Borgo Argenina ★★★

The main house, Borgo Argenina, Chianti, Italy (Photo courtesy of the hotel)
The main house

A small hamlet turned into a home-away-from-home of B&B rooms and cottages in the Chianti countryside

, Borgo Argenina, Chianti, Italy
, Borgo Argenina, Chianti, Italy
, Borgo Argenina, Chianti, Italy
, Borgo Argenina, Chianti, Italy
, Borgo Argenina, Chianti, Italy

Elena Nappa calls it “The Welcome.”

When new guests arrive at her hilltop clutch of Tuscan stone houses, a canine honor guard (consisting of Giuseppina) escorts them from the gravel parking lot past old buildings festooned with flowering vines and climbing roses to the main house.

There, Elena seat her guests around her massive kitchen table, gives them a hand-drawn map of the region, and launches into a half-hour discourse on how to plan their time in the Chianti.

She sketches out itineraries on the map like football plays, circling the locations of sights, vineyards, and artisan studios and drawing in back roads that can help save time. She periodically hands over local restaurants’ business cards along with frank opinions on which is overpriced but perfect for a fancy dinner and which is ideal for an inexpensive outdoor lunch.

Only then will she lead her guests to their room or little house, point out that everything in the minibar is free, as is the vin santo and cantucci (dessert wine and Tuscan biscotti) out on the shared loggia, and warn that she needs at least a day’s notice if you want her to cook a family-style dinner for €40 ($47) per person (she needs time to shop for whatever her garden doesn’t produce and to make the pasta by hand). Finally, she’ll hand over the key to the padlock on the door’s ancient iron bolt.

At this point, most guests either set off immediately to explore, or lie down to recover a bit from the effort of taking in Elena’s tsunami of sage advice.

Others make the mistake of asking now, rather than saving it for later, about Elena Nappa’s favorite topic: how Borgo Argenina came to be. 

Elena’s gregariousness comes from being born Neapolitan, her sense of style from working for years as a fashion stylist in Milan. In 1993 she visited the Chianti for the first time and fell in love—with a crumbling medieval hamlet, abandoned for 50 years, that she stumbled across during a walk. Even her own mother thought she was mad when Elena bought the ruins, but after five years of rebuilding walls and digging wells, Borgo Argenina opened for business in 1998—precisely 1,000 years after its first mention in historical texts as a border hamlet between the warring city-states of Siena and Florence (“argine” is a Tuscan dialect word for boundary).

In addition to the rooms in the main house—antique wrought-iron beds, deluxe mattresses, handmade quilts, hand-stitched lace curtains, and time-worn terracotta tiles—there are three small houses.

Two of them sleep two to three adults (or a family of four, with the kids on the sofa bed) and, like the guest quarters in the main house, could easily be featured in an Architectural Digest article on Tuscan country homes.

The Villa Olivera is an old grain storehouse that sleeps four and has been renovated with post-modern flair: steel staircases, track lighting, curtains and linens recycled from old textiles, modular steel-and-glass shelving, polished cement floors, a stainless kitchen, and simple chunky wood furnishings.

But for all its bucolic quiet and rustic charisma, Borgo Argenina’s chief attraction is the garrulous, impeccably dressed, eagerly friendly, and eminently self-assured force of nature who runs it. That Elena takes remarkable care of her (largely American) clientele is evident in her high percentage of repeat business. Any given night, a disproportionate number of guests seem to be couples who stayed here for a night or two several years ago on a whirlwind tour of Tuscany and are now back, booked for a full week, to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.

Borgo Argenina also seems to cast a spell that draws guests together in a way you never really see at a hotel, even those who normally go out of their way to avoid fellow tourists. The sunny breakfast room is always filled with excited chatter as couples get to know one another over a rich spread of cheeses, meats, eggs, fresh bread, and cakes still warm from the oven.

In the late afternoon, everyone seems naturally to congregate on the recliners and low wall of the terrace outside the main house, swapping stories and comparing their experiences with Elena’s advice. Elena might stop by to share a basket of cherries just picked from the orchard. Some guests make plans to have dinner together or team up on tomorrow’s exploration. Others simply sit there, sipping wine and gazing over the Tuscan postcard panorama of rolling hills striped with vineyards.

There are, however, a few obstacles to getting a spot on that terrace. For one thing, Elena prefers guests avoid arriving the middle of the afternoon because she will probably be asleep. “You have to stick to the rhythms of life and of the land,” she says in defense of the traditional riposo mid-afternoon nap. “A trip to the Chianti should be about rediscovering this pace of life.” (This is also her argument against installing a pool or TVs.)

What’s more, she has purposefully made Borgo Argenina hard to find. Coming from the north on SS408, take the second left turn for Monti—the one marked "Monti 1,3 km;" a few yards up that road, a dirt road signposted for "Argenina" veers off to the right. These instructions are important since Elena refuses to put a sign down at the turning on the main road.

“I don’t want to spoil the Chianti,” she says, complaining that there are too many signs already.

Besides, she prefers not to take in passing motorists simply looking for a place to sleep. Elena wants guests who choose her and Borgo Argenina and booked ahead.

That way, she knows when to expect them and can start preparing The Welcome.

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Photo gallery
  • The main house, Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo courtesy of the hotel)
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
  • , Borgo Argenina, Italy (Photo )
 

Tips

About the lodging star ratings (☆☆☆ to ★★★)

You will notice that all hotels, B&Bs, and other lodgingds (as well as sights and restaurants) on this site have a ReidsItaly.com star designation from ☆☆☆ to ★★★.

This merely indicates that I feel these accommodations offer a little something that makes them special (or extra-special, or extra-extra special, etc.).

These star ratings are entirely based on personal opinion, and have nothing to do with the official Italian hotel ratings—which have more to do with quantifiable amenities such as minibars, and not the intangibles that make a hotel truly stand out, like a combination of great location, friendly owners, nice style, and low prices.

In general, a pricier place to stay has to impress me that it is worth the added expense.

This is why I give ★★★ to some (official) "two-star" hotels or B&Bs that happen to provide amazing value for the money—and similarly have ranked a few (official) "four-star" properties just (★★☆).

About the lodging price brackets (€–€€€)

Accommodations rates vary wildly—even at the same hotel or B&B—depending on type of room, number of people in it, and the season.

That's why here at ReidsItaly.com we simply provde a general price range indicating the rough rate you should expect to pay for a standard double room in mid-season.

There are three price ranges, giving you a sense of which lodgings are budget, which are moderate, and which are splurges:

under €100
€€ €100–€200
€€€ over €200
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for lodging

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a hotel un albergo oon al-BEAR-go
...a B&B un bed-and-breakfast oon bet hand BREK-fust
...a rental room un'affittacamera oon ah-feet-ah-CAH-mair-ra
...an apartment for rent un appartamento oon ah-part-tah-MENT-toh
...a farm stay un agriturismo oon ah-gree-tour-EES-moh
...a hostel un ostello oon oh-STEHL-loh
     
How much is...? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
a single room una singola OO-nah SEEN-go-la
double room for single use [will often be offered if singles are unavailable] doppia uso singola DOPE-pee-ya OO-so SEEN-go-la
a double room with two beds una doppia con due letti OO-nah DOPE-pee-ya cone DOO-way LET-tee
a double room with one big bed una matrimoniale OO-nah mat-tree-moan-nee-YAAL-lay
triple room una tripla OO-nah TREE-plah
with private bathroom con bagno cone BAHN-yoh
without private bathroom senza bagno [they might say con bagno in comune—"with a communal bath"] SEN-zah BAHN-yoh
for one night per una notte pair OO-nah NOH-tay
for two nights per due notti pair DOO-way NOH-tee
for three nights per tre notti pair tray NOH-tee
Is breakfast included? É incluso la prima colazione? ay in-CLOO-soh lah PREE-mah coal-laht-zee-YOAN-nay
Is there WiFi? C'é WiFi? chay WHY-fy?
May I see the room? Posso vedere la camera? POH-soh veh-DAIR-eh lah CAH-mair-rah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Is there a cheaper one? C'é una più economica? chay OO-nah pew eh-ko-NO-mee-kah


 

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).

 

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