Borgo Finocchieto officially opened in spring 2008, and has since operated mainly by word of mouth. Word passed quickly. The exuberantly social Phillips knows approximately half the population of Washington, D.C., and Douglass, a former ABC News correspondent and traveling press secretary on the Obama campaign, likely knows the rest. In one hallway is a framed note from Teddy and Vicky Kennedy, who visited the borgo in 2006, in the midst of renovations. Alice Waters, another friend of Phillips, is Finocchieto’s unofficial culinary consultant.
While it has the services and polish of a luxury resort, including a full-time staff of nine, Borgo Finocchieto is not a conventional hotel. The target clientele is not so much independent travelers (though individual bookings are welcome) but groups, who might book a single house or even the entire village. Phillips anticipates a mix of celebratory gatherings (family reunions, birthday or anniversary parties) and high-minded retreats (academic conferences, educational programs, think-tank summits). Ultimately he sees the borgo becoming “a place for culture, arts, food, music, policy, and ideas,” on the model of, say, the Aspen Institute—or, for that matter, the American Academy in Rome, of which Phillips is a trustee. “This place works so well in bringing people together, even people who didn’t know each other beforehand,” he says.
That was certainly the case during my visit. The borgo was near-full, giving it the lively air of a proper village. At traditional country resorts, one’s instinct is to seek out a private corner and keep to oneself, but at Finocchieto an easy communal feeling prevailed. For all the time and money spent on renovations, the borgo maintains a remarkably unpretentious, even homey, feel; there’s a softness, a worn-ness to the place that can only come from centuries of everyday use. The crowd that weekend was a balance of hotel guests and a few old friends of Phillips. My wife and I knew not a soul among them, but within a few hours of arriving we were bonding over a rowdy 12-person bocce tournament. We all lingered long over breakfasts on the terrace—oven-warm cornetti, prosciutto di Parma with melon from the garden—then went our separate ways in the afternoons, biking, touring wineries, visiting Siena or Montalcino. At sundown we reassembled for communal dinners in the main house, under forged-iron candelabras and ceiling beams the size of tree trunks. Luigi Ricci, the borgo’s chef, who spent 20 years working with Paul Bocuse, conjured great rustic feasts of Cinta Senese, Chianina steaks, luscious housemade mozzarella, and pappardelle with rabbit ragù.
Alice Waters herself happened to be at the borgo that weekend as well. On our final Sunday she was inspired to clear the cobwebs from the 500-year-old oven, gather some olive-wood kindling, and fire up some note-perfect crostini with ricotta and honey. We devoured it while sitting on the lawn, gazing out over the shimmering fields of the Val d’Orcia, then settled in for one last postprandial round of bocce. There are worse afternoons.
Peter Jon Lindberg is T+L’s editor-at-large.