Sometimes traveling can feel like home. For us Il Borghetto in San Gimignano definitely feels like home. Seventeen years ago Monsieur and I came here with G and Pops to celebrate respectively our first and their 35th wedding anniversaries (shhh we were child brides). Back then we vowed to come back, it only took seventeen years. What were we waiting for?
Il Borghetto is owned by the Bimbi Family. Sandra and Riccardo are sister and brother and along with their lovely partners (and spouses) Simona and Nicola, they have lovingly restored a 15th century villa on the hillside below San Gimignano in Tuscany. Overlooking vineyards and olive groves, they have created a little slice of heaven. Converted into several self-catered apartments, the Bimbi’s are the consummate hosts. After 17 years, we were welcomed back with open arms, hugs and kisses.
Three nights a week, the matriarch of the Bimbi family Silvana, creates a traditional Tuscan meal for the guests to enjoy. To this day the best meals I’ve ever had were made by Mamma Silvana and served by Simona, Nicola and Sandra under the pergola at Il Borghetto. Lovingly selected Tuscan wines accompany and never disappoint. Everyone is made to feel like a special guest at the Bimbi’s home. Stories and laughs, delicious food and an amazing view make for the most memorable evenings.
One of our evenings, the family arranged for a cooking class. As fans of Italian cuisine we were all about learning how to re-create some of these dishes. Patrizia our teacher, brought fresh ingredients from her garden including her own homemade Limoncello (spoiler alert: its boozy!). Paired up with 3 other delightful Canadians, a sweet Brit and charming American we set to work with Patrizia at the helm. We made zeppole with zucchini flowers (a savory doughnut), zucchini stuffed with meat sauce and handmade gnocchi with a tomato, ricotta and basil sauce. For dessert an apple tart with just a hint of limoncello for flavour. Patrizia taught us that Italians only eat what is in season, hence the zucchini heavy menu. The tomatoes for the sauce were from her garden last summer, she canned and preserved them herself. The garlic oil we made was using last season’s garlic from the braids in her cellar as this season’s garlic was still a week away. She taught us that the essence of Italian cooking is really “Quanta Basta”, my new favourite Italian phrase. “How much salt Patrizia?” ”Quanta basta!” she replied. Just enough. Literally a pinch… unless you need more than a pinch, just some. You know, quanta basta!
For dinner, our partners and travelling parties joined us for the feast. Enjoying Patrizia’s wine selection, we were all very impressed with ourselves that we MADE all of it. Time will tell whether we can successfully recreate this meal without Patrizia’s watchful eye.
In this part of Central Tuscany, you can’t swing a dead something without hitting a charming hilltown. San Gimignano is perhaps THE most charming of the lot and is just a 10 minute drive from Il Borghetto. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Gimignano is a walled medieval town with about a dozen of its incredible towers still intact and in use. Since we were here 17 years ago its clear that San Gimignano has definitely been added to the map of must sees in Tuscany. It took us 3 tries to actually get here, the first two attempts thwarted by overfull parking lots. Our bad, we kept arriving in time for lunch. We learned that the early bird gets the parking spot and the table for six.
Sangi is a cute collection of charming shops selling local ceramics, leather goods and linens as well as wine bars, gelato shops and lovely trattorias. Sandra and Simona sent us to an incredible restaurant called La Mandrogola. Off the beaten path, behind the main street on Via Diacceto (which is only wide enough for a scooter) we were charmed by the sweet terrace and delicious Vernaccia de San Gimignano recommended by our server. Her response when we asked for a recommendation ”Why wouldn’t you drink the wine from here?” Of course, she was absolutely right. I can’t remember what we ate, but I’m sure it was pasta and steak and tomatoes and cheese. All I know is that it was yummy and that we were charmed yet again by boundless Italian hospitality.
Il Borghetto is a fabulous home base to explore Tuscany. Situated half way between Florence and Siena along the A1 Autostrada, its easy to get around in a rental car (you definitely need a rental car here). Just be sure to navigate by town and not highway numbers. In 17 years, the advent of Google Maps meant for far less navigational disputes on our travels. Volterra, Monteriggioni, Barberini Val D’Elsa are all easy jaunts. Pisa, Arezzo, Montalcino and the Tuscan coast are slightly farther afield but still very easy day trips from the Villa.
We decided to stick closer to home this time, pooped after our Paris departure and power sightseeing in Florence, we only chose to visit Siena (totally worth it – the Piazza del Campo and the Duomo are amazing to see). We also found the charming Barberino Val D’Elsa on the recommendation of an Italian waiter in Paris and had great pizza at both the Cafe Bijou and Triocco. The latter has a terrace overlooking the valley, lovely spot.
We’re grateful for Google reviews this time around. Before we choose a restaurant, we always check the Google review rating. Nothing under 4 stars, the closer to 5 stars the better. We’ve never been disappointed. This rule applies to the coffee shops all the way up to the Ristorantes. We also have a rule never to eat close to the tourist attractions. Walk a block or two off the beaten path and you’ll see the Google ratings jump.
The luxuries of Il Borghetto are not found in daily room service or a Michelin star. They are found in the warm welcome of the Bimbi Family. The genuine and heartfelt hospitality is unmatched in any other place we’ve stayed. Saying goodbye we couldn’t help but feel sad and a little teary. Like long lost friends, our only lament is that we waited too long to return to Il Borghetto, next time we won’t wait so long. To quote Patrizia, Il Borghetto is for us Quanta Basta – just enough and so much more.