If it was environmentally responsible to hand-wash each honey bee before sending it out to get drunk in their fields of lavender, Susan McKenna Grant and her husband, Michael, would surely do so. The Canadian couple owns La Petraia, an achingly beautiful inn and restaurant on a working farm in the heart of Tuscany, near the small town of Castello di Albola.
Once the property of the Medici family, the farm had been allowed to fall into disrepair until it came to the attention of the honeymooning Grants. Starting in 2001, the Grants worked with environmentalists, historians and local craftsmen to restore the lands and a main building that dates back to the 12th century. Theirs was an intense, time-consuming labour of love, and it shows.
To dine at La Petraia is a gustatory and sensory experience that will not soon be forgotten. Each day's multiple-course menu is based on what the land has to offer, with offerings aplenty. A seven-course lunch might include a foamed zucchini flower risotto, followed by sausage made from heirloom pigs, malt balls with sesame snaps and a pistachio fruit cake. Vegetables, eggs, meat, poultry, heirloom fruit, milk, honey, olive oil and wine are all produced on La Petraia's 165 acres, along with ample spring water. Susan, a cookbook author and Cordon Bleu chef who trained with renowned chef Alan Ducasse, makes the inn's breads, pasta and desserts. Classes are available in cooking, wine and olive oil, and farm tours and tastings are also available.
Simply put, dining alfresco on the inn's wide flagstone terrace, looking over gently sloping gardens of abundance, is bliss. To sleep in one of La Petraia's four guest suites, surrounded by traditional Tuscan antiques with a splash of contemporary Italian design, is to experience a deep and abiding sense of calm. Every exquisite detail, from the wrought-iron beds with their non-allergenic, virgin wool-stuffed mattresses to the finest linens, is sourced locally (The bed covers are from Busatti, weavers of Tuscan fabric since 1847). Even the window casings on the buildings are made from the 200-year-old chestnut trees that grow on the property.
Getting to La Petraia isn't easy – a GPS is recommended – but to say the effort is worth it is an understatement. One doesn't go to La Petraia to do other things. One goes to La Petraia to be at La Petraia. Anyone seeking tranquillity will find themselves ensconced in muted, tasteful luxury, served exquisite foods by impeccably trained young waiters, and restored by a deep sense of peace and quiet punctuated only by the drowsy hum of bees.
Rates start at $365 a night, including breakfast. For more information visit lapetraia.com.