Sharon and Gary Kilby visits a heavenly oasis where the coast meets the country. Locanda al Colle is everything you could dream of in a Tuscan country house

Over the last 12 years of living in Italy I’ve been lucky enough to have visited some of the most beautiful country houses and boutique hotels as part of my job as a freelance writer and have been fortunate to have been thoroughly spoilt many times. From palaces on the grand canal in Venice to contemporary suites in Sardinia, 5-star wellbeing resorts in Puglia to sumptuous spas in Rome, I really thought I had seen the very best that Italy had to offer: I was wrong.

My husband and I were invited to the Camaiore area of Versilia. We took a lovely drive along the coast from Pisa, passing Viareggio and skimming Pietra Santa. We were going to Locanda al Colle, a country house situated on a hillside with mountains to the rear and the Mediterranean at the front and were keen to wind down a little away from our busy online lives attached to our iPads and mobile phones.

Beyond the entrance gate, the winding drive bought us into an oasis-like garden filled with an abundance of gorgeous scented plants, ancient olive trees and trailing roses. From the moment we walked up the sweeping stone steps we felt instantly relaxed and at home.

 

Locanda al Colle is not a hotel so to speak, although the level of service leaves some 5-star properties standing; it is a privately owned country house. That said, don’t be fooled, this is no agriturismo either. It is perfectly appointed and beautifully decorated throughout – here, muted colours and restful hues add to the sense of tranquillity, while bold, vivid artworks provide splashes of colour and a sense of joy.

The owner Riccardo Barsottelli personally oversaw every detail in the property’s total transformation. Seven years ago, he completed a truly stunning space that effortlessly combines super modern design details with original architecture, antique furnishings and contemporary artworks.

“Having noticed how an environment infused with art can improve a guest’s sense of wellbeing, we have created a new and exciting retreat for managing directors. The retreat is being hosted at Locanda al Colle in collaboration with Dutch artist and sculptor Ben Wijnen whose work can be seen in our gardens and interiors.

“‘Into The Mind’ is a five-day retreat where MDs can learn and gain inspiration through creativity. Guests will visit museums, galleries and gardens in Lucca and take part in a hands-on creative sculpture workshop.

“Success and productively in business can benefit from a fresh approach and the Into the Mind retreat will give those in high-powered roles the opportunity to think more intuitively and gain clarity.”

When it comes to dining, as a country house, there is no defined restaurant, but guests are invited to enjoy open kitchen evenings which are sociable events and held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Monday evenings there is an osteria-style meal with authentic home-made dishes such as crostini, soups and pasta. Michelin-trained Gian Luca is also on-hand for cooking lessons where you can learn the secrets of making traditional Tuscan food.

Riccardo explains, “I prefer not to think of Locanda al Colle as a hotel; it’s a country house. We want our guests to feel as though this is their Tuscan home from home, a place where they can switch off, relax and enjoy the good things in life.”

The expansive terrace that greets you on arrival is also an outdoor lounge and dining area. We were spoilt for choice of where to enjoy our welcome drink but chose a private corner in the ancient olive grove, adorned with lanterns and tealights with a far-reaching view of the valley below and the coast. With the sound of birdsong and the distant sound of mellow jazz wafting from the open French doors of the lounge, I genuinely felt unplugged. The atmosphere at Locanda al Colle is of reassuring luxury where life just seems so much less frantic.

The house itself is the epitome of good taste, not over styled yet certainly worthy of the cover of World of Interiors magazine. Striking pieces of sculpture and intriguing modern art can be found throughout the three-storey property where each floor has its own lounge area, filled with books and sumptuous sofas, perfect for retreating from the heat of the afternoon. The entrance lounge, dining room and open kitchen are interconnected adding further to the country house experience where guests can enjoy chatting with chef Gian Luca while he prepares his delicious home-made sour dough bread and organic pastries.

Our suite, on the second floor, felt more like a spacious apartment; beautifully furnished with a four-poster bed, we were greeted by fresh roses, a beautifully scented bedroom and welcome gifts. The suite featured its own entrance hall and intimate lounge, his and her bathrooms and, most magical of all, its own courtyard garden. Here I found an al fresco lounge, dining table and chairs, lanterns, rugs, cushions and even an outdoor shower. Resting beneath a jasmine-covered pergola, flanked by bay hedges and borders of flowering roses, agapanthus and oleander, I really had no choice but to succumb to Locanda al Colle’s spell.

Leaving my husband to read a book with his own personal view of a begonia-covered terrace I took some time to explore. Each room has its own terrace or garden area, some of which include wood burners, daybeds and hammocks, each having its own unique sense of contemporary cool. From our terrace I took a little path along the back of the house to the stunning pool and sundeck, the gateway of which rests beneath a weeping willow. The pool is totally private and just far enough away from the house itself. Passing several beautiful stone sculptures along the way I noted some double daybeds nestled on a secluded garden terrace; the perfect spot for honeymooners. Looping back up to the entrance terrace I met up with Riccardo to hear more of what is on offer to guests.

“We have many guests return time and time again to Locanda al Colle; they say it has a calming atmosphere where they somehow feel revived. This part of Tuscany is unique and enjoys the best of both the country and the coast. Guests here can choose to rest in the garden, by the pool or go to our private beach club just 10 minutes away. I think the art collections here also inspire guests to think more creatively and become more in touch with themselves again. Art inspires introspection and provokes reaction; this is healthy for the mind, body and soul. In such a busy world we all need to take time for creativity and beauty.”

Riccardo went on to tell me his plans for some exclusive retreats he is running this autumn.

“Having noticed how an environment infused with art can improve a guest’s sense of wellbeing, we have created a new and exciting retreat for managing directors. The retreat is being hosted at Locanda al Colle in collaboration with Dutch artist and sculptor Ben Wijnen whose work can be seen in our gardens and interiors.

“‘Into The Mind’ is a five-day retreat where MDs can learn and gain inspiration through creativity. Guests will visit museums, galleries and gardens in Lucca and take part in a hands-on creative sculpture workshop.

“Success and productively in business can benefit from a fresh approach and the Into the Mind retreat will give those in high-powered roles the opportunity to think more intuitively and gain clarity.”

When it comes to dining, as a country house, there is no defined restaurant, but guests are invited to enjoy open kitchen evenings which are sociable events and held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Monday evenings there is an osteria-style meal with authentic home-made dishes such as crostini, soups and pasta. Michelin-trained Gian Luca is also on-hand for cooking lessons where you can learn the secrets of making traditional Tuscan food.

Having soaked up the atmosphere of this heavenly escape and enjoying the soundest night’s sleep I’ve had in years, I thought things couldn’t really get any more comforting. Breakfast was another matter entirely, a total feast for the senses, even for a picky gluten-free foodie like me. An abundant buffet awaited us: cakes, pastries, croissants and muffins rubbed shoulders with warm focaccia, quiches, Valdostana and savoury flans. Fresh fruit, yoghurts and muesli were also on offer, as were numerous varieties of local cheeses and charcuterie, smoked salmon and organic eggs.

For me, a freshly made macchiato, two naughty slices of warm, flour-free almond cake, organic yoghurt and fruit salad marked a very happy ending to our visit to Locanda al Colle, but rest assured, before too long we will be back.

www.locandaalcolle.com