Hotel Borgo Argenina

A perfect country hotel in the Southern Chianti, the rooms and villas converted form a medieval hamlet

The owner and her welcome

Elena Nappa calls it “The Welcome.”

When new guests arrive at her hilltop clutch of Tuscan stone houses, a canine honor guard consisting of Pasqualina, a little tan mutt, and Bianca, a husky with one yellow eye and one blue, escorts them from the gravel parking lot past old buildings festooned with flowering vines and climbing roses to the main house.

There, Elena seat her guests at her massive kitchen table, gives them a hand-drawn map of the region, and launches into a lengthy discourse on how to plan their time in the Chianti.

She sketches out itineraries on the map like football plays, circling the locations of sights, vineyards, and artisan studios and drawing in back roads that can save time. She periodically hands over local restaurants’ business cards along with frank opinions on which is overpriced but perfect for a fancy dinner and which is ideal for an inexpensive outdoor lunch.

Only then will she lead her guests to their room or little house, point out that everything in the minibar is free, as is the vin santo and cantucci (dessert wine and Tuscan biscotti) on the shared loggia, and ask that she be given at least a day’s notice if you want her to cook a family-style dinner for €40 ($55) per person (she needs time to shop for whatever her garden doesn’t produce and to make the pasta by hand).

Finally, she’ll hand over the key to the padlock on the door’s ancient iron bolt. At this point, most guests either set off immediately to explore, or lie down to recover a bit from the effort of taking in Elena’s tsunami of sage advice.

Borgo Argenina

Elena’s gregariousness comes from being born Neapolitan and her sense of style from working for years as a fashion stylist in Milan. In 1993 she visited the Chianti for the first time and fell in love with a crumbling medieval hamlet, abandoned for 50 years, that she stumbled across during a walk.

Even her own mother thought she was mad when Elena bought the ruins, but after five years of rebuilding walls and digging wells, Elena opened Borgo Argenina for business in 1998—precisely 1,000 years after its first mention in historical texts as a border hamlet between the warring city-states of Siena and Florence.

In addition to the rooms in the main house—furnished with antique wrought-iron beds, deluxe mattresses, handmade quilts, hand-stitched lace curtains, and time-worn terracotta tiles—there are three small houses.

Two of these sleep two to three adults (or a family of four, with the kids on the sofa bed) and, like the guest quarters in the main house, could easily be featured in an Architectural Digest article on Tuscan country homes.

The Villa Olivera is an old grain storehouse that sleeps four and has been renovated with post-modern flair: steel staircases, track lighting, curtains and linens recycled from old textiles, modular steel-and-glass shelving, polished cement floors, a stainless kitchen, and simple chunky wood furnishings.

What a stay at Borgo Argenina is like

But for all its bucolic quiet and rustic charisma, Borgo Argenina’s chief attraction is the garrulous, impeccably dressed, eagerly friendly, and eminently self-assured force of nature who runs it.

That Elena takes remarkable care of her (largely American) clientele is evident in her high percentage of repeat business. Any given night, a disproportionate number of guests seem to be couples who stayed here for a night or two several years ago on a whirlwind tour of Tuscany and are now back, booked for a full week, to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary.

Borgo Argenina also seems to cast a spell that draws guests together in a way you never really see at a hotel––even those visitors who would normally go out of their way to avoid fellow tourists. The sunny breakfast room is always filled with excited chatter as couples get to know one another over a rich spread of cheeses, meats, eggs, fresh bread, and cakes still warm from the oven.

In the late afternoon, everyone seems to congregate on the recliners and low wall of the terrace outside the main house, swapping stories and comparing their experiences with Elena’s advice. Elena might stop by to share a basket of cherries just picked from the orchard. Some guests make plans to have dinner together or team up on tomorrow’s exploration. Others simply sit there, quietly sipping wine and gazing over the Tuscan postcard panorama of rolling hills striped with vineyards.

A hidden treasure

There are, however, a few obstacles to getting a spot on that terrace. For one thing, Elena prefers guests avoid arriving the middle of the afternoon, when she will probably be asleep.

“You have to stick to the rhythms of life and of the land,” she says in defense of the traditional riposo mid-afternoon nap. “A trip to the Chianti should be about rediscovering this pace of life.” (This is also her argument against installing a pool or TVs.)

What’s more, she has purposefully made Borgo Argenina hard to find.

Coming from the north on SS408, take the second left turn for Monti—the one marked "Monti 1,3 km;" a few yards up that road, a dirt road signposted for "Argenina" veers off to the right. These instructions are important since Elena refuses to put a sign down at the turning on the main road.

“I don’t want to spoil the Chianti,” she says, complaining that there are too many signs already. Besides, she prefers not to take in passing motorists simply looking for a place to sleep. Elena wants guests who choose her and Borgo Argenina and have booked ahead.

That way, she knows when to expect them and can start preparing The Welcome.

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Borgo Argenina
Off the SS408 outside Gaiole in Chianti
tel. +39-345-353-7673

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