With the coveted white truffle now in season just in time to grace the tables of the most discerning gourmets, it's the perfect time to visit Tuscany. I firmly believe this delicacy tastes even better when you hunt for it yourself, which is what I set out to do during my recent visit to Borgo Pignano.
Sitting in the heart of Tuscany on a hilltop between two fertile valleys in the Val d’Elsa region, this 750-acre country estate is a unique combination of a luxury resort with a beautifully restored 18th century mansion at its center surrounded by eco farmland and woods, which allows the hotel to be almost fully self-contained.
The term ‘borgo’ (‘hamlet’ in Italian) dates back to Etruscan times. Former farm workers lived in cottages (some of which have been restored and now serve as accommodation for bigger groups of guests or families) whereas couples and singles stay in the main mansion.
The resort is within easy driving distance from the historical towns of Volterra and San Gimignano and is located about 40km north of Siena. We flew into Bologna and, as we didn’t hire a car, took the train to another pretty medieval town called Poggibonsi and then a taxi from there, which we discovered was a wise choice because the road is winding and the sign posting isn’t all that great, so unless you have a GPS you might get lost!
As soon as we set off, we were enchanted by the woods and the gorgeous countryside views. The resort’s entrance is marked by an impressive arch, which sets the scene for grandeur.
Upon arrival, our rooms weren’t ready, so we were led through the vast, immaculate gardens to a terrace overlooking a rock pool, which guests were swimming in – even in October! From next year on, the pool will be heated, for those who aren’t as brave.
While we waited, we were treated to our first taste of Tuscan cuisine with delicious products produced entirely on the farm and in the greenhouses, including a hearty barley soup topped with grated cheese and a sprinkling of white truffle.
The ground floor houses the reception and an adjacent cozy courtyard, the dining room, living room and - a great highlight - a library with hundreds of books in several languages. As the charming general manager, Oriol, explained, Borgo Pignano wants its guest to enjoy tranquility and nature, avoiding modern gadgets wherever possible. Hence there is no TV and no key cards for the rooms. Hot water and heating are provided by solar cells and the only nod towards modern day communication is the availability of fast WiFi. So, if you’re looking to get away from it all, this is the place.
The rooms are vast and beautifully furnished, with wooden floors, antique rugs and a bathroom with a rain shower and a great variety of goodies, all made in ‘laboratories’ on the premises.
After we had settled in, we were treated to a tour of the estate and were amazed to see how much more there is to Borgo Pignano than just a luxury hotel. We viewed the rolling fields and the green houses, the beehives where their own honey is produced, six pigs in a huge enclosure in the woods happily snuffling away and horses, ponies and chickens. We also stopped by the aforementioned laboratories to see honey making, production of scented candles and creams and even the grinding of flour for the home baked bread, much of which is made by hand.
For dinner guests have a choice between a private table in the fine dining restaurant or, for those who like to mingle with other guests, a communal table in a beautiful dining room with a vast fireplace. In the summer al fresco dining is arranged in the garden.
Above: Communal Dining in the Medieval room. Below: Villa Pignano restaurant.
Truffle hunting at Borgo Pignano
The next day we embarked on the adventure we had come for - truffle hunting. We were met by two professional and licensed truffle hunters, Daniele and Alessio and, most importantly, their cute truffle dog Pato.
Off we went into the woods, over fallen trees, roots and slippery leaves and after only a few minutes, Pato became excited, starting to scrabble, with his snout under the roots of a chestnut tree. Lo and behold, he had found a truffle! At a command of Daniele, he immediately stopped and turned away, so he could dig out the white gold with his hands and a special instrument called vanghino. We were warned that we might not find any truffles, but luck was with us and within the two hours we spent in the woods, we collected no less than five truffles.
In the evening in the communal dining room we enjoyed our bounty, shaved over a rich risotto prepared by chef Vincenzo Martella who revealed his favorite truffle dish is fried eggs and mashed potatoes with shaved truffles and then mixed with the half liquid yolk. He even recommends adding truffles to desserts such as tiramisu or zabaglione.
If you can’t make it during the truffle season, which ends on 15 November when the resort closes, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy including horseback riding (for all levels), a midnight picnic (when there is a full moon), hiking in the woods or indulging in a treatment in the spa.
Venturing further afield
Excursions to other Tuscan treasures such as Florence, Volterra, San Gimignano and the ochre city of Siena are easily within reach. If you don’t have a rental car, the resort is happy to arrange cars and drivers on your behalf.
We couldn’t think of a more relaxing and luxurious venue for a taste of an authentic Tuscan heaven.
Rates start at €310 per night based on a double room including breakfast. Prices vary based on room selection and season. Children are welcome at the resort. Dogs are also welcome, however, they’re only allowed in the villas, not in the main mansion or in the dining rooms, gardens or pool areas. Bicycles and Nordic walking sticks are available upon request.
A summary of our stay at Borgo Pignano
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