Life & Style | Home & Interiors

Rambling Italian villa given new life

A rambling Italian ruin has been lovingly transformed into an award-winning boutique hotel

  • By Charlotte Butterfield, Editor, InsideOut magazine
  • Published: 17:39 February 13, 2013
  • InsideOut

  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • A romantic dinner set up in the private candlelit grotto, a special extension of the hotel’s Valle Serena Restaurant.
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Twelve years ago, Danish couple Jeanette and Claus Grøn Thøttrup were exploring rural Tuscany, taking in the expansive views of unspoilt hillside and succumbing to the laid-back pace of Italian daily life, when they stumbled across a dilapidated ruin. This crumbling hamlet, Borgo Santo Pietro, ignited a fire in the couple, who immediately set about planning its restoration. “We fell in love with its pure beauty and energy,” Jeanette says. “We could imagine how it was when it was a working hamlet and we wanted to bring it back to life, the way it used to be, when it was a healing retreat for pilgrims to rest and recuperate.”

Fast forward to today and this boutique hotel has an ever-expanding list of accolades. It was recently crowned Best Overall Hotel at The Boutique Hotel Awards, achieved a sought-after inclusion in Tatler’s Best 101 Hotels and previously secured a spot on Condé Nast’s Hot List.

So how do you transform a rambling shack into a must-visit retreat? “I imagined what it would have looked like had it not fallen into ruin,” Jeanette explains. To restore the estate to its former glory, local craftsmen worked with artists and artisans from around the world, using traditional techniques in keeping with the property’s history.

“In the beginning it felt a bit like landing on a desert island and not knowing where to start,” Jeanette laughs. “As the project went on, it became easier; you have to start doing something, no matter what it is, and when the first step is taken, you can see what to do next.”

Their vision for the gardens and desolate fields surrounding the villa involved painstaking landscaping with 250,000 plants. Jeanette admits the elaborate scheme was at times quite overwhelming. “The garden was the biggest challenge. It was basically done by trial and error. There was nothing there before apart from a couple of old garden walls, but the calming and recuperative power of the place kept us clear on our long crusade!”

As Jeanette is an interior designer by trade and Claus is an accomplished property developer, the couple found the interior renovation easier than the landscaping. Determined to recreate the noble splendour the house once emanated, a huge amount of time and effort went into the design and decor. The hallway has medieval stone floors and Renaissance-period antiques have been brought in.

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Interestingly, Jeanette says that it was sometimes easier to source genuine Italian antiques in Paris, rather than Italy, as so many fine pieces have found their way into French auction houses. A case in point are the opulent chandeliers that are scattered throughout the hotel. “We bought them all from a French woman in Paris, who had spent her youth in Italy, so she knew exactly whom to approach and how to persuade them to part with their chandeliers. So, ironically, we got authentic Italian lights in France. Similarly, we bought two Italian consoles in Paris from a woman who had first sold them to a film crew to be used in The Barber of Seville. So although these consoles had to pretend to be Spanish for a while, they were originally from a castle in Tuscany, and we thought we needed to take them home.”

Jeanette and Claus were inspired to travel around Europe to search for paintings, just as the nobles who used to live in the main villa would have done. Every year they also commission an artist to visit over the winter months, to work on new trompe l’oeils, so the whole property is constantly evolving.

Borgo Santo Pietro is clearly more than a business for the couple, who say, “We love the quality of life here, everything has a slower pace and people are more relaxed. It is all about being together with friends and family and enjoying yourself.”

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