Casa Portagioia is a place of
benign deception. Chances are that you probably plan to go
there looking for a cosy location from which you can
leisurely explore the Tuscan countryside - and it is more
than likely that when you get there you will get all that
but you will also find something entirely else and
First and foremost, you will discover a place of humble artistic beauty. The pictures posted on the site are nice, but they do not necessarily do justice to the actual look and sheer pleasantness of the estate. The experience starts just outside the gates with the charming cypress-framed drive-way; unfolds itself in the seducingly scent-rich and vibrant Mediterranean garden; and reaches its climax at the pool from which you have a vista on the surrounding valley that begs to be put on canvas or to be enjoyed through red wine enhanced vision (and if you have half a wit, you would already be sipping on one of the delicious reds from the hosts' carefully picked selection). Sitting at the pool is a particular pleasure at night-time: when cosseted by all the sensory pleasures of the Tuscan country wrapped in total silence (bar the enthusiastic crickets) with a huge dome of unobstructed Milky Way above your head, you will surrender to perfect relaxation without a moment's hesitation.
What I like most about the design of Casa Portagioia is that although it is a luxurious B&B by any measure (as demonstrated by the heated pool, the impossible-to-get-out-of comfy bed or the top-quality ingredients available at breakfast), the owners managed to pull off a tricky feat and created an atmosphere that feels genuinely friendly and absolutely unpretentious. Simple, good taste applied in just the right measures underlines all aspects of the place, from the interior of the apartments through to the layout of the garden and olive-groves to the inviting dining terrace that will surely make you sit around at least three times longer than your meal would otherwise warrant it.
Secondly, you will meet a couple of great hosts and characters, Terry and Marcello. I am adamantly determined not to sing praises to them (others have written a great deal about their exemplary hospitality), but as they are the very soul and fabric of Casa Portagioia, any review of the place would be incomplete without a few words about them. My theory - and I did actually mulled over this topic - is that Terry and Marcello must have taken some time to carefully study what is wrong with hospitality at other places generally and they set out to create the antithesis of that. They proved to be outstanding students and their ambitions paid off: I was consistently impressed by every aspect of their service. They have an excellent understanding of why their guests come to visit their place, they adapt to their needs and tailor the experience accordingly. As the result, what you get is a masterfully balanced service: they are always there when you need them (Marcello had this preternatural skill to show up just at the right time when we wished for another bottle of wine or got peckish for some food), but they are never intrusive and leave you to enjoy your stay while also gently prodding you and giving you useful advice and suggestions about where to go and what to do in the region.
Although this was the second time I visited, I was still caught by surprise on many occasions by all the attention that these guys put into to smallest of details. A true effort for perfection characterizes everything - an attitude that is reflected in numerous nice little touches. A late request on phone for a cold platter that in Marcello's interpretation turns into a lavish feast boasting the best regional cheeses and meats, garnished by their own olive oil which tasted so good that I seriously contemplated gulping down a few shots of it on its own (no panic, I ended up buying a bottle for myself instead). The gratis vin santo in the cupboard that sweetened the end of our nights. The immaculately folded and hung clothes after requesting laundry-service. The restaurant recommendations and bookings at places which without fail served honest, great Italian food for a reasonable price (that truffle-tortellini still tickles my gastric memory). An entertaining and funny conversation with Terry about airplanes while drinking my second or third coffee in the morning, all of which were offered as naturally as a breeze.
When taken altogether, all these little mosaics add up to a strong and rather unusual perception that these folks do really care about you as a guest and an individual.
I would finish this little essay with a sincere advice: do not to get fooled! Casa Portagioia is definitely not merely a place to stay at - as Terry and Marcello so humbly claim in their advertising pamphlet - it is a place to take away with you. A slow-release narcotic of the most beneficial kind. A friendly, reassuring memory that you can rely on and call upon, say, when your are crammed into a carriage on the London tube with 208 sweating and stressed out city-dwellers who are all seemingly keen to sink their elbows into your rib-cage at any given opportunity.
Disclaimer: I was paid 5000 pounds, 3 pennies and a stale British ale for the review above. Of course, it is a joke. If you now find yourself frowning in disapproval, I have to warn you that you may have a hard time appreciating the hosts' particularly rich and flavoursome sense of humour. And you would be missing out on a lot.