L’Andana: a Tuscan tricolore of land, sea and sky
A world-class resort, a prolific winery and a Michelin-star trattoria - what more could a discerning traveller ask for?
From the coast, the island of Elba is a striking sight. With the sun lingering directly overhead, the famed island rises from the waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea with great gusto, defined by rows of angular peaks which fade into the mid-September haze as they grow more distant.
It rarely left our field of vision as we drifted along the snaking E80 - one of the EU’s loosely defined “Trans-European Motorways” - which skirts the coastal edge of Tuscany, giving us ample time to contemplate its place in the history books as the one-time home of Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile from the European mainland.
It is not unusual to stumble across locations of historical significance when “on the continent”, but something about peering out over Elba felt somewhat more exotic. Perhaps its dramatic appearance was playing a role? It certainly struck me as odd how an archipelago so stunning could be known for so little beyond serving as a prison for one of history’s most notorious war criminals - as well as the place his bumbling enemies allowed him to escape from.
Yet as the island faded out of view behind us, my contemplation gave way to a more fully-realised revelation. Having visited Italy - and more specifically Tuscany - a multitude of times, this landscape simply did not resemble the regioni I had come to know so well.
Out here, the crooked church spires of Volterra and San Gimignano are out, as are the undulating golden hills of Chianti and the rugged summits of the Alpi Apuane. Instead, in this southern corner of the region, an arresting beauty lies in a series of vast, undisturbed flood plains known as the Maremma.
From any vantage point around the forested edges of this valley, an area that was once dense marshland until it was manually drained in the 16th Century, sunlight bounces off its ample brooks and pooled water, causing a delicate mist to form underneath a completely cloudless sky. Visible too are the islands of Giglio and Montecristo, younger siblings of Elba, on the horizon.
The Maremma, predictably, has been a hub of agriculture for thousands of years dating back to the Etruscans, and maintains a healthy stock of vineyards, sunflower fields and olive farms. And it is in the midst of this rather thick greenery that a veritable oasis of luxury sits; L’Andana Resort.
We turned off E80 and through the grand gates of L’Andana, crawling along the near-mile-long gravel driveway flanked with quintessentially Tuscan cypress trees and maritime pines. Soon, the hotel came sliding into view with such elegance it was like a scene from La Grande Bellezza or one of Fellini’s less difficult movies.
Aesthetically, this is a stunning property, bearing the unmistakable hallmarks of Medici-era Tuscan villas; somewhat severe, stark cuboid buildings sat to a backdrop of exquisitely landscaped gardens and gorgeous forested highlands beyond the flood plains. A gentle muted shade of peach covers almost every inch of L’Andana, punctuated only by the occasional dash of red brick or one of the villa’s wide stone staircases which ferry guests between the split levels of the hotel grounds.
But the grand sense of feudal Italian tradition mostly comes to a halt when stepping into the lobby, where a charmingly baroque interior is characterised by touches of classical French design and modern embellishments. A sleek designer blue wine decanter here, an 18th century chest of drawers there. Among the opulent chandeliers and contemporary installations, we sat and enjoyed a glass of the fabulously crisp Bellavista Franciacorta sparkling wine on offer, fresh from L’Andana’s sister hotel L’Albereta in the far north of Italy.
Delightfully woozy from a mixture of demi-sec Franciacorta and a journey across half of Europe, we clambered up the stairs to our sleeping quarters. L’Andana has a total of 33 rooms and suites, of which mine was inviting and welcoming yet tastefully austere - a spacious offering with ample windows to allow the sunlight to shine through and highlight a multitude of earthy beiges and browns, dotted with furniture of regal purple velvet.
The rooms, each of which are decked out with zig-zagging red tiled floors, are dominated by enormous Tuscan stone fireplaces, lending a thoroughly bucolic feel to any stay here. The bathrooms, clad in a mixture of shimmering white ceramic and marble, are also a sight to behold, the centrepiece of which is a gigantic free-standing bathtub.
Upon first arrival at L’Andana, stranded amidst the near-infinite rows of suflowers in the middle of a vast valley, it may all seem a little remote. But rather than attempt to mitigate its notable isolation - it is near impossible to get here by public transport - L’Andana has capitalised on it, crafting a resort which serves as a wonderfully self-contained fortress of luxury.
Within its grounds are not only a world-class five-star hotel but also two beautifully landscaped outdoor pool areas, an indoor pool, a fitness centre, tennis courts, a golf course, a kid’s play area and La Trattoria Enrico Bartolini - a Michelin star restaurant to go with the already spectacular house restaurant La Villa.
In a country of serious gastronomic pedigree, it’s high praise to be described as one of the nation’s best chefs, a la The Daily Telegraph; and yet after sampling the food at La Trattoria Enrico Bartolini, I'm inclined to agree.
Although the restaurant’s namesake - a six-time Michelin Star recipient - is not currently working at L’Andana, his trusted resident chef Marco Ortolani is undoubtedly a master of his craft, creating a fabulous menu which packs a haute cuisine punch without over-egging the pudding. I had always held the belief that Italy is a country of culinary simplicity; a land where, in the kitchen, less is always more, and where even some 95-year-old nonna working in a trattoria down a village sidestreet could go toe to toe with the country's most adept chefs.
But I realise now that while a classic Italian ragu is nothing to sniff at, there's something undeniably more thrilling about the sort of fine dining experience available at Enrico Bartolini that gives it the edge. This is especially true when taking into account Enrico Bartolini’s USP of cooking everything over “brace” (“embers”). We started our deep dive into the tasting menu with a classic, in a subtle Italian beef tartare. Next, our empty plates were whipped away to make way for an early highlight; the trattoria’s trademark risotto with red turnip and gorgonzola sauce.
Stonkingly rich with a deliciously bitter blue cheese tang, this deep purple risotto does not mess around, flexing the capacity of your stomach to make way for the far less gastronomically gutbusting sea bass. Cooked over charcoal embers and topped with a simple “virgin sauce” - a lemon-tinged oil drizzle - the buttery, delicate fillet caught in nearby Orbetello was left uncluttered by cloying toppings or garnishes. The dish stands as another textbook example of Italian chefs having a seemingly innate knowledge of when to let a high-quality ingredient speak for itself.
An absolutely delightful sweet lemon souffle with pistachio ice cream rounded off the meal, every course of which had been partnered with a selection from the trattoria’s frighteningly extensive wine list. The punchy, tannin-rich cabernet/merlot/syrah blend dubbed Acquagiusta Rosso - the accompaniment for the beef tartare - is a particular highlight. What’s more, it’s produced on-site at L’Andana’s Tenuta la Badiola winery, with tours and tastings available for advance bookings.
Waking early from a stupor brought on by a quantity of food I never realised I could put away (and the same goes for the wine), I dragged myself out of bed and worked off my calorific hangover by heading up into the nearby mountains. Past the driving range at the back of the resort, guests can take a series of dirt paths up into the hills at the edge of the Maremma. At dawn, the summits offer spectacular, hazy views out over the flood plains toward the Tyrrhenian Sea.
After a saunter back down, I met up with the group and we took our first and only excursion of the trip - a bike ride through the lush vineyards of the grounds. With our guide we gently traversed rolling hills on our powered bikes, perching atop rocky outcrops and stopping occasionally to sample some of the grapes. It was during one of these stops as the sun started to dip below the tips of Elba, our guide eagerly taking rather flattering photos of us staring out over the golden plains, that I realised there really was no better place in which to spend a September's day.
Still pushing 30C with a delightful late afternoon mist forming around the sunflowers, we bit into our grapes and - as we were there just days before the harvest - they practically exploded with rich, syrupy-sweet juice that I could barely stop from running down my chin.
Still, as the flavours swished around my mouth, I closed my eyes, turned my face toward the setting sun and thought of another evening back at the gorgeous L’Andana. And at that moment, all was well.
Prices at L’Andana, Tuscany, start from €440 per night based on two sharing, including breakfast. For more information please visit www.andana.it and for bookings call +39 0564 944 800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.