The flashiest way to get to the L’Andana hotel in Tuscany is by helicopter. As we drove down the same stretch of road for the third time we considered that this might also be the most practical. As boutique hideaways go, L’Andana is well and truly hidden, but once we swung the car up a long driveway lined with cypresses and pines, and pulled up in front of the only green lawn for miles, we knew this was it.
This hotel in the coastal Tuscan region of Maremma is the former summer residence of Duke Leopold II, and pardon the brochure-style speak, but the Medici-era villa really is set among some noteworthy olive- and vine-studded rolling hills. Clearly the nobleman wanted seclusion and privacy and had chosen this spot wisely; the chirping of the cicadas and the occasional hoot of a wood pigeon were the only interruptions to the peace.
After such a spectacular landscape, we found the hotel’s neutral tones and understated luxury to be the perfect blank canvas to continue our ease into relaxation mode. L’Andana itself was equally hushed and here the greatest distraction in the bright, conservatory-like reception was from butterflies that floated in from the lavender beds.
Our bedroom was in a new wing that blends seamlessly into the ancient lodge. Although I think we may have had the smallest of this boutique hotel’s 33 rooms it was still more than sufficient, with a cosy fireplace, sunset-hued fabrics and all the mod cons you’d expect in somewhere so exclusive. Still, no flatscreen TV could complete with the Tuscany view over the swimming pool and across the countryside, which as you can imagine was a picture-perfect scene that had this photographer swooning, especially when teamed with the captivating scent of pine and lavender from the garden.
We were convinced by now that if we were any more soothed we’d flatline. Then we discovered the bathroom. Almost as large as the bedroom, with a tub of swimming-pool dimensions, it was like overdosing on a jug of liquid yoga. I’m 6’4 and even when I laid diagonally in the ‘bath’ neither my head nor feet touched the sides – fabulously decadent. Unusually for a boutique hotel, L’Andana has a five-a-side football pitch, and to be honest you could probably fit both teams in there together. Thankfully just the two of us in that tub was perfect – well, you’d feel lonely in a bath like that on your own.
There was plenty to tempt us out of the comfort of our hotel room, but the gym, tennis court and golf course seemed a bit too demanding in the midday sun of Maremma. We opted for the main pool for some intensive lying around and strenuous soaking up of some rays. A word to the wise: in high seasons, the ratio of guest to sunlounger means some blatant bagsying can be required. Some of our fellow guests with children smartly left a nanny in the sun as a reservation marker.
Now those of you who like your romantic escapades sans ankle biters, will be relieved to hear that even the kids are affected by the tranquility of L’Andana; it’s fair to say we never heard a squeak. And when the pool was empty there was only the murmur of trickling water from classical Roman gargoyles; the only activity was swallows swooping for a drink.
The majority of people staying at this Tuscany hotel don’t venture far during the day, but as the sun dropped lower and took the edge off the heat, we decided to explore. L’Andana has mountain bikes that you can borrow. Despite it being Mrs Smith’s idea to go for a cycle, her eulogising about the joys of bike-riding quickly turned into a red-faced struggled of coughing and puffing. ‘I can’t go on,’ she declared; still, we’d made it a third of the way up a small mountain (at least it felt like that).
Fortunately it was a lot easier whizzing downhill through the olive groves, the cool breeze in our faces, squealing with delight. I glanced over my shoulder to see if my lover was keeping up and caught a glimpse of her as she careered off the road in a cloud of dust. I cycled back to find her among the foliage, slightly bruised but smiling, announcing that she wanted to go back uphill and try it again. We thought better of it when a friendly tortoise ambled across our path showing us the pace at which things around here should be done.
We decided to take it easy that evening with aperitifs in the garden next to the Jacuzzi followed by the main performance: a lazy supper in the hotel’s excellent trattoria. Here, world-famous Alain Ducasse is responsible for the delicious Tuscan food such as taccole noodles with a sauce of red spring onion and baby cuttlefish, delicious prosciutto and plates of poached salt cod. There's a slight French influence in the cuisine, as you would expect in a Ducasse restaurant, but essentially the dishes are traditional local delicacies made from the freshest seasonal ingredients.
By now fully indoctrinated in this sloth-like existence, we enjoyed a leisurely start to the day following a restful sleep aided by the soft, luxurious linens and the oh-so-comfy beds, as well as blackout shutters (closed every night when the maid turns down the room). It’s rare for anyone to appear for their morning cappuccino before 10h30 – this being a hotel that encourages even the most dedicated of sunlounger hoggers to enjoy a peaceful lie-in.
Eager for fresh air before returning to the big smoke, we reluctantly forsook L’Andana’s luxury spa and drove along the road between Marina di Grossetto and Catiglione della Pescaia, to the sea. In Maremma, you get the best of Tuscany and the Mediterranean: white sand, warm blue water, but scarcely a soul in sight. Heaven. We agreed that even the most highly-strung couldn’t fail to find their ‘peaceful centre’ during a trip to L’Andana. The only problem with a retreat as peaceful as this? It’s a struggle to convert from tortoise speed back to hare pace when you return to the day job. The legacy of all-day laid-back serenity is a hard habit to break.