Poggio ai Santi is a special place. It’s located in the middle of Tuscany, in the most beautiful setting, you can imagine. The food here is exceptional, grown with love, and sourced carefully. What makes Poggio ai Santi most memorable, though, is the people. The warm-hearted owners and friendly and attentive staff give you the feeling of being at home away from home.
1. Arriving at a small piece of Italian paradise
What does Poggio mean? The word itself implies top of a mountain and often also means a small hotel located there. Poggio ai Santi probably has one of the best views from the little hill it’s lying on. To the one side, you see the deep blue, sparkling sea, Elba island, and on a clear day, Corsica. On the other side, there are green, lush mountains, a few secluded houses, and plenty of olive groves.
I arrived by train on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. I hopped into a car, and after 10 minutes, I reached this beautiful, natural, and calm small piece of Italian paradise. Terracotta coloured bricks decorate the beige main building, green leaves wind up the walls, plants, flowers are everywhere. The house is the heart of the Poggio; this is where the family, running the place, used to live in the beginnings of their life project. Nowadays, the building hosts four rooms, the reception, the exceptional restaurant, and the experimental and modern cocktail bar. There’s also a very cosy open area. Sofas are filled with comfortable pillows. A fireplace, relaxing music, and the owner’s two amiable dogs, Hortensia and Iris, that you’ll be able to spot here sometimes will comfort you.
2. Feeling home away from home
As is adequate, I started my stay with a strong espresso. I learned that there are two types of Italians; the ones who drink the liquid dark gold in a porcelain cup and the others who prefer it from one made of glass. I went with a porcelain one. With a small caffeine rush, I went up a flight of stairs, where Alessandra, an essential part of the Poggio family, showed me my room: No 7. A spacious room, warmly lit by several vintage lamps, paintings as well as old posters and woven baskets, welcomed me. Once alone, I jumped onto the comfortable large bed to relax a bit before unpacking and having dinner. I immediately felt at home and was excited to spend the next four and a half days in this peaceful place.
Well rested, I unpacked my suitcase in no time since I left lots of space for the quite likely export of Italian wine, olive oil, and pasta. I heard pasta is worth more than gold in Europe these days. Since I’m turning 30 in a month, I figured the time was ripe for an investment of such kind.
All rooms are very airy with a tasteful interior, some more modern and some equipped with antique, dark wooden furniture. The Poggio offers up to 20 rooms of all kinds and sizes. Among them, four bungalows, surrounded by bare nature and high cypresses. Guests staying there are overlooking the beautiful landscape of this unique place.
I spotted the pool from my room, overlooking olive groves, large rosemary bushes, and the garden, Italian nature at its purest. My new, Swedish me for a second thinks about jumping into the cold water. Still, my German-Polish me quickly lets go of that highly adventurous idea. Also, the pool is closed for the season. It’s late October, after all.
3. It’s all about the people – both hosts and guests
On my first evening, I went down for dinner a bit early. Luca, the waiter, and sommelier offered me a glass of Vermentino. He knows a lot about Italian and Tuscan wines, so we talked about it several times during my stay. While still nibbling on the homemade celery Grissini that came with the wine, Francesca and Dominique arrived, with whom I had dinner scheduled for that night. The two are the very welcoming, warm, and open owners of Poggio ai Santi.
Francesca has a big and incredibly friendly smile. Both her and Dominique radiate a sense of calm and positivity. Francesca is an energetic woman fascinated by nature, animals, and the dynamics around it, already in her very young years. Her dream has always been to create a place that focuses on sustainability, paying attention to great produce while respecting Mother Earth. She is a ‘workhorse,’ as her son Giulio proudly described her. He runs the local, popular bar Sal8 (Salotto, meaning living room) together with Federico. A spot that becomes a vivid place of laughter and joy every evening. It’s all about teamwork here; within the family, but also together with all the lovely staff. This requires a lot of work and time.
Francesca decorated the guests’ rooms, the restaurant, and common areas. Also, it was she herself who planted every single olive tree that is used for the homemade, fragrant olive oil. I was lucky enough to try it over dinner that same evening. It has a very smooth taste with a hint of pleasant bitterness, and I think I also discovered the scent of young herbs and green tomatoes.
We talked a lot about how their concept is possible: to live in the place they work at and being available for their guests all day round. The secret is giving to people and getting something back through good conversations with guests and together appreciating the nature around the Poggio and the unique calm and peacefulness.
During dinner, Dominique also said that people might think they get lonely at the Poggio, out in nature, but the opposite is the case. “I meet more people here than I would ever meet by living in an apartment in Florence or Milan.” Intriguing conversations, making guests happy makes almost every day a different one.
4. What mother nature has to offer
On my first morning, I walked into the kitchen, where everyone was busy preparing ingredients for the day. The two Japanese chefs Shimpei, Sayuri, and the Italian chef Lisa are seasoning fresh fish, filling paper-thin Tortellini with homemade stuffing, and cutting fresh and wrinkly, black kale from the garden. The philosophy behind the food served at Il Sale, the Poggio’s restaurant, is to use all things mother nature gives you. In a simple but creative way, they extract all flavours an ingredient can offer. Seasonality and regionality are of the highest importance.
Everything you’ll find on your plate during breakfast, lunch, or dinner is carefully sourced. Olive oil, vegetables, and white meat come from the Poggio itself. The 40 acres of land surrounding the property offer plenty of space for growing colourful tomatoes, little pumpkins, fragrant herbs of all kinds, quince, and so many more things. It’s almost daily that the menu changes. The chefs are inspired by what the local butcher, the fishmonger, or the garden offer. Jams, like their apple and rose ones, are also homemade, as are the preserves, pickled vegetables, and the bread. The bread is made on a sourdough base, which you don’t often find in Italy. Sayuri told me the secret behind the formula: a mix of different Tuscan ancient grains, Farro, and a lot of time and feel for the flour.
I will talk more about the very talented and experienced crew another time, as there simply is too much to say.
5. Time to leave and soon come back
Waking up with the first sunbeams on my face, I know it’s time to go back home. I open the window to breathe in the last time all the scents that I won’t be smelling for some time now: warm Mediterranean air, accompanied by a light marine breeze and the scent of fresh herbs and plants. Breakfast is ready, and I’m happy to see the homemade sourdough bread and brioche neatly fitted into a breadbasket again. Like every morning, I get some very flavourful, artisan salami, cured ham, Pecorino cheese, as well as homemade jams, fruits, and eggs from the Poggio’s hens. One day I even tasted a very creamy and fresh sheep’s Ricotta that spoiled me for the rest of my life.
I jump into the car again, this time equipped with some preserves to take home and remind me about this beautiful place. Homemade tomato sauce, ripe red tomatoes, and apricot jam will help me to survive Swedish winter. Grazie, e ci rivediamo presto!
How to reach Poggio ai Santi?
45 minutes away from Pisa airport and 75 minutes away from Florence airport. Two train ride hours away from Florence and three from Rome.