A couple bought a dilapidated villa

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By pairing their 12th century Tuscan hotel-villa with a classic sailing yacht, Claus and Jeanette Thottrup have achieved the pinnacle of land and sea hospitality.

A touch of heavenly stone in an emerald landscape, such is the immediate and very pleasant impression of the Hotel Borgo Santo Pietro, which bears all the superlatives with which it is regularly crowned, a hidden 12th century villa in the heart of Tuscany. Created by Danish couple Jeanette and Claus Thottrup, the hotel and its sister yacht, a 41.5 meter sailboat Satori are now twin leaders in luxury hospitality – but the villa wasn’t always so lavish.

Claus Thottrup, owner of Borgo Santo Pietro

The villa dates back to the 12th century and has been restored to its original grandeur

The Thottrups bought Borgo in 2001. Already with a house in northern Italy, then living in London, they decided to buy a property in Tuscany. “We had no idea what we were getting into,” says Jeanette. “It soon became clear that the houses in Tuscany were too dark – the opposite of what we wanted. We told the agent, ‘There’s not much for us here.’ He persuaded us to see one last house: this one, and that was it.

In any interior, houseplants and flowers bring nature indoors while Murano glass chandeliers exude opulence

The couple understood that they had a project in mind. “It was completely abandoned,” says Claus. “There was no electricity or water. Birds and bats were in control. It was a ruin. But now the property was under their skin, and without the strict conditions that apply to historic buildings in the UK, they were granted permission to restore it. A huge driving force was the location, the Valle Serena in the province of Siena – indeed Siena, famous for its Palio horse race, is the nearest large town. “It’s not the hot zone of ‘Chiantishire’ for the British like Greve in Chianti; it’s more secluded and wild,” says Jeanette, who previously worked as a fashion designer. “The Italians call it the real Tuscany. There are forests, hills, vineyards and cypresses. You can walk for hours without seeing anyone.

. Here, a lavish chandelier juxtaposed with rustic beams overlooks a reclaimed and restored Tuscan bed

Rooms are designed to be a total escape for guests

Stunned, the Thottrups did their homework and discovered that the house already existed in 1129, when the village was a stopover for pilgrims. It was somewhere between a nobleman’s villa and a farmhouse, but with generous windows and doors that would let in plenty of light. They started building and after a rocky start they decided to manage the project themselves. “We changed course from being a big contractor to a series of small craftsmen,” says Claus, a mechanical engineer and builder who, along with Jeanette, also owns a construction company, PN Homes.

“They worked with our teams on every part to restore the Borgo to how it would have looked almost 1,000 years ago,” says Claus. This involved the use of locally scavenged stone, natural paints and lime plaster – an age-old palette of earthy-toned materials.

Of course, it took time. The property spent seven years in restoration and opened in 2008 with six bedrooms, “a third of what it is today,” says Claus. Over the next 14 years, the Borgo has grown to 22 individually decorated rooms, plus suites and expansive grounds. Inside there is a great feeling of relaxation and elegance, supported by a scheme that blends tradition, nature and luxury.

Between them, Jeanette and Claus decorated and bought furniture from all over Europe to create a place of wonder: not too formal, but with a sense of grandeur and tradition. “Some are old Tuscan furniture,” says Jeanette. “As we work with Italian craftsmen, we constantly find old furniture and light fixtures that we repair and use. You could say it’s one of our hobbies. Jeanette is particularly interested in textiles. “Because I worked in fashion, I don’t have enough fabrics,” she says.

The pool is one of the hotel’s best-known features

The Meo Modo restaurant at Borgo Santo Pietro has been awarded a Michelin star

The tubs come from the UK. “Italians are getting into the baths now, but they tend to be a bit more modern,” she adds. “Claws are found in Great Britain and France.” Some of the amenities come from the Borgo itself: the cozy blankets found throughout the hotel, for example, come from the property’s own herd of alpacas.

The gardens are an essential part of the Borgo. After an early garden designer fell ill, the Thottrups stepped in. “We’ve been to lots of Italian gardens, sketched on lots of paper, and found it’s best to create a garden when you actually live in the house,” says Jeanette. “That way you can find what’s missing.” Now there are gardens for all moods and seasons – relaxing, formal, another around the water – and wilder countryside beyond. “There are so many different experiences here,” says Jeanette. “Our gardens are never really finished. You add a sculpture one year, then a tree… They are like large paintings on which we continue to work.

Enclosed pool is part of a suite, though all make indoor-outdoor living a priority

With terraces that descend into the nearby valley, the gardens also relate to the local landscapes. The infinity pool, says Claus, has found its “natural home” away from the villa, overlooking an exquisite hilly panorama. “It’s iconic and in a lot of pictures,” Claus says. “People love it.”

It’s important to the couple that the hotel is sustainable and that most of its food is grown on site. Here, the Thottrups found themselves leading the curve. “When we started the hotel, we laid out the vegetable garden to pass on the knowledge acquired in London restaurants,” explains Jeanette. “Today, we have 82 hectares and it looks more like a market garden than the few beds found elsewhere. During Covid-19, we couldn’t open the restaurant and had enough to supply the village with vegetables. Every day the Borgo farm produces ricotta and pecorino cheese, eggs, honey from 20 beehives and, of course, wine. The Thottrups have even launched a fermentation lab, herb garden, and skincare line — and hang a personal story here.

Claus and Jeanette Thottrup on the deck of their 41.5 meter yacht, Satori

“I’ve always been interested in natural medicine and I used to go to Neal’s Yard in London,” says Jeanette. “We both had high-flying careers and were told we couldn’t have kids. But when we moved here, we changed our lives, ate well, and two years later got pregnant with our son, Vincent. It has taken us down a path personally. Now our restaurant, Meo Modo, takes this discovery to the next level.

It’s part of a philosophy of honoring the guest. “For us, it’s not about creating a beautiful hall while the bedroom is secondary”, explains Jeanette. “It’s almost the opposite: your room is your kingdom while you’re here. We often say our rooms are like Alice in Wonderland, as if you had been removed from your own world and placed in someone else’s. The ambience is one of rustic luxury, and exposed chestnut beams, with travertine stone floors, serve as a backdrop to French chandeliers and antique beds. Each room has a slightly different character. They all have old fireplaces and some have splashes of color; the Villa Serena suite is painted blue and gold. Overall, Jeanette’s design combines elevated European grandeur, carefully tempered by a Scandinavian sense of space.

The flowers and much of the food served in Borgo Santo Pietro’s restaurants are grown on the property

This warm Tuscan climate allows for an indoor-outdoor design philosophy, with candles and fires lit inside and out and multiple plants and flowers indoors, creating access to nature wherever you go. turn.

But the ultimate natural immersion of the Thottrups lies in another of their projects: their hand-built 41.5-meter sailboat, Satori.

Now aged seven, the custom yacht was a labor of love for Claus, who has been sailing since childhood in Denmark. “It’s built from solid teak and mahogany, so it’s heavy,” he says. “But it is designed to sail. We hit 14 knots recently which was fantastic.

Inside Satori are five cabins that can accommodate 10 people in a master suite and four doubles as well as eight to nine crew members. It offers a true nautical encounter, designed to connect guests with the ocean. “It’s almost an old-fashioned experience,” says Jeanette, “to enjoy the ride rather than putting on a seatbelt and going as fast and as far as you can.

Although Jeanette wasn’t a sailor at first, a transformative schooner ride changed her mind. “Claus has been sailing since he was little, like many Danes, and always wanted to take me sailing,” she says. “On the water, I almost had an out of body experience when we started sailing. It was incredibly beautiful: so close to the water and the elements – a fantastic experience that felt like instant enlightenment. Hence the name Satorithe Buddhist term for enlightenment.

Claus played a key role in the design of the yacht and it took him 10 years to perfect Satori. “He always draws boats on napkins,” says Jeanette. The mahogany and teak were purchased by the Turkish shipyard from sustainable sources and the main deck and general appearance of Satori, from the elegant seats to the light fixtures and the sconces, are inspired by the boats of the 1920s. The front deckhouse of the main deck hosts an open kitchen where two chefs work. This year they include a collaboration with Italian starred chef Massimo Bottura. It’s like the style of cooking you’ll find in Borgo Santo Pietro, except on the water, says Claus.

The yacht’s main saloon evokes 1920s elegance

Credit: Stuart Pearce

Satori is their only boat, and they’ve found that guests are only too happy to mix land and sea. “They’ll do the house one year and the boat the next, or mix for a week with four nights at the hotel and three on board,” says Claus. The transfer is often from the Borgo to the coast, just under an hour away, but they have taken guests by helicopter to the yacht in Greece. Routes – of different lengths and offered from May to October – go variously towards Sardinia, Elba, Corsica, Sicily and the Greek islands. But the fact is that wherever you are with the Thottrups – in the Tuscan hills or the rolling Adriatic – a special connection with nature is assured.

First published in the February 2022 edition of BOAT International. Get this magazine delivered straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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