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Tuscany with a twist; Bess Manson leaves the noisy city behind to discover what's new - and old - in Tuscany.

Iwarned us ill rising out * T'S not your typical rustic hotel, they was we wound our way up the gentle hi of the Tyrrhenian Sea in Tuscany. Instead of terracotta, wrought iron and a sandstone buildings, we must think moder cutting-edge design, a taste of 21st century I felt uneasy because I love the rustic and heritage of typical picture-postcard Tuscan we approached Argentario Golf Resort and the Maremma region, I could imagine mod comforts and luxury and sensed I was losin interest in the old traditions.

ancient rn, y Italy. d ancient ny. But as d Spa, in dern ng a bit of Even before that, I was enchanted by Mo Argentario itself, which would have been a but for one natural spit connecting it to the Since the developers built the bridge to a vehicles to cross the watery divide from Or become a holiday favourite with Italians, a still largely unknown to foreign tourists. onte an island e mainland. allow rbetello, it's although Two Brits who did discover this gem, how were the late Elizabeth Taylor and Richard who escaped to this Tuscany-by-the-Sea in break from filming Cleopatra in Rome to c private. wever, d Burton, n 1962 on anoodle in If it's good enough for them, it must be g enough for us. good Italian businessman Augusto Orsini was those who saw haven written all over this 'island'. A visionary blessed with ecologica awareness and the patience of a saint, Ors almost 25 years creating this resort, facing endless bureaucratic hurdles and environm one of small al sini spent g down mental issues until he eventually won planning pe His reward is the Argentario Golf Resort luxurious hotel that blends modern archite home comforts and warm personalities. ermission. and Spa, a ecture with Flanked by rolling hills of olive and cork golf course that looks out to sea, the hotel down a gentle slope. It has four levels, eac unobtrusively into the hillside with roofs co local vegetation to minimise the ecological The resort is one of 100 members of the award-winning Design Hotel Grou level of rooms has a diffe theme, from New Yor Soho to Countr trees and a cascades h built overed in impact.

up. Each erent rk and y Tuscan and Oriental.

One luxury apartment with spa and exercise equipment was even named Europe's best hotel room.

We check into our plush room, refresh and consider exploring the surrounds. Our timing could not be better - it's warm, we're thirsty and it's cocktail hour. Prosecco, per favore.

Sitting back with our bubbles we consider our plan of attack for the next few days. There's obviously the golf - though this challenging and picturesque course is yet to be tackled by Italy's most famous golfers, the Molinari brothers.

Nearby is another enclave of luxury - the Espace Wellness Centre. Apart from two indoor pools (connected with a nifty tunnel to one of two outdoor pools), Espace epitomises pampering. It offers the usual facials, massages and manicures, as well as a couples private spa. And soon to open is the new beauty wing where you can get your fix of Botox and other minor beauty surgeries.

For our little girl there were two play areas from which, over the next few days, she was difficult to extract. To refuel, you can dine in the resort's award-winning Dama-Dama restaurant, which uses almost exclusively local produce, much from its own massive kitchen garden, to minimise the carbon footprint. For those interested in how to concoct these dishes, there are cookery classes in Tuscan and Mediterranean cuisine.

Out of the resort there is loads to keep an active holiday-maker occupied. Rent a bicycle, or a quad bike for those who prefer engines over pedal power. Take an excursion to the Natural Park of Maremma, which overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea and Tuscan Archipelago or to the Giardino Dei Tarocchi - a garden boasting tall sculptures influenced by Barcelona's famous Gaudi architect.

Or for more watery fun rent a boat and check out the peninsula's many bays and covens.

Being a sedate bunch, we ditch the idea of any strenuous activities on day one and head for Porto Ercole - a small picture-postcard port town just 10 minutes away by car. Small as the Argentario peninsula is, it's recommended to have a vehicle here - or stump up the relatively expensive [ETH]20 cab fare each way.

Charming as Porto Ercole is, the real gem of the area is the bigger and more elegant sister town of Porto Santo Stefano, where we head on our second day. The terracotta-roofed houses - many in familiar, pastel yellow and pink - almost tumble down the hillside to the port, which in turn is fronted by dozens of restaurants, bars and impossible-to-pass gelato outlets. Think Tuscany meets the Amalfi Coast, and you get the full picture.

From here you can take the hour-long boat trip to nearby Isola del Giglio. Wander around the island's pretty village, stop for a bite in any number of restaurants and walk it off by heading to the castle at the top of the hill.

In between the two ports are the Forte Filippo fortress, dating back to the period of Spanish rule, and the magnificently charming Passionist Convent. Halfway up the summit to Monte Argentario, this monastery is a peaceful oasis with stunning ceilings and stained glass windows, and incredible views over the area.

On our third and final day, we take a spin around the golf course.

"Pasta?" our daughter says at the 18th hole. "Prosecco?" I suggest to my husband. What better way to end our few days in this jewel of Tuscany.

TRAVEL FACTS * Bess Manson and her family were guests of Argentario Golf Resort and Spa, where accommodation ranges from E220 per double room per night to E1320.

* Reservations: 00 39 0564 1828 400 and http:// www.argentariogolfresortspa.it/en/contatti.

* Easyjet flights into Rome ex-Gatwick in June start around pounds 131 return.

* Car hire with Easycar from pounds 41.17 per day for pounds 103 for three days or with Hertz from pounds 70.53 per day or pounds 141 for three days.

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Porto Santo Stefano, Monte Argentario in Tuscany. All other pictures, the beautiful Argentario Golf Resort and Spa
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 5, 2011
Words:1043
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