Autumn is the ideal time to enjoy Italian culture’s favourite pastime – food. We enjoy the celebrations at two luxury destinations starting with Castello del Nero, Chanti Valley
“And this we call meditation wine,” said the sommelier, holding up a bottle of ruby Brunello. “Perfect for talking with friends.” Meditation wine – I mentally banked this joyful phrase as we sat around a large wooden table in the ancient cellar of the 12th-century Castello del Nero.
We had enrolled in the olive oil and wine-tasting evening, one of the hotel’s many gastro offerings – others include cookery courses with the Michelin-starred executive chef Giovanni Luca di Pirro and truffle hunting with dogs (because pigs sometimes eat the truffles).
We learned how to warm a glass to release the grassy scent of a fine olive oil and tasted four wines, looking at their hue and understanding the different notes. Any thoughts of email, devices and to-do lists evaporated – there is no better place to relax than within these stone walls.
From the moment you step over the threshold, Castello del Nero feels less a hotel and more a home; this passion for hospitality comes from the top and shines through as general manager Fabio Datteroni details the castle’s history over dinner.
Set in 740 acres of cypress trees, vineyards, olive groves and rolling hills, it has belonged to various noble families since the 12th century and has been Tuscany’s most luxurious hotel for the past decade.
The Italian Fine Art Commission supervised the restoration as the owner, Italian-American property developer Robert T Trotta, uncovered mosaics and frescoes and gently brought them back to life. Today, every room whispers its history.
The castle achieves the balance of being both jaw-droppingly beautiful and immediately nurturing with vaulted ceilings, terracotta floors, huge bathrooms and spacious, airy bedrooms decked in sumptuous fabrics and soothing colours.
The beauty of Castello del Nero is that all rooms are different but all combine authentic opulence with enchanting views. I stayed in room 206, which had a theme of terracotta red, warm and stately with high windows set into the centuries-old stone walls; I felt like a princess.
The first floor was once where the nobles slept and today houses the grandest rooms, which are huge and maintain the original detail. The Torrigiano Suite still has the crest of the titular ruling family above the fireplace and, if they are your thing, room 102’s dazzlingly pretty H-shaped bathroom has original frescoes on the walls and has been voted one of the most beautiful in the world, as Datteroni tells me proudly.
We pause our conversation as the food comes: local, simple ingredients cooked exquisitely. A slow-poached hen’s egg with zucchini sauce and charcoal-flavoured bread is followed by homemade pasta filled with cottage cheese, asparagus and truffle and a main of melt-in-the-mouth Zeri lamb.
Puddings were astonishing – Passione Esotica (a custard of chocolate, passion fruit and Matcha Tea) was followed by towers, literally, of macaroons and a spellbinding coffee-brewing ritual that belongs in Hogwarts.
The next morning I ventured out for an early-morning hike in the grounds and was lucky enough to glimpse deer grazing. There are kilometres of trails here, ideal for running, walking or cycling, as well as a spacious Technogym-equipped fitness suite. And then there’s the spa – its natural wood, smooth glass and cool stone interior is a relaxing I-want-to-stay-here-forever triumph.
The treatment menu is extensive – I chose the Castello del Nero Gold Package, a 75-minute treatment which included a back exfoliation, massage and facial – before floating to the relaxation room and, with a lavender tea in hand, slinking onto my lounger to gaze over the vineyards and olive groves as dusk crept in. Three days here and you’ll be totally revived.
Getting to Castello del Nero
easyJet flights to Pisa depart from Bristol, London and Manchester with prices starting from £71.50. CityJet, British Airways and Vueling flights to Florence depart from London City with prices from £104 (all prices based on a return journey).
Room prices at Castello del Nero Hotel and Spa start at €430 (£370) on a bed and breakfast basis.