October is my favourite time of year to visit Italy. The weather is milder, the air cooler and this year I was going to Tuscany. I was a guest of Castello Del Nero Hotel and Spa in Tavarnelle Val de Pesa. I’d been longing to be here for almost a year and counted down the days as a child would towards Christmas. Read on for my review of this heritage hotel and spa.
12th century Florence, a private family chapel, a grand Italian garden and an estate spanning the horizon of the famed rolling hills of Tuscany. This is the setting of magnificent Castello Del Nero Hotel and Spa. To walk through its doors is to become a part of its illustrious history. It’s the story of two Florentine aristocratic families who lived, breathed, loved and left their legacies behind: Del Nero and Torrigiani.
Wherever you may find yourself on this 750 acre, elegant estate you’ll be but a breath away from its rich past. Vaulted ceilings, original frescoes and raging fireplaces yearning to bestow the heritage of its ancestors. As it was for me, for you too, it will be futile to resist the draw of Castello Del Nero’s history. You will simply surrender to it.
This castle of noblemen, which has evolved into its new life as a luxurious hotel, is extraordinary. 50 rooms and suites span across the castle and farm buildings. The nobleman’s floor offers its most exclusive suite, named after Sir James Galway, with unparalleled views from a private terrace. The terrace dates back to the origins of the castle; a rare addition indicating that this has always been a safe haven.
The rooms and suites with original frescoes have been painstakingly restored under the guidance of the Italian Fine Arts Commission. Walls are painted with marble dust mixed paint making them soft as silk to the touch. Roll top baths sit on stone floors ready to be filled with the warm lather of lavender, sage and salt which fill the air with the scent of the surrounding hills.
It is little wonder then that Castello Del Nero Hotel and Spa has an array of awards and accolades won over the last 11 years celebrating its heritage, cuisine and spa. Needless to say that this hotel is part of the prestigious collection curated under The Leading Hotels of the World.
Each room or suite in the castle is unique making every stay a new experience for returning patrons. 12 suites have hand-carved four poster double beds, inspired by an original, found in a stable during renovation. Silky white monogrammed sheets and pillows contribute to the best sleep you could possibly imagine.
My suite consisted of a separate living and dining room, double bedroom and a bathroom twice as spacious as the bedroom. Neutral soft mint against white accents highlighted with flecks of gold made for a breathlessly serene space which I didn’t want to tear myself away from. Deep, soft towels and the ethereal feeling of simply being in a castle is one I can only describe as my most enchanting experience this year.
At the end of each evening a discreet turn-down service, the silence of the hills and the warm luxury of my suite effortlessly disconnected me from the outside world. I sunk in to my bed and a restful night of sleep on both nights of my visit.
Michelin-starred La Torre Restaurant, under the stewardship of Executive Chef Giovanni Luca Di Pirro, serves a magnificent menu consisting of seasonal produce; some grown on the estate by the Chef himself. Breakfast is always served at La Torre with the unforgettable view of cypress trees and hills being gently caressed by a morning sun. I sat mesmerised by the view longer than I’d thought possible.
La Taverna poolside restaurant remains open from midday until 18.00 serving a relaxed menu of pizza and sandwiches as well as main dishes of fish and meat. My lasagna with beef ragout served here was wonderful with a distinctly Tuscan flavour recognisable by chunks of soft meat cooked in herbs. When you dine here don’t miss the Torta della Nonna which translates to grandmother’s cake. It’s served with custard cream and fior di panna ice cream; Italian home-cooking at its best.
Head to The Bar, after dinner for a night cap, which serves Champagne, cocktails and an array of wines from the castle’s own cellar which boasts over 1000 labels. The Bar is set in what was the original kitchen of the castle. The sinks, hearth and food lifts which serviced the noble floor remain perfectly preserved from its heyday.
Pool and tennis courts
The open-air pool sits in the garden beneath the hotel’s vast terrace. Set amongst the olive groves it’s 25 meters of gleaming warm water served by pool staff. Two tennis courts which are flood-lit for the evening are supplied with rackets and balls. Should you wish to book private lessons this is also possible and maybe arranged with the concierge.
Legend has it that Marquise Teresa Del Nero commissioned a path through cypress trees allowing her a shaded, private route to the woodland next to the castle. The path remains to this day should you choose to follow in the Marquise’s footsteps. It’s a beautiful, gentle walk and far less challenging than the other hiking routes around the estate.
On a final note, I must add, that the castle produces its own wine and extra virgin olive oil. They are used in the restaurant’s kitchen as well as the spa’s signature treatments. As of this year it has also harvested honey from its own hives. The unmistakable lavender notes in the honey is a fitting addition to its repertoire of fine food and wine.
Tuscany has remained one of the most captivating regions of Italy since time immemorial. Castello Del Nero only reinforces this allure. It sits nestled in a picture-perfect landscape only 25 kilometres from historic Florence, 35 kilometres from Siena and 20 kilometres from San Gimignano. The hotel has a free shuttle service on alternate days to Siena and Florence which can be pre-booked via the concierge service. Add to this mix informed staff, most of whom have remained with the hotel since the beginning, with unparalleled local knowledge and a passion for the castle’s heritage and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better experience in Tuscany. I travelled alone and not for a moment did I feel it. It felt as though I’d returned home albeit a rather more magnificent one than I could remember.
I was a guest of Castello Del Nero Hotel and Spa. Opinions expressed are my own. Enjoy a festive three night’s New Year’s Eve stay package from €740 per night. For more information visit: www.castellodelnero.com