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. Better still, rent one of the red Vespas and vintage Fiat 500s to explore the Chianti countryside in classic Tuscan style.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of wine in your room. Guests staying for three nights or more get a free Espa Heat Experience; guests in a suite for three nights-plus get a three-course lunch
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £538.32 (€599), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates usually include American buffet breakfast and a return shuttle service to Florence or Siena.
Cookery classes (for up to six) can be arranged in advance. In summer, the hotel also offer twice-weekly yoga sessions in the grounds.
From mid-January to early February.
At the hotel
Two tennis courts, a gym and fitness suite, 740 acres of grounds and four waymarked hiking trails, Vespas and Fiat 500s to rent, a 12th-century wine cellar, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, minibar, slippers, bathrobes, Etro bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Start saving up for one of the frescoed Deluxe Suites, whose gorgeous murals were restored under the beady-eyed supervision of the Italian Fine Art Commission. You’ll sleep in opulence, thanks to the king-size beds topped with Egyptian linen, goose-down duvets and cashmere blankets, and you’ll bathe in splendour, thanks to the shiny marble-and-mosaic bathrooms. The Deluxe doubles are a more wallet-friendly choice; choose between a room in the main castle or, for extra romance, in one of the little farmhouses that flank it.
Head for the vivid 25m slice of aqua amid the garden's lawns and greenery. There are sunloungers and Indian-style umbrellas for shade, plus trees to read books under in the heat of the day – all with impressive views of the Chianti countryside.
The sheer memory of the Como Shambhala Retreat makes us relax and breathe deeply: an outdoor heated vitality pool, 10 whisper-quiet treatment rooms and expert masseuses who only need to feel a knot for it to unfurl.
Watercolours and a canvas for capturing Tuscan scenes; a bottle opener for boozy picnics.
Smith junior won’t just be welcome, they’ll be spoiled; under-6s can stay for free in a cot or bed. An extra bed can be added to all rooms but the Superior Double for €45 a night for under-11s (€90 for over-11s). Babysitting is €20 an hour.
Out on the Garden Terrace in summer; cosy by the fire, come winter.
Picture yourself sipping Chianti under the vaulted ceilings of a mediaeval castle and dress accordingly: silks, velvet and cashmere; leather; a hint of gold.
Michelin-starred La Torre is in the former stables, but no trace of the original residents remains in the elegant zabaglione-coloured dining room, decorated with terracotta-tiled floors, arched ceilings, white-linen-topped tables and – the focal point – a grand fireplace. As you’d expect, the menu is a love letter to Tuscany: ham from Casentino, piglet from Siena, Chianti snails. The dishes are seasonally inspired, with crispy greens and fragrant herbs in spring and rich truffles and wild boar ragù in autumn. 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 Mediterranean dishes served alfresco, overlooking the Chianti hills.
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.
Pile your plate with cold cuts, pastries or fruit between 7.30am and 10.30am; enjoy a lazy lunch at La Taverna from 11am; 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 food to your room across the clock: the 24-hour room service menu includes snacks and light bites such as salami, home-made bread, local cheeses and feather-light chocolate cake.
The hotel has an excellent location in the Chianti wine region, midway between Florence and Siena, set within the atmospheric hilltop town of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa.
Pisa airport is the main hub for Tuscany, with flights on Ryanair, easyJet and British Airways. However, Florence airport is also an option via Vueling, British Airways and CityJet. Consult our in-house travel team Smith24 for information on flights and transfers.
Santa Maria Novella in Florence is the closest main station, a 30-minute drive away, served by Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.com) and the Eurostar (www.eurostar.com).
Florence is a half-hour drive away. Bring a car to this beautiful pocket of Italy: the roads are relatively clear, the pace is relaxed and you’ll want easy access to Montalcino and the Val d’Orcia. Staff can provide driving directions, and there’s plenty of free on-site parking. The hotel offers a free shuttle service to Florence and Siena.
Worth getting out of bed for
The hotel has a fleet of red Vespas and vintage Fiat 500s to help you explore. Even helicopter tours, hot-air balloon rides and chauffeured drives tolocal vineyards. Alternatively, take things easy with twice-weekly yoga sessions in the grounds, during spring and summer (April to October), or try truffle hunting (May to September). Come nightfall, you can also arrange stargazing on the hotel's panoramic terrace with an expert from the Astronomical Observatory of Chianti. But, of course, you'll want to see the area's cultural landmarks, too: in Florence, aim for the Galleria degli Uffizi, the Duomo (cathedral), the church of San Lorenzo, the beautiful Boboli Gardens and the Ponte Vecchio overthe River Arno; in Siena, admire the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall), theDuomo and the Torre del Mangiawhich lords it over the stately Piazza del Campo. Ask Castello’s staff, and they’ll arrange any itinerary for you, whether you want to embark on extra-virgin olive-oil tastings, visit hilltop villages or get the inside scoop on gelato making.
Dress up for expensive Osteria di Passignano, which serves beautifully executed Tuscan food. The menu changes with the seasons and hints at a playful chef: red mullet mille-feuille presented on an ice-cream stick with spicey soup, for example. The restaurant is on Via Passignano in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa. Osteria la Gramola on Via del Fonti in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa is a cosy family-run restaurant that serves traditional Tuscan food, accompanied by perfectly matched local wines (thank you, sommelier Massimo). Sample handmade gnocchi with Chianti truffles, beef loin in wine sauce and traditional Siena cake, made with spiced fruit and almonds. The menu changes daily, reflecting what’s growing outside. You’ll be distracted by Ristoro l'Antica Scuderia's diminutive mediaeval village, Passignano: save time for exploring it either pre- or post-meal. Scuderia’s dining room (on Strada Comunale di Badia in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa) is very beautiful, and matched by the flawless food: osso bucco, diavalo pizza, steak with truffles, burrata with truffles, pasta with truffles… you get the idea. There’s a pretty patio for al fresco lunches. Of course, this being Tuscany, the wine is wonderful, too.
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.