Happy Place: Borgo Della Marmotta

I keep berating myself for telling everyone about this hotel. It’s the first place I recommend when anyone says they need a few days’ rest, a “non-touristy” break, some peace and quiet away from the rat-race and the smartphone addiction. I silently tell myself off for sharing it, for spreading the word and inviting people to my Borgo. My solace in the middle of Umbria, surrounded by 12,000 olive trees.

I discovered it by sheer stroke of luck 3 years ago. On my first wedding anniversary in July 2012, we had booked an outdoorsy/foodie/spa break in the Lake District, full of the best intentions to go hiking in the sunshine and enjoy the countryside in the British summer. Then something called the “jet stream” arrived. I still don’t know what that is/was but it basically meant that from April to August in 2012 there was barely a day without torrential rain. We didn’t want to spend our first anniversary freezing indoors and cooped up in a stuffy old English hotel playing Cluedo!

Cue emergency last-minute-short-break investigating for somewhere hot, reasonably priced and peaceful. After barely 30 minutes we found the Borgo. Described as “the kind of hotel you lose your heart to“, with homemade olive oil tasting, rustic food and converted farmhouse bedrooms, it sounded ideal. We booked straight away and have been back the following two years. I fully intend to make it an annual tradition.

On that first year, we didn’t quite appreciate how much we would love it. Even with intermittent work conference calls over our 4 days away, it still forced us to switch off and just be still. It’s not fussy frills and champagne. There’s no spa, no room service or 24 hour concierge. There are no distractions. It’s just beautiful scenery, simple and delicious food and hundreds of little corners to hide away with a good book and a glass of wine.

There are some little gestures of comfort: amongst the 20 rooms which have been refurbished from former 17th century farmhouses and stables, there’s an honesty bar in a beautiful and homely large barn-style living room, a new yoga suite and a little sauna. Every time we return there is something new, but it still feels like coming home, even for those we bring with us who haven’t been before. That comes from Filippo, the owner, and his wonderful mother treating all their guests like family. It feels like you’re staying with (very elegant and cultured) relatives, with their brood of dogs and family friends joining for aperitivo in the evenings.

Umbria is sometimes accused of suffering from little sister syndrome, overshadowed by the renowned beauty and lush greenery of Tuscany, sulking at its own yellow ochre parched rolling hills. But they share something of a golden glow whether or not there are clear blue skies or mean angry storms. Sadly we saw lots of those storms this year, but hiding in the living room on a big, sinkable couch and some wine you would rather be there than anywhere else.

The food in the region is typically delicious rustic fare, and so much more reasonable than in Tuscany. Sitting in the heart of the truffle turf, it is a regular feature on menus. Many of the local restaurants we go to for dinner are enchanting set-ups in the gardens of stone farmhouses that have been turned into remote and atmospheric locandas. Le Casaline and Locanda Rovicciano are some favourites that we’ve been going to since Year 1. Breakfast and lunch at the Borgo is a selection of fresh produce. There are no menus for lunch – the dishes change every day and are always light, healthy and full of ingredients that are mainly sourced on the Borgo’s land. Most recently you can have dinner at the Borgo most nights too.

Other options for dinner are in the little nearby towns and villages. This year went to Perugia, the main hub of Umbria, which is also lovely for a little less rustic charm and more of the mod-cons (i.e. there is a Zara). Tempio del Gusto is my favourite in Spoleto town, 10 minutes drive from the Borgo. The town itself is beautiful and full of windy cobbled streets, and if you go early enough in July it features in the Umbria Jazz Festival complete with fireworks.

I have annoyed myself again by sharing all of this. It’s my little slice of heaven and part of the charm is being entirely disconnected from familiar voices and faces. I’ve realised I just can’t stop urging people to visit the Borgo though, everyone should get to enjoy its charm. Just don’t tell anyone else.

 

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