If anyone needed to get away from it all occasionally, it was Grand Duke Leopold II. The well-intentioned ruler, who took the helm in Tuscany in 1824, found himself constantly striving to keep various warring factions from shooting, poisoning and stabbing each other. He also had 13 children. So it’s hardly surprising that he chose to spend his free time far away from Florence, at a secluded villa built when the Medicis were still in charge.
Almost 200 years on, Leopold’s country retreat has become L’Andana, a refined five-star resort with an internationally renowned spa and restaurant. Although much has changed since its former owner’s daythe tennis courts might have raised an eyebrow, and he would have been utterly bewildered by the jacuzzithe emphasis here is still on eating well and putting your feet up.
We arrived on a blazingly hot Thursday morning, after slugging it out at Stanstead for seats on a 6am flight to Pisa. While our bags were taken to our room, we sank into two of the capacious loungers arranged on the terrace and gazed longingly at the swimming pool, which shimmered like a mirage. The hotel’s grounds have been laid out informally, and there’s not a hint of the keep-off-the-grass stuffiness you so often find in smart hotels. At L’Andana, you can kip under an olive tree or take your Aperol Spritz for a walk down the tree-lined drive and no one will bat an eyelid.
Our room, the shuttered windows of which looked out over the swimming pool and vineyards beyond, was wonderfully cool and quiet, with a mosaic-tiled bath the size of a parking space. The idea of a long soak was hugely appealing, but I couldn’t linger, as I was booked into the spa for the L’Andana Signature Treatment. The next two hours saw my feet being slathered in lime, grapefruit and herbs from the garden, my back being buffed with sea salt and massaged with the estate’s own olive oil, and my face given the once over with Espa products. I padded back to the room in my robe and slippers feeling as though I hadn’t a care in the world.
If you’re in the mood to explore the surrounding area you can borrow bicycles or set off on horseback, but after our long journey we were feeling decidedly indolent. After a delicious lunch in a shady corner near one of L’Andana’s fountains, we repaired to the pool, and passed the rest of the day horizontally with our books. Our fellow guests were mostly well-to-do Italian families, with a smattering of Parisians down for le weekend. Leopold II may have been keen to leave the children at home, but youngsters are welcomed at L’Andanathere’s an excellent kids’ club, which means things never get rowdy.
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After an aperitivo at the bar (a charmingly casual setup in a conservatory that’s open until 11pm), it was time for the main eventdinner. L’Andana’s co-owner is multi-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse, of Dorchester and Plaza Athénée fame. Here, he presides over La Trattoria Toscana, a rustic-luxe affair that’s packed out every night. The minute the bread basket arrived, groaning with farinata (moreish chickpea pancakes), foccacia and slices of thick-crusted loaves, I knew we were in good hands. I polished off tempura zucchini flowers stuffed with crab, duck with a dark, rich cherry sauce and an indecently good hazlenut cake, whilst liberally sampling Badiola Estate wines chosen by the friendly sommelier. My companion, a vegetarian, munched his way through pappa al pomodoro and burrata-stuffed ravioli with a beatific smile on his face that put me in mind of the Mona Lisa. If we’d had a little more time on our hands, we would certainly have booked in for a L’Andana cookery class, during which guests learn how to replicate some of the restaurant’s signature dishes.
The next morning, we made sure we were up in plenty of time for breakfast. At L’Andana, as you’d expect from a hotel managed by a feted chef, this is a serious cut above your average hotel buffet. When we arrived, we were greeted by a feast fit for a Grand Dukebread still warm from the oven, freshly baked doughnuts, orange-flower brioches, cakes, yoghurt and cold meats. As I spread a slice of the chocolate loaf with L’Andana’s homemade marmalade, I wondered whether I could get away with deliberately missing my flight home- exactly, I imagine, how Leopold II must have felt when he contemplated his return to the hurly-burly of Florence.
L’Andana, Tenuta La Badiola, Località Badiola 58043 Castiglione della Pescaia, Grosseto (00 39 0564 944800; www.andana.it). Rooms from €550 per night.
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