The small settlement of Il Borro – south of Florence in the elegant Tuscan hills – has a fascinating and illustrious history. Once home to a community of farmers and artisans, the medieval village was passed between the Medici family of Florence and the Torriani family of Milan, was mined by the Germans as they retreated in World War II, and finally landed in the hands of Duke Amedeo di Savoia-Aosta – a member of Italy’s now-defunct ruling family. Privately renting from the duke, scions of the fashion house of Ferragamo would seek refuge from city life to gather together as a family and hunt. It wasn’t until 1993 that Ferruccio Ferragamo – son of maestro Salvatore – purchased the estate and went about transforming it into something truly unique.
A decade of restoration began as the family grew the 1,750-acre Tuscan estate and cobbled village lanes into a luxurious 38-room boutique hotel and estate, and this year, the now world-famous establishment is celebrating its 30th birthday. Not only were the village buildings turned into beautiful design-led suites, but the estate was brought alive again with vines planted and the estate’s self-sufficiency was established. From here, the idea for Il Borro’s restaurants grew. Il Borro Dubai opened in 2017, London in 2021 and the Greek island of Crete in 2022, and in the Middle East, most know the acclaimed Italian restaurant (a partnership with Orange Hospitality) before its namesake Tuscan retreat.
Today, Il Borro estate is open for travellers, luring guests with its bucolic location, rooms, indoor and outdoor pool, vineyards and a handful of grand private villas that can be rented in their entirety. The medieval village is still apparent, but what were once farmhouses are now classically designed luxury suites, private pool villas and boutiques, spread across the village and into the gardens. Discreetly dotted among the vines and orchards, hidden beneath the medieval rustic charm, are swimming pools, paddocks, the winery, a spa, a gym, tennis courts, a fine dining restaurant and a driving range – cementing itself as a truly luxe Relais & Chateaux property. Wines, olive oil, and flour from ancient grains are shopped in their restaurants, which pride themselves on their farm-to-fork philosophy.
Running the estate alongside their parents, Ferruccio and Ilaria, are Salvatore Jr and Vittoria Ferragamo. The polished siblings keep the heritage and ethos of Il Borro alive with the finesse and shine their family name is known for. As they celebrate 30 years, the duo look at how far Il Borro Tuscan Retreat has come and why it’s the ideal year-round country escape from the Middle East.
How did the property come about? Tell us the story
SF: It’s a story of passion and diversification from my father and his investments. Before we purchased the property, we rented the estate as a family for hunting. Duke Amedeo decided to sell, and my father got the family together and said, ‘Okay, we have this opportunity, but if we buy this property, it’s not for hunting; we have to turn it into a really special destination’. The first concept was, let’s make a fantastic hotel out of this 1,000-year-old Medieval village. We are in a spectacular part of Tuscany, south of Florence and north of Arezzo. Arezzo is famous as they have the largest antique market in Italy on the first Sunday of the month, and the whole town transforms into an antique market bazaar. So the property is 3,000 acres, and we lie at the foot of the Apennine mountain range, and to the south, we have the hills of Chianti Classico – at the heart of the hotel is a five-star Relais & Châteaux hotel; you can stay in one of 38 suites. This hilltop village is at the heart of the estate, where the only means of access is a very narrow stone bridge. Suites are where the village houses were, so it’s unlike any hotel with rooms above you. You walk out of your suite into the village’s cobbled street, which is quite unique.
You’ve been a member of Relais and Chateaux since 2012, and food is at the heart of the estate. Tell me more?
VF: Our wine production started in 1995 when we planted the vineyard, and the first production was in 1999. There were some old vines, but we needed to replant them, and we now have 14 different labels. Where I came in was with our vegetable garden, which was a project from my father, and we all enjoyed it very much. We’re a big family, and we always got together and enjoyed the vegetables, so we thought, why don’t we share this. So we made vegetable boxes which we deliver weekly in the cities near us, many in Florence. Our restaurant has all our own vegetables, our own tomato sauce, our own flour to make pasta, and our own chickens that lay eggs. We have 75 beehives and make four-to-five varieties of honey.
Sustainability must be a huge focus for you. Tell us what you’re doing?
VF: This is always something we wanted to do, and this year, we are focusing more than ever on sustainability; we have a project to produce even more green energy. We’ve installed solar panels, and we actually currently produce more green energy than we use.
Tell us about the design of the hotel?
SF: The hotel is in a medieval village at the top of a hill, and the only means of access is a stone bridge. It’s an open-air hotel. Right after the bridge is the restaurant, a place you must see to understand.
VF: The brief was to be authentic, to use materials that are of Tuscany. The stone, the wood, everything around you is artisanally made. Even the materials are locally made, the cotton etc. We have a local person making cotton whose family has been making cotton since Napolean’s days – they were doing the uniforms for Napolean’s troops, and they have a little shop in the Medieval village. The design is simple, spacious, efficient and the tones are neutral and earthy like this [Il Borro restaurant Dubai]. My father’s collection of prints inspires the art on the walls; it’s something he’s passionate about, along with the history of these lands.
SF: Every room is different so that you can come back and always have a new experience. We use wooden beams; it’s Tuscan in a very natural way.
How did Il Borro restaurants tie into this story?
SF: This is a unique dining experience. There are many Italian restaurants, but at Il Borro, we take it a step further, as everything in our restaurants is estate grown. The extra virgin olive oil is produced from our olives – pressed in our own mill, on our property. The wine is the same. We are in our seventh year in Dubai and doing super well. During covid, we brought 300 sheep, so we’re making our own pecorino and ricotta; we’ve got ancient wheat to make our own flour which has a very low gluten content when we make our pasta and bread. It’s all available in our restaurants. We have three restaurants in Italy, and three outside of Italy, in Dubai, London and Greece – in a Relais and Chateaux property named Elounda in Crete. It has its own marina, so you can come in on a little boat and have lunch – it’s really amazing. We didn’t plan it; it just naturally grew over time.
You’re passionate about artisans and supporting the local community. Why is this important?
VF: the artisans are something we strongly believe in. My grandfather (Salvatore Ferragamo) was an artisan himself. We thought we have these spaces in the village, we have these empty shops, why don’t we give them to artisans. They can use the spaces as a laboratory, they can sell, and they can provide courses for the guests who come and stay, so we can really communicate about artisans and give them a platform.
SF: We have so much on offer for guests to stay; we also give tours of the winery. Horse paddocks, fields, it’s so spread out.
The main villa is incredible. Who is renting this? Why is it so special?
SF: Travellers are coming from the Middle East and taking over the main villas. It has 10 double bedrooms; we don’t rent the rooms but the villa as a whole. It’s such a beautiful setting; there’s so much privacy, and you have your own gate and spectacular views across the whole of Il Borro. On the estate, we have other larger buildings that have been restored with a garden and pool, and you’re next to an olive grove.
There are so many, but what are the most remarkable aspects of the estate to you?
VF: The history of the place. When I walk into the old wine cellar, the village’s history, there’s a special vibe there; the past really talks to me. The connection between the products and the restaurants is so special, and I find it so exceptional. One time, Stefano [head chef Stefano Giovannetti] made a pasta where he put our own flour, our own eggs, and our own wine into the pasta dough itself, and a ragu without meat, and just seeing all the things he did was amazing.
SF: What I love is that every day brings something new. It’s so dynamic, being such an old property. We are constantly discovering new things about it.
Il Borro Toscana, Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy, ilborro.it