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With its sun-washed walls and quiet elegance, it’s hard to pick out Villa Bordoni as the first and, so far only, four-star hotel in Tuscany’s Chianti Fiorentino area.
“Despite drawing so many tourists every year, this area is surprisingly lacking in infrastructure,” says Glasgow-born David Gardner, who bought the crumbling patrician villa five years ago with his wife, Catherine.
After a three-year restoration, Villa Bordoni opened last year even though Gardner, the owner of iconic Florentine restaurants Beccofino and Baldovino, had no experience in the hotel game. But he wasn’t deterred. Instead, he drew on his years of experience as a tour guide, during which he developed a sixth sense for the lodging business.
“As a foreigner myself, I know what our guests are looking for,” says the cheerful and cordial Gardner. “I expect them to require top-quality service, yet a special, unique atmosphere.”
Villa Bordoni has that in spades, with its cozy rooms framed by hand-stitched coarse linen curtains, canopy beds with sheets especially sewn for the hotel, refurbished terra-cotta floors and hand-painted Vietri tiles. Architect André Benaim and interior designer Riccardo Barthel helped restore the property: An old gate is transformed into a lamp, and a carved-wood door, into a headboard. Located in Località Mezzuola, just outside Greve in Chianti, the villa stems from a guard tower dating back as far as the year 100. In the Middle Ages, it evolved into a monastery, and finally became the Bordoni family’s 17th-century private villa. An impressive cellar dug out from the rocks, which was formerly a prison, and a chapel still remain. Covering more than 13 acres, the estate includes a garden of more than 750 olive trees.
Villa Bordoni’s coat of arms captures the Anglo-Tuscan essence of the hotel: Just as a thistle and a vine leaf stand for Scotland and Chianti, respectively, the hotel’s design combines inspirations from both those regions with a shabby-chic touch, starting with the sun-bleached facade. Rustic garden chairs with faded pink linen cushions sit in the restaurant on the ground floor, while upstairs, indigo velvet sofas envelop guests in front of a fireplace recovered from a set from the film studio Cinecittà, and a TV set is framed within an oversize antique mirror. “I love the feeling of decayed grandeur and elegance, luxurious elements juxtaposed with peasant ones, harking back to a Lord Byron/Grand Tour era,” says Gardner.
Despite being nestled away in the Tuscan hills off a winding dirt road, and doing no advertising, the hotel’s 11 rooms have been booked solid since it opened. Room rates range from 230 euros, or $333.50 at current exchange, to 290 euros, or $420.50, a night, up to 310 euros, or $450, for a suite, including breakfast.
Given his culinary experience in Florence, where Gardner managed six restaurants in the Nineties, the cuisine at Villa Bordoni is a priority. Chef Francesco Fineo, who also worked at Beccofino, is an “all-rounder,” according to Gardner, excelling at both fish and meat, but also capable of turning out an entirely vegetarian meal. “We make our own pasta and the meat is butchered here,” notes Gardner.
Fineo holds cooking classes in the villa’s kitchen, which he and Barthel personally designed, and makes ample use of the produce from the villa’s own vegetable garden. Once a week, the students are taken to a simple farming family for more rustic cooking lessons, learning about Italy’s typical “poor” recipes: fettunta, based on bread and olive oil, for example, or ribollita, a mix of vegetables and beans.
But the opening of Villa Bordoni doesn’t mean Gardner is neglecting his other restaurants. He’s busy revamping Beccofino after he bought out his former partners in 2006 due to disagreements over management, and he doesn’t rule out opening more hotels.
“I like property development,” he says. “It’s my perfect fit—as if I had done it in a former life.”