SCENT OF BORGO GRONDAIE AT SUNSET by Antonella Scotto
Do you know the lavender scent in full bloom? That particular fragrance that smell like summer liquorice and clean? I notice the same smell now, opening my closet door where I keep neatly placed my home linen. At this time, though here it is a gray and rainy afternoon, my thought takes off and brings me back to the summer, to the long sunny days, balmy nights at Borgo Grondaie.
Borgo Grondaie is a small, family run hotel and apartments of charm (and I mean the real charm that makes you live and love a territory in all its nuances and not the fictitious furniture from glossy magazines and completed by a punctual as much as cold and impersonal service!). Borgo Grondaie is strategically located at the entrance of the city of Siena, whose center is just a few minutes from here by car but in the Tuscan countryside. As I get some free days off from my work I love to come back to the Borgo, pick up the thread of my life and feel in peace with the world and myself. The welcome is as warm as professional. Gaia and Amina have become real friends for many of their guests: the atmosphere here is relaxed and serene, and it is easy to feel at home, among friends.
And the lavender, you say!?
Lavender has to do with my story, because Borgo Grondaie is not simply a group of comfortable rooms and airy apartments: the Borgo is also everything that surrounds him, from the little squares with tables and chairs where you stop to have a coffee or a good glass of wine, the flowerbeds, trees and bushes always well maintained, to large lawns that all year long have retained that dazzling shade of green, typical of this part of Tuscany.
The lavender bushes frame some meadows and the pool area of Borgo Grondaie, which is situated in a slightly elevated position just far enough from apartments and rooms. Here, during the day you spend quiet hours sunbathing and swimming in the cool,clear and salt water even if the real magic comes at sunset. It is when the sun starts setting on the horizon that many guests leave their sunbeds and the atmosphere becomes even quietier. The pool water, made warmer by the long hours of sun, it’s tinged with shades of orange and purple, while the birds singing intensifies. At that moment I love to dive and swim slowly, leaving me wrap by water: my body relaxes in water embrace and tensions accumulated during months of work are softened in the golden light of sunset. At that time it becomes easier to feel at one with the wonder that surrounds you. Sometimes you are alone but other someone is eager to enjoy those moments of peace … then you swim slowly, basking in the water and greetings each other just with a brief mention of eyes, in order not to interrupt the magic of that moment.
When the sun disappears I’m ready to go back in my apartment, where a hot shower expect me with olive oil bath products that Gaia and Amina never forget to let me find in the apartment and that, with its delicate aroma, completes the sensory path of the day.
Day is not complete without a visit to one of the many small osterie (restautants) in Siena downtown or in the country area, because Tuscan traditional cuisine is appreciated as one of the most exquisite on earth. Personally, when I stop in the city, I love to dine at Trattoria Da Cecco, a small restaurant in Via Cecco Angiolieri, a side street of Via Banchi di Sopra, the main road leading to Piazza del Campo and the Duomo. The restaurant is small and not easy to find availability but on summers they have more space as they place tables outside: don’t miss Pici in all the different toppings, but I also remember their chicken with lemon and all their pastries, including the tiramisu of the house.
But when we decide to drive to the country area the village that I love more in the summer season is Monticchiello. I leave Borgo Grondaie with direction Asciano, an area famous all over the world for its hilly road surrounded by Cipress trees. Here the landscape enchants you with ever-changing shapes and colors at any time of day and every season. It’s quite surreal to drive along this lunar landscape that recall memories of Medieval time when knights crossed this land and stop to quench the thirst in one of the small lakes and plunged into the breathtaking landscape that varies at every bend of the road. The direction to take is to Pienza then, once you reach the location, to San Quirico d’Orcia valley and then to La Foce from which you drive uphill to Montichiello. The small village, situated on the brow of a hill, for years has become popular not only for its unquestionable charm but for its “poor theatre” that every year turns streets and squares into a open-air theatre and the population into a real theater company.
From Monticchiello you can admire the entire valley and hills all around and their alternation is like the waves of a green and quiet ocean . Once in Montichiello sight has no barriers and can range as far as the eyes make it possible: here, at sunset, while sky is getting red, it is time to sit a on the terrace of “La Porta “wine bar, located right next to the gate of Monticchiello.
A pleasure accessible to everybody is to enjoy the sunset with a delicious bruschetta with extra virgin olive oil and garlic, with a plate of pecorino from Pienza of different agings, all combined with a glass of Brunello di Montalcino and Nobile di Montepulciano , excellent wines of this area. It’s difficult to say if it’s the wine inside your glass that is asborbing the sunset nuances or if it’s the sunset that becomes more and more similar to the wine. Certainly it’s in this moment that you feel grateful to life.
A stop that I want to suggest you leaving Montichiello is Bagno Vignoni. It doesn’t matter in which time of the year you are there, it’s worth stopping and walk along the perimeter of the marvelous square-thermal swimming pool built by the Romans. Generous nature and human talent seem to have found here the perfect agreement in the construction of this incredible square-caldarium, Bagno Vignoni historic heart . While leaving Bagno Vignoni to return to Borgo Grondaie, I like to stop on the banks of the little stream of hot water that rises to the surface just outside the village, and then dive down forming pools of clear water. Soak your feet in this warm water it is possible at any season of the year, and it’s great to do it at night when, raising your eyes up to heaven you get lost in the myriad of stars that shine undisturbed, away from the cities’ light pollution .
Back at Borgo Grondaie, you are welcomed by the chorus of crickets and cicadas while the stinging scent of lavender rises from the bushes soaked with dew.
I hesitate a moment while closing my wardrobe and forward my mind to reality; just a breath of lavender (of course kept in bags purchased in Tuscany!) to relive the unique sensations that only this land can offer. And I smile thinking about my Borgo , a magical corner to stop and from which leave to discover this enchanted land that always welcome you with its heart and open yours where it will stay forever.