It’s Tuscany with a twist

Bess Manson leaves the noisy city behind to explore the quieter side of rural Tuscany.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 28th July 2011, 10:24 am

It’s not your typical rustic hotel, they warned us as we wound our way up the gentle hill rising out of the Tyrrhenian Sea in Tuscany. Instead of terracotta, wrought iron and ancient sandstone buildings, we must think modern, cutting-edge design, a taste of 21st century Italy.

I felt uneasy because I love the rustic and ancient heritage of typical picture-postcard Tuscany. But as we approached Argentario Golf Resort and Spa, in the Maremma region, I could imagine modern comforts and luxury and sensed I was losing a bit of interest in the old traditions.

Even before that, I was enchanted by Monte Argentario itself, which would have been an island but for one natural spit connecting it to the mainland. Since the developers built the bridge to allow vehicles to cross the watery divide from Orbetello, it’s become a holiday favourite with Italians, although still largely unknown to foreign tourists.

Two Brits who did discover this gem, however, were the late Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who escaped to this Tuscany-by-the-Sea in 1962 on a break from filming Cleopatra in Rome to canoodle in private. If it’s good enough for them, it must be good enough for us.

Italian businessman Augusto Orsini was one of those who saw haven written all over this small ‘island’. A visionary blessed with ecological awareness and the patience of a saint, Orsini spent almost 25 years creating this resort, facing down endless bureaucratic hurdles and environmental issues until he eventually won planning permission.

His reward is the Argentario Golf Resort and Spa, a luxurious hotel that blends modern architecture with home comforts and warm personalities.

Flanked by rolling hills of olive and cork trees and a golf course that looks out to sea, the hotel cascades down a gentle slope. It has four levels, each built unobtrusively into the hillside with roofs covered in local vegetation to minimise the ecological impact.

The resort is one of 100 members of the award-winning Design Hotel Group. Each level of rooms has a different theme, from New York and Soho to Country Tuscan and Oriental. One luxury apartment with spa and exercise equipment was even named Europe’s best hotel room.

I do believe I’m going to like modern Italy, I tell my husband as he decants our two-year-old daughter from the car after a hair-raising 90-minute transfer from Rome.

We check into our plush room, refresh and consider exploring the surrounds. Our timing could not be better - it’s warm, we’re thirsty and it’s cocktail hour. Prosecco, per favore.

Sitting back with our bubbles we consider our plan of attack for the next few days. There’s obviously the golf - though this challenging and picturesque course is yet to be tackled by Italy’s most famous golfers, the Molinari brothers.

Hopes are high that Argentario will host a European Tour event in the near future. The course also boasts a ProShop, the obligatory 19th hole, a driving range, putting green and tuition by the resident pro.

Nearby is another enclave of luxury - the Espace Wellness Centre. Apart from two indoor pools (connected with a nifty tunnel to one of two outdoor pools), Espace epitomises pampering. It offers the usual facials, massages and manicures, as well as a couples private spa. And soon to open is the new beauty wing where you can get your fix of Botox and other minor beauty surgeries.

For our little girl there were two play areas from which, over the next few days, she was difficult to extract.

To refuel, you can dine in the resort’s award-winning Dama-Dama restaurant, which uses almost exclusively local produce, much from its own massive kitchen garden, to minimise the carbon footprint. For those interested in how to concoct these dishes, there are cookery classes in Tuscan and Mediterranean cuisine.

Out of the resort there is loads to keep an active holiday-maker occupied.

Rent a bicycle, or a quad bike for those who prefer engines over pedal power. Take an excursion to the Natural Park of Maremma, which overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea and Tuscan Archipelago or to the Giardino Dei Tarocchi - a garden boasting tall sculptures influenced by Barcelona’s famous Gaudi architect.

Or for more watery fun rent a boat and check out the peninsula’s many bays and covens.

Being a sedate bunch, we ditch the idea of any strenuous activities on day one and head for Porto Ercole - a small picture-postcard port town just 10 minutes away by car. Small as the Argentario peninsula is, it’s recommended to have a vehicle here - or stump up the relatively expensive 20 euro cab fare each way.

Though no doubt the place will be teaming with tourists come mid-summer, it’s still April and the town is peaceful, with the only signs of life being a smattering of locals and a few opportunist stray cats hoping for a snack.

The smell emanating from the seaside restaurants is as rustic as you’d hope. We opt for octopus, prawns and garlicky pasta, while our daughter - only two but already saying ‘ciao’ to the Italians who are fabulous with children - obliges those whisker-licking moggies.

Charming as Porto Ercole is, the real gem of the area is the bigger and more elegant sister town of Porto Santo Stefano, where we head on our second day. The terracotta-roofed houses - many in familiar, pastel yellow and pink - almost tumble down the hillside to the port, which in turn is fronted by dozens of restaurants, bars and impossible-to-pass gelato outlets. Think Tuscany meets the Amalfi Coast, and you get the full picture.

From here you can take the hour-long boat trip to nearby Isola del Giglio. Wander around the island’s pretty village, stop for a bite in any number of restaurants and walk it off by heading to the castle at the top of the hill.

In between the two ports are the Forte Filippo fortress, dating back to the period of Spanish rule, and the magnificently charming Passionist Convent. Halfway up the summit to Monte Argentario, this monastery is a peaceful oasis with stunning ceilings and stained glass windows, and incredible views over the area. Be sure to drop into the ‘gift shop’ for a spiritual souvenir or a drop of liqueur made by the local monks.

On our third and final day, we take a spin around the golf course. My daughter and I are a little more interested in the beautiful blossoms in full bloom and the abundant wildlife in the ponds dotted around the course than the game itself. My husband gives us a long and detailed lesson in swing technique, birdies and tee-offs. We listen, but we’re clearly a lost cause.

“Pasta?” our daughter says at the 18th hole. “Prosecco?” I suggest to my husband.

What better way to end our few days in this jewel of Tuscany.

Key facts - Argentario Golf Resort and Spa

:: Best for: Golf, spa and active pursuits.

:: Time to go: Spring (April) to autumn (October)

:: Don’t miss: A boat trip from Porto Santo Stefano to the Isola Giglio.

:: Need to know: A car is essential.

:: Don’t forget: Trainers for active pursuits.

Travel facts

Bess Manson and her family were guests of Argentario Golf Resort and Spa, where accommodation ranges from E220 per double room per night to E1320.

Reservations: 00 39 0564 1828 400 and

Easyjet flights into Rome ex-Gatwick in June start around £131 return. Connecting flights to Gatwick ex-Glasgow from £73 return, ex-Manchester from £74. In June, Glasgow-Rome BA returns start at £212, with Manchester-Rome by Jet2com from £142.

Car hire with Easycar from £41.17 per day for £103 for three days or with Hertz from £70.53 per day or £141 for three days.