Perched on the edge of my blue-and-white-striped sun lounger, I looked up and down the lines of recliners, searching for the celebrities I was assured frequented this private beach. A roll of carpet ran between the rows so you could avoid getting sand between your toes. Very thoughtful. I craned my neck to look in all directions: Was that Hugh Grant chatting to the lifeguard? Was Elton John bobbing in the water with Pavarotti? Not today. Just me and some skimpily clad Europeans relaxing at the Cala del Porto hotel in the exclusive resort area of Punta Ala, in Tuscany's Maremma region.
Cala del Porto's owner, Roberto Polito, whose Milan-based company is called Baglioni Hotels Group, was prescient in opening this intimate 41-room resort 30 years ago in a part of Tuscany that was still unknown to most tourists. Now Maremma is home to some of Italy's most famous wines—including two of the Cabernet blends called Super-Tuscans, the mighty Sassicaia and Ornellaia—and more and more travelers are coming to the area to visit wineries, not just beaches. Polito and his family have since gone on to open another 13 sumptuous hotels around Europe; they're clustered mainly in Italy (in cities including Milan, Venice and Rome) and in France (in such regions as Champagne and Provence). Many Baglioni guests are eager to explore the local food and wines, and the staff is skilled at providing insider tips and privileged access. Guido Polito, Roberto's 28-year-old son, explained the Baglioni raison d'être: "Luxury is not just about a gold bath tap. It is about an experience—personal service, the sights and smells of a city, the gastronomy, art and culture." The Baglioni experience might include a helicopter tour of a Champagne vineyard, or, for guests staying at the Carlton Hotel Baglioni in Milan, a private dinner with the musicians of the city's Teatro alla Scala opera house.
As a former manager of a chaotic hotel in Tibet, I'm not quite accustomed to this level of customer service. I decided to fly to Italy from my home in Britain to submit myself to the joy of being a coddled guest at a posh property—and to see what new experiences the Baglioni hotels might have in store for me.