At Castello del Nero hotel in Tuscany, you’ll walk around wide-eyed: this 12th-century castle has mediaeval frescoes, marble-and-mosaic bathrooms and a very tempting spa. Dine on wild boar ragù or lobster ravioli in the elegant restaurant, then walk it all off in the hotel’s rolling 740 acres of vinyards, olive groves, vineyards, lakes, preened Italian gardens and wild Tuscan woods. Better still, rent one of the red Vespas and vintage Fiat 500s to explore the Chianti countryside in classic Tuscan style.
A bottle of wine in your room. Guests in a suite for three nights-plus get a three-course lunch
In the know
Also need to know:
Cookery classes (for up to six) can be arranged in advance. In summer, the hotel also offer twice-weekly yoga sessions in the grounds.
Watercolours and a canvas for capturing Tuscan scenes; a bottle opener for boozy picnics.
Picture yourself sipping Chianti under the vaulted ceilings of a mediaeval castle and dress accordingly: silks, velvet and cashmere; leather; a hint of gold.
Mr and Mrs Smith reviews
Rarely do I prepare for holidays with such verve. But with a month in Italy, I was determined to get the max out of this trip. My husband is a history scholar and I knew exploring every stone in ancient ruins was on his agenda. So I needed a rescue plan. Where would we meet half way? Around Montalcino and Chianti. And what I really needed was a spa especially for my feet. How to sell this idea to Mr Smith?
The answer: Castello del Nero, a 12th-century castle. The one-time residence of the namesake noble Florentine family, it was rescued from rubble by their descendent, Carlo Torrigiani, and his American wife, Anna Frey. They worked tirelessly to restore the residence and land back to its former glory. And now it is a boutique hotel and spa with a 16th-century private chapel dedicated to San Michele. Its description, delivered with a few flamboyant hand gestures and romantic words, had it sold to the hubby in no time, too. Roll forward then to the actual trip and my feet are by now in need of a serious rest. Those ancient stones are most unforgiving – how did those sandalled Roman solders do it?
Nothing could be more perfect than the drive up to the Castello del Nero. This Australian has always been a sucker for crunching gravel as you arrive at a private house. Imposing without being too grand, a big smile and a cool, scented towel for our brows soon make the welcome all the warmer. After a quick view of the pool and amazing garden, past my favourite green hydrangeas, we’re shown to our suite. A large mezzanine-split room with shuttered windows opening to the view over valleys of olive groves and vineyards stretching towards the horizon.
Who doesn’t love luxury touches when travelling? The delivery on details abounds at Castello del Nero: downstairs, a fine cashmere rug to curl up with when you watch movies; upstairs, pristine, embroidered linen that is ever so slightly scented. And those pillows! It is so inviting that I have to stop Mr Smith from diving onto the bed.
To the pool! Passing a mown-to-perfection lawn, we find a rose-filled corner of the garden that feels almost English. Then we see the outdoor tennis courts. But it is a rest day for this pair. As we arrive at the pool house, a quiet but wonderful suggestion is made: would we like a hamburger put onto the barbecue and perhaps a Campari and blood-orange juice? Does the Pope wear Prada shoes? An afternoon sleep on some serious deckchairs, with English papers scattered around us, and it almost feels like home.
‘Look there is a spa,’ I say. ‘I’m not going to a spa,’ comes the response. ’Just have a look,’ I plead. Segue from gentle persuasion to finding us in the thermal suite. The range of heating and cooling experiences soon soothes aching muscles. Mr Smith’s wide smile indicates I’ve made a convert. Special showers infused with mint and lavender, circulation-boosting ice fountains, aromatic caldarium steam rooms – Mr Smith, the spa refusenik, is now hooked. We spend hours being pampered. Holistic foot treatment with hot stones and a relaxing acupressure-point massage and paraffin dip. When those waxy pale pink booties are removed I wonder if she’s given me someone else’s feet. I float, skip, jump about, and then join my husband in the tranquillity room, where he is sipping fragrant tea.
Joy of joys. It’s been all I planned and more, and there’s still dinner in La Torre, the elegant dining room. On arrival, our eyes are drawn to the exquisitely decorated fireplace that complements high ceilings and terracotta floors. Large French windows overlook the landscape of the Castello del Nero estate.
Our waitress tells us that the estate produces its own red wine and extra virgin olive oil. I find out too late that I could have booked a cooking class with the well-known chef. Next time! Since we are in truffle country I want to try the Tuscan cuisine teamed with the earthiness of truffles. Slow-poached hen’s egg with crispy rice, sheep’s cheese and black truffle gets the party started.
The bliss continues the next day at breakfast. Sunday’s first meal of the day should be a slow and indulgent delight in my books. A serious spread of freshly baked breads and pastries, home-made jams and cooked dishes promises all we could desire. It’s only having a day trip planned that we break our breakfasting at all. Tennis lessons, mountain-bike tours and horse riding have been offered, and all sound great – to Mr Smith. I watch my husband’s face light up at the suggestion of ballooning; he sees the muscles on mine spell out NO. So we opt for a trip to Siena – the mention of this historical town has his face lighting up again. All day on our feet again but by the end we’re back home, or at least it feels like home, curled up in that lightweight cashmere throw. We look at each other and agree instantly on the next activity: room service.
7 Strada Spicciano, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Tuscany, 50028
Tavarnelle Val di Pesa
6.9 mi / 11.2 km from city centre
- Onsite laundry
- Exercise gym
- On-Site parking
- Internet services
- Tennis court
- Room service
Michelin-starred La Torre is in the former stables, but no trace of the original residents remains in the elegantly muted dining room, decorated with terracotta-tiled floors, arched ceilings and polished slate tables. As you’d expect, the menu is a love letter to Tuscany; executive chef Giovanni Luca Di Pirro uses the finest ingredients sourced from local farmers or directly from the estate's organic garden. The dishes are seasonally inspired, with crispy greens and fragrant herbs in spring and rich truffles and wild boar in autumn. In summer, diners can eat al fresco on the terrace, overlooking the rolling hills and spectacular sunsets of Chianti. La Taverna is the less formal family-friendly restaurant in the castle’s original 12th-century kitchen, serving simple but flavourful Italian fare, pizzas topped with local ingredients, as well as inventive cocktails. In the summer, head to the Pavilion for all-day Mediterranean dining served alfresco amidst vineyards and olive groves.
Out on the Garden Terrace in summer; cosy by the fire, come winter.
Pile your plate with cold cuts, pastries or fruit between 7.30am and 10.30am; enjoy a lazy lunch at La Taverna from 12pm; sit down for dinner between 7.30pm and 10pm. Service in the bar slows around 12.30am.
Disrobed and disinclined to be in public? Order snacks and light bites around the clock from the in-room 24-hour service menu.
In the former castle kitchens, the bar is an atmospheric space, all exposed red brick, flagstone floors and arched ceilings: sip a local wine with a plate of cured meat and cheeses and you’ll feel like landed Tuscan gentry. The 12th-century wine cellars are a romantic setting for fine wine and olive oil tastings for up to eight guests. Choose from Champagne, reserve cognacs, grappas and whiskies, or have the hotel's expert mixologists whip up one of their enticing signature cocktails.
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