Published by Telegraph Travel, November 2017
Villa di Piazzano, Umbria, Italy: 9/10
This superbly restored 15th century hunting lodge teeters on the Tuscany-Umbria border between Cortona and Lake Trasimeno. A sophisticated clientele return year after year for the unparalleled service, erudite mood and fine dining at one of the finest country house hotels in either region.
The exact location is up for debate: the postal address places the villa in Cortona, Tuscany, but Umbria’s official border lies approximately halfway down its tree-lined drive. Either way, having a foot in each region makes the villa is a convenient base from which to explore central Italy: Cortona is 10 minutes by car (7.5km/ 4.5 miles away) and within an hours’ drive are the towns and attractions of Arezzo, Montepulciano and Siena in Tuscany; and Perugia, Lake Trasimeno and Assisi in Umbria.
The Renaissance hunting villa was acquired and remade into an exquisite hotel by the Wimpole family of luxury hoteliers. Richly appointed with fine art and family antiques, the decor is luxurious, but not lavishly so, and original features (renovation works revealed frescoes, hidden cabinets and a Medici crest) have been faithfully restored. The villa itself is surprisingly petite, with a reception-come-lounge that leads to the breakfast room, a mint-green bar and romantic dining room. An elegant terrace overlooks the manicured garden and hills, and a handful of outbuildings house additional bedrooms and garden suites. There’s an old-world atmosphere throughout that’s at once refined and welcoming.
Service & facilities 9/10
Facilities include a cooking school (three classes a week; €140/ £124 per person) and a gift shop. There are complimentary activities scheduled throughout the week, including afternoon tea on the terrace on Thursdays, and guided tours of Cortona on Mondays. The pristine gardens are a delight to explore with a large pool set on a secluded lawn down from the terrace. Bicycles are available to borrow.
The team of elegant and long-serving staff are unfailingly charming, and will remember your name. Refreshments are presented during check-in along with a helpful orientation tour and assistance with luggage. It’s possible to communicate with reception via WhatsApp.
There are 30 bedrooms across the main villa and its outbuildings. The villa’s original footprint has been preserved as much as possible, so the rooms are spacious – especially those on the first floor (or ‘piano nobile’ – the noble floor) which have soaring ceilings and a grandiose guest sitting room. Garden rooms are also capacious but more contemporary and relaxed in style.
Each room has tea and coffee making facilities and complimentary bottled water, refreshed during a nightly turndown service. Junior suites benefit from an extended minibar with a selection of Tuscan wines priced from €20 (£18) per bottle. A generous selection of bathroom amenities are from Tuscan brand Erbario Toscano.
Food & drink 9/10
The restaurant is wonderfully enticing thanks to its romantic setting and convivial mood created mostly by confident and good-humoured staff. The menu reinvents Tuscan classics with a 0km philosophy and joyful approach to presentation; a starter of garden vegetables is an impossibly flavoursome riot of colour, while a take on classic beef tagliata melts in the mouth. The extensive wine list has some lovely stories to tell – of the local tailor who makes wine as a hobby, for example.
An artfully presented breakfast buffet includes freshly baked cakes and pastries, cereals, fruits, yoghurt, homemade jam, cured meats and cheeses.
Value for money 9/10
Rack rates from €200 (£176); closed during low season for maintenance. Breakfast is included.
Loc. Piazzano, 6, 52044 Cortona AR, Italy (+39 0575 174 3048; villadipiazzano.com)