat and spelt. Above are the beautiful estate gardens
Delicious dish created in Heckfield Place
In Scotland, the Torridon Hotel in Wester Ross has a two-hectare kitchen garden growing everything from baby broccoli to whitecurrants, with a planting corner for its own gin. Torridon Farm has a herd of Highland cows and Tamworth pigs that run the charcuterie in the family. Double with breakfast from £180 per night (thetorridon.com).
Harvard academic Gerald Chan was an early investor in pharmaceuticals before opening the 46-room Heckfield Place in Hampshire in 2018. He has an organic farm where a 70-strong flock of sheep is bathed in tea tree oil and, like Borgo Pignano, They grow. Special barley, wheat and spelt. Double with breakfast from £450 per night (heckfieldplace.com).
Falcon in Castle Ashby is owned by Lord and Lady Northampton, and when chef Russell Bateman wants certain vegetables, growers grow them within the property. Doubles with breakfast start at £169 per night (thefalcon-castleashby.com).
At The Falcon in Castle Ashby, farmers grow vegetables within the estate of chef Russell Bateman. Above is one of the guest rooms in the property
Sarah Turner was a guest on Borgo Pignano. The bed and breakfast costs from €300 a night (about £250), based on two adults staying in the villa (borgopignano.com). Return flights to Pisa with British Airways start from £81 (ba.com).