From truffle hunts to Michelin-starred dinners, Coral Manson discovers why Tuscany’s Castello Del Nero hotel is one of Italy’s hidden gems….
It’s sometimes said that the journey can be as important as the destination and, in the case of the drive to Castello Del Nero Hotel & Spa, this adage is spot on. Situated in the Chianti area of Tuscany, and surrounded by its own 750-acre estate, I wind my way up to the hotel through beautiful countryside filled with wild boar, pheasants and deer. As an introduction to a weekend of pampering, feasting and long wildlife walks, it couldn’t be more perfect.
In truth, it’s the perfect place for outwards-bound types as the hotel’s owners have crafted miles of trails for cycling, walking and running. Rather than my usual routine of pounding London’s streets, I was looking forward to taking a run through some of the more remote spots in the area.
However, even the most committed keep-fit enthusiast will find it hard to wrench themselves from the comforting embrace of this beautiful property. It’s been faithfully restored, and inspected and approved by the Italian department of cultural heritage, resulting in somewhere that is less a hotel and more a grand country house. From the perfect Tuscan background of olive trees, vines and cypresses to the traditional terracotta and chestnut wood of the property itself, this is a place to fall in love with.
And while it has rustic elegance in spades, Castello Del Nero also offers the best in modern amenities, such as a spa veranda featuring a heated pool with all the massage jets your muscles could wish for, plus a steam room, sauna, treatments rooms and a good gym.
The 50 bedrooms are also lovely, with some offering original frescoes and all impeccably decorated. The design was overseen by Alain Mertens, an interior designer to Sting and Madonna, and have an aesthetic that effortlessly combines homely with stylish.
The room of choice is the Royal Galway Suite, named for the flautist James Galway, a friend of the hotel’s owner, which includes a terrace that offers a stunning view and can easily hold 40 people. Frankly, it has ‘‘big birthday blowout party’’ written all over it, although I’m not sure that kind of raucous affair is entirely in-keeping with the relaxed vibe of this place.
I spent the day truffle hunting in the forest with my guide, Jacopo, and his dogs, Pia and Oofo. After digging up a few nuggets of ‘‘white gold,’’ I headed back to cook them in the hotel kitchens – an experience which is the epitome of ‘‘field to fork.’’
Later that evening, dinner was taken in La Torre, the hotel’s elegant Michelin-starred restaurant, housed in the former stables. The food is as impressive as the space itself, with the menu offering seasonal Tuscan classics such as wild boar ravioli, suckling pig, pigeon two ways and roast turbot. The red shrimp-filled pasta seemed to be a particular hit, getting oohs and ahs from those who’d ordered it. Of course, given where we were, the wine – particularly the red – was phenomenal and even the olive oil was so extraordinary that I bought several bottles of it for dressing salads at home.
And while I didn’t venture much further than the truffle-treasure woods nearby, there is a local town that’s worth a visit. San Gimignano, a quick 20-minute ride away, is a charming little place with narrow, winding streets, handsome plazas, and enough small boutiques to keep even the keenest shopper happy.
My advice, though, is to make the most of your time at the hotel – because this gem of a place is the last word in refined relaxation.
For more information, visit www.castellodelnero.com.