On the coastal side of Tuscany, not too far from Grosseto, there’s a small Island called Monte Argentario. Well, almost an island, once it was but now it’s connected to the mainland by a train line and road, so I guess it’s now more of a peninsula. Because of its previous solidarity – and its modest size, Monte Argentario has much more untamed beauty than most parts of Tuscany, with just two small towns, rolling mountains and a beautiful rocky coastline.
We arrived on the ‘Island’ by train, into Orbetello Station. From here we took a short taxi to the famous Argentario Golf Resort & Spa, passing centuries-old olive trees and untouched woodland. The luxury 5-star resort is home to a PGA golf course, spa, fitness centre and two swimming pools. Set within the rolling hills, the resort has incredible panoramic views; wherever you are in the hotel, you’re guaranteed an amazing view and are treated to some of the most mesmerising sunsets.
Decoration is modern, artistic yet simple, in a mostly monochrome colour theme. The main feature of the Argentario Resort is the majestic entrance hall, where an enormous dome-like glass window spirals up, allowing for the sun to shine down into the room. The rest of the hotel is decorated in a similar style, with designer Andrea Fogli describing it as contemporary, with retro and extravagant touches.
There are 73 rooms at the Argentario Resort and five luxury villas – I didn’t get to see the villas but I can only imagine their grandeur. We stayed in a Travel Club Junior Suite, which had a huge open terrace, offering views of the mountains and golf course, a king size bed, TV and Tabarca-stone bathtub, segregated from the main room by dark wooden paneling; it was a touch of romance delivered in an elegant way and a lovely spot to enjoy a glass of wine. You need not worry about privacy, as there’s a separate shower and bathroom adjacent to the grand tub.
All rooms are equipped with aircon, which turns off if the patio door is open – a very eco-effective addition. There was also complimentary water, biscuits, chocolate and even a bottle of wine waiting for us in the room when we arrived – the water and chocolate were topped up both morning and evening (not the wine though, unfortunately).
There are two places to eat at the hotel, the Club House Restaurant and the Dama Dama Restaurant – Dama Dama actually translates to fallow deer, which can be found roaming in Argentario. Both restaurants feature menus created by head chef Emiliano Lombardelli, however Dama Dama is where his true creativity shines, with an array of incredible tasting menus, in addition to an à la carte menu.
Using only the freshest, local and seasonal ingredients, Chef Emiliano takes guests on a journey of either land or sea. We ate from ‘the sea’ tasting menu (including wine pairing), largely because it featured his signature dish, Bottoni di Caldaro dell’Argentario dentro e fuori (also known as Inside Out). This dish is a tribute to his childhood, based on a traditional Italian soup he enjoyed growing up, called The Caldaro, which actually means large pot. Traditionally, this large pot was used to make the soup over a fire on the beach, using whatever they had managed to catch that day. Of course, it was much more than a ‘soup’: Fresh pasta encased a seafood mixture, (almost like a ravioli but much better), and pieces of squid were delicately placed on top. The whole dish is then finished with the ‘soup’, a rich seafood infused tomato sauce, poured over by the waiter at the table. It was sensational, ‘homely’ yet refined.
Other standout dishes included: Mazzancolle Scioccato, a prawn caprese topped with an olive oil ice cream and caviar – a wonderful combination of flavours and textures – and a citrus sea bass with creamed corn, pumpkin flowers and courgettes. We must have had about six savoury dishes in total, which were then followed by another three sweet courses: a raspberry mousse lolly pop, encased with white chocolate, a chocolate and hazelnut layered dessert, in the shape of Italy, served with a black fruit sorbet, and finally, a selection of petit fours. Safe to say we retired to bed very full and very content. I couldn’t recommend this tasting menu more!
Surprisingly, (or maybe I shouldn’t have been knowing Emiliano’s talent) I was just as blown away by the food at The Club House. This isn’t your traditional ‘golf club house’, it’s a proper restaurant and in the most stunning location. With views over the golf course, it’s well worth making time for a pre dinner drink on the terrace, with the sunset making the most beautiful backdrop. To start, we shared the fresh red prawns and grilled octopus, both incredibly fresh and cooked to perfection. My main course was the catch of the day: a white, meaty fish, which came in a light olive, caper and tomato sauce. My friend had the Florentine steak, rich in flavour and served with roasted vegetables and potatoes – he ate every last piece.
Breakfast was served back in the Dama Dama Restaurant, on the terrace. There was a generous spread of food: a cooked option, cereals, yoghurt, meats, cheeses and breads, as well as fruit and cakes. It was still set up in a buffet style but given the recent pandemic waiters served you, rather than guests helping themselves. With a big day of hiking and cycling ahead, we fuelled up on everything we could, even taking some dried fruit and nuts with us for later.
There’s plenty to do at the hotel to keep you occupied, including cooking classes and wonderful spa facilities but it would be a shame to miss the beauty of Monte Argentario. If you have a car, I would definitely recommend driving around the peninsular, stopping off at different viewpoints as you go and visiting the two main villages, Porto Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole.
For the adventurers, there are an abundance of different hikes you can do and the hotel also has bikes, which you can hire at an additional cost. We enjoyed both, hiking over the mountains to the small town of Porto Ercole, where we then rented e-bikes (because they were half the price of what the hotel was charging) and cycled along the coast to a small private beach called Spiaggia Le Cannelle. It was mostly off road, beautiful and very hilly.
Fun fact... E-bikes have a small sensor on the back wheel. If this sensor is a little ‘off’, twisted slightly the wrong way maybe, the connection to the battery goes a little… faulty. So faulty in fact, that when home time came about, my bike wasn’t working… or so it appeared. Realising we were stuck 15k from home (and a few mountains in between), we decided to call the bike rental for help. Well, that was useless, no one spoke a word of English and our Italian was less than comprehensive – maybe we should have rented the hotel ones after all… OK, plan 2: we cycle what we can, swapping bikes and pushing it on the huge hills (if you’ve ridden an e-bike you’ll know how incredibly heavy they are an that you really NEED the electric motor, no matter how fit you are). So off we went. Within a few minutes, Scott came up with a bright idea, ‘let’s connect the bikes using the bike locks, and I will tow you home’. It sounded like it could work…
After a few wobbly starts and the lock coming loose, we finally had the perfect set up. Scott would ride out front, going into ‘sports mode’ on the high hills, which gave enough power to pull me up the hills too. On the flatter bits, we’d reduce the tension and ride side-by-side. Miraculously, this worked. All the way home. Cyclists passed us in amazement, cheering our camaraderie and teamwork. I felt pretty smug.
Finally, back at the bike rental unit, we tried to tell the lady the bike wasn’t working. She twiddled the sensor on the back, pressed ‘on’, and the bike was back to 70% battery. ALL YOU CAN DO IS LAUGH. So we did, then we got pizza, a cold beer and sat on the beach – it tasted incredible.
Well, you can certainly do a lot in 48 hours in Argentario. I do wish I was into golf more… and actually, if I’d had more time I likely would have gone for a round anyway (if only to drive the buggy). There’s one thing that will stay with me on this trip though (no not just the e-bike situation), but the incredible sunsets and wonderful food, not to mention that fantastic hospitality of the staff… OH, another fun story… I left my dress hanging in the bedroom wardrobe. But, like true legends, the hotel sent it back to me. All the way to London. Thank you, I really hope that I can visit again, hopefully for longer and with a pair of clubs!