As I boarded the plane for my flight to Pisa on the way to the stunning Castello del Nero, in Chianti, I couldn't help but reminisce about the last time I was in Tuscany, which was for my wedding at Villa Nozzole (near Greve in Chianti) nearly four years ago.
For those who haven’t had the fortune of visiting Tuscany, I’d definitely put it on your bucket list of ‘must-visit’ destinations. Boasting rich cultural heritage, verdant rolling hills, the infamous Tuscan sun and the remarkably delicious cuisine (and not to mention, world-class wines), all of these factors combined make it the ideal destination for culture vultures and foodies alike. Add to this a generous helping of Tuscan hospitality, and you have all the essential ingredients for a truly memorable holiday.
Castello del Nero is everything you’d hope for in a ‘wow-factor’ accommodation – and then some. I’m now a firm believer that all rooms should come with frescoes as standard. Let’s just say the bar has been seriously raised.
The 5-star deluxe hotel (the first of its kind in Tuscany upon its opening 10 years ago) has 50 luxurious rooms (comprised of 18 lavish suites), two restaurants (La Taverna and 1-Michelin star restaurant La Torre), a bar, a 20 metre outdoor swimming pool, a 1,000 sq metre ESPA spa, a private chapel from the 1700s, and two tranquil lakes, giving one everything they need for a bit of R&R.
Up until 1986 the hotel was a private residence for the Torrigiani family. Rumour has it that the beautiful Cyprus trees that surround the property were planted by Mrs Torrigiani, who didn’t want the servants to see her when she visited her vegetable garden.
The hotel has been sensitively refurbished, ensuring that each room at Castello del Nero is unique, while retaining its natural character. Vaulted ceilings, frescoes and original fireplaces feature throughout the accommodation.
My favourite room in the property was Room 122, which featured Dutch blue and white floral décor, a small sitting room with views of the countryside and a gorgeous bedroom, which is entered via a striking arched doorway.
No trip to Castello del Nero is complete without experiencing its restaurant offering. Whether you enjoy a casual, poolside lunch at La Taverno or a more formal dining affair at 1 Michelin Star La Torre, you won’t be disappointed. The service is impeccable and the authentic cuisine prepared by Executive Chef Giovanni Luca Di Pirro is divine. If you’re just looking for a bog-standard meal, then this isn’t your place, but if you’re looking for a sensational gastronomic experience, then you might want to stay a bit longer...
The wine cellar
One of the highlights of my visit was enjoying a wine tasting in the wine cellar with their friendly and highly skilled sommelier, Roberto. Up to eight guests can enjoy a tasting at the tasting table, which is a real treat and a unique experience that’s both educational and enjoyable.
During the tasting, we learned a wealth of information about Tuscan wines as we tasted several grape varietals, which we enjoyed with a selection of meats and cheeses. While the Chianti Classico, the region’s most famous wine, was great, my favourite wine was the Tignanello, a Super Tuscan wine that’s been produced in the area since 1952. Comprised of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Cabernet Franc, the Tignanello is a complex wine with balsamic vinaigrette flavours. Other wines that are worth checking out include Sangiovese (of which there are 600 varieties in Tuscany) and the Brunello di Montalcino, a rich, ripe wine with jammy flavours, which has a strong maritime influence thanks to the sea, which is only 1.5 hours away.
The largest spa in Tuscany, the ESPA spa is a great place to unwind during your stay. The spa includes a vitality pool and relaxation areas to ensure a restful experience. The staff were incredibly friendly and committed to ensuring that you have an enjoyable experience. During my visit, I enjoyed the Signature Spa Treatment that they had created for the 10th anniversary, a 75-minute treatment, which included a welcome foot ritual, a back scrub with Castello del Nero’s olive oil and a head massage.
If you're feeling really lazy, you can simply flop on a wooden sun lounger by the pool with a good book and an Aperol Spritz, in true Italian style, as I did and would highly recommend. In fact, one of my favourite memories was simply gazing over the vineyards in awe of the natural beauty of the landscape. As I took it all in, I thought to myself ‘If I were a grape, I’d be very happy indeed in these conditions!’.
The Italian Garden
Gardening enthusiasts will fall in love with the perfectly manicured Italian gardens, with a handful of bistro tables scattered throughout. I felt exceptionally relaxed sitting in the garden and feeling the sun on my face, showing that it really is the simplest pleasures that can make all the difference.
Activities one can partake in during their visit (for an additional cost) include bicycle rides, horse trekking, hot air balloon rides, truffle hunting, wine tasting in the wine cellar and spa treatments at the ESPA spa. For those who want to try their hand at Italian cuisine, you can also join a pasta making class, which was jolly good fun, despite me being a hopeless pasta chef. Although I love pasta, my experience is generally in eating it, not making it, so I was excited to get stuck in making ravioli, tagliatelle and my personal favourite, tortellini.
To ensure no one rested on their laurels, we were quickly put to work assisting with stirring the Bolognese sauce (made with chicken stock, celery, carrots and onions – who knew?) and cutting the pasta. The chef was sensible enough not to give us free reign with the pasta machine, which looked like a giant and slightly dangerous looking toaster, which you feed the dough through to press it into a long, thin sheet. I was assured that I wouldn’t lose any fingers in the process, but nonetheless I entrusted this step of the process with my fellow pasta makers.
Day trips from Castello del Nero
For those wishing to venture further afield, Castello del Nero provides its guests with a complimentary shuttle service for day trips to a variety locations including San Gimignano, famous for its towers on the hills and gorgeous vistas, and the equally fabulous cities of Florence and Pisa, which are also easily within reach. There is also the option to hire a vintage Fiat 500 (similar to the Castello del Nero branded 1971 model that guests will notice sitting outside of the hotel), for those who want a more authentic driving experience.
After a long weekend at Castello del Nero, I felt totally relaxed, which is testament to the transformative powers of a bit of sun, sensational cuisine and being immersed in stunning natural surroundings, all while indulging in a slower pace of life. I believe I’ve found the perfect tonic for a peaceful existence.
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