Villa Gilda is a small boutique hotel located on 8.000 square meters of land with olive groves, citrus trees and spectacular views of the Apuanian Alps as well as the famed beaches of Forte dei Marmi.
How would you describe Borgo Santo Pietro in a nutshell?
Borgo Santo Pietro is a luxury boutique hotel in Tuscany, Italy, with twenty exquisitely furnished suites — perfect for a romantic getaway, weddings or other celebrations. The house dates back to 1200s, there is a swimming pool, a bar, and a beautiful terrace with palm trees and fragrant herbs. The rooms are elegant with silk tapestries and hand-painted wall art. A driveway lined by tall cypress trees leads up to the house, which is surrounded by those rolling hills that Italy's Tuscany is so famous for. There's even more, Borgo San Pietro also has a boutique spa, as well as the Michelin starred restaurant Meo Modo.
What is your hotel’s philosophy?
Our philosophy at the hotel is very much that people have to see what’s going on. Our staff doesn’t work in the background. We put them and everything they do on display. You can walk in and see what the florist is doing. People like to see how it’s done. Guests can take a flower course if they want. You can speak to our gardener about how to garden organically. It’s like a 5 star hotel and it’s also a farm. We do both.
What was your inspiration to buy a place in Tuscany and open a small boutique hotel?
Claus and I are both Danish and we met in an Italian restaurant, and we sort of secretly, independent of each other, have always been a little in love with Italy. We bought a house up north many years ago, then decided we wanted to move out of London at some point in our lives. We thought it had to be Italy.
We didn’t know where we wanted to be, but in looking around, it ended up being Tuscany. We bought it as a house we wanted to live in at first. Coming from London, it’s very remote for full time life, especially when our son was around five years old. We thought he needed bigger possibilities than the sheep and goats around.
As much as we love the villa, we realized we couldn’t live there permanently. We have five gardeners to tend the 13 acres. Had it been our private home, we would never have been able to do that.
How would you describe the style of the interior at the hotel, the atmosphere?
Relaxed. It’s like a lot of layers of time put together in a luxurious way, but at the same time it’s very relaxed. We have a very informal tone with our guests. We serve people whatever they want wherever they want it. That means clients get the chance to feel at home, and that was imperative for me when we decided to do this.
For instance, I wanted to have waiters that knew how to do silver service but without standing with their hands behind their backs. I think people want to get under the skin of where they are, and the best way of doing that is to have a chat with the people who work there, who aren’t distanced from the guests. People want to hear about the local life.
And the staff tends to enjoy it because it adds so much more to their jobs. They have a chance to talk to the guests they serve. It is a place where social ranking is non-existent. We all enjoy the same things.
And you also offer cooking classes at Borgo Santo Pietro?
They’re pretty spontaneous and individualised. If there are holiday guests who want to learn how to do something, they meet with the chef when it’s convenient for them. We have some classes that stand out that people seem to like a lot, like all the different ways of using dough, for everything from pasta to bread. All of our pasta is handmade onsite.
What is the food like?
It’s Italian food, but it’s not regional. For instance, in Tuscany, and especially in the Siena area, nobody would ever serve you fish because you’re too far away from the coast. Tuscany has such a Medieval way of thinking that for them, they have all the traditions from the times when there were no cars. If people want the traditional foods, they can either choose to eat at our new Tuscan trattoria or we can send them to a trattoria nearby and they can see what it’s like. We serve seasonal foods at our restaurant, and serve the kinds of foods you find everywhere in Italy, like dishes from Sicily. We do a lot of fish with olives and tomatoes (pesce solana). It's not typical of Tuscany and is wonderful in the summer. We try to bring Italy to our guests.
What’s been the biggest reward to you personally about receiving holiday guests at your hotel?
We have won a lot of awards, and that’s very nice and we’re grateful, but the biggest satisfaction is our guests. We have so many guests coming back every year. It’s the biggest reward ever, and for our staff as well. They have the satisfaction of working with happy guests. When guests are happy, they give off a good energy that goes back to the staff. It’s a harmonious place. We go very far to give people what I think is a great, high quality experience, but in a subtle way. The intelligent traveler wants integrity and authenticity. I think there needs to be a good balance between perfect service without being too formal. We try to give people a home away from home. It’s like checking in with a good friend.