Hotel review: Castello del Nero in Tuscany
Words by Rob Chilton
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A 12th century castle surrounded by heavenly horticulture, Castello del Nero is a green dream underneath Tuscan skies
There are only five gardeners who tend to the greenery at the supremely secluded Castello del Nero hotel in Tuscany but looking at the place you’d think it was a team of 500. Honeysuckle plants creep around walls, rose bushes are blooming spectacular, while manicured hedges nestle next to trees, one of which by the lobby entrance is 300 years old. When accompanied by almost constant birdsong, it creates a magical, technicolour scene that looks like it’s been created by animators at Pixar Studios.
More than 700 acres of land belong to the hotel estate, part of which is inhabited by 120,000 bees in five beehives – sounds crowded. The view from the hotel’s terracotta tiled terrace is a 360 degree panorama of rolling hills, Chianti vineyards and geometrically perfect rows of cypress trees that are so typical of this drop dead gorgeous region of Italy.
We have Marchesa Teresa Torrigiani from the 17th century to thank for some of the gardens. Keen to walk the grounds of the castle in privacy, she requested cypress trees to be planted that would in effect give her a protective guard of honour during her stroll. Who knew that paparazzi were a problem in the 1600s? Follow in her footsteps and be transported back to this bygone era as you walk past the adjoining chapel that’s also from the 17th century. If you want to stretch your legs further, carry on to the nearest village of Tavarnelle, 17 minutes away – it’ll give you a good excuse to order pasta for lunch.
The main house of Castello del Nero is a 12th century country mansion that was once the home of the Del Nero family. The gentry lived on the first floor below their servants on the second, while the external buildings – now guest rooms, the spa and restaurants – were barns and storage spaces. The Michelin-starred restaurant La Torre used to be the stables.
The imposing, ochre structure was recently acquired by the Como group, the first European hotel in its portfolio. Como specialises in uncluttered, quiet design and this impressive castle with interiors by Milanese designer Paola Navone continues that philosophy. Walls and ceilings are painted in white or a calming slate grey colour, while some original tiles, ceilings and wooden beams have been left untouched for hundreds of years. Why make noise with interior decoration when you can let the original features and gardens do the talking for you?
However, a few of the 50 rooms at this property just 30 minutes from Florence airport are truly special and display beautiful Renaissance frescoes that are registered as Italian heritage sites. Adorning one wall of the Sala Gran Camino just outside the blockbuster heritage suite 118, for example, are crests of the Del Nero family and the subsequent owners, the Torrigianis. Standing in one corner is a glass cabinet filled with cracked leather registers of the estate from 1780. It’s an amusing contrast to the bookshelf opposite that’s filled with modern day spy novels that have been left by guests.
The rich gardens are the source of much of the organic produce that is served at the hotel’s restaurants. Executive chef Giovanni Luca Di Pirro insists on using seasonal produce in his “innovative interpretation of Tuscany’s gastronomic tradition.” His agnolotti filled with beef, pea cream soup and herby morels at La Torre is sublime proof that he’s doing justice to these magnificent traditions. Book a table here in the arched dining room for a truly memorable dinner served by Lorenzo and Pasquale who will make you feel at ease with their witty double act.
From La Torre, it’s just a few steps past the cypress trees and up the giant stone steps to your room, as the bees fall asleep under the fading Tuscan sun.
Castello del Nero closes for the winter from November 2019 to March 2020.
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