Indelible Italy: COMO Castello Del Nero In Tuscany

It was a local Tuscan aversion to golf resorts that led to the opening of COMO Castello del Nero, just before the pandemic. The estate in the Chianti region, which once belonged to the aristocratic Del Nero family of Florence, had been practicing traditional Tuscan agriculture and ways of life since the 12th century. But by the 1980s, it had been through several ownership changes and fallen into the hands of a large international development firm that had its eye on greens.

Fortunately, the community prevailed, the deal fell through, and nature and tradition were preserved. The estate found better stewardship under the control of an American real estate investor, who instead turned it into a small hotel and left the farmlands and vineyards intact. The result isn’t another incongruous set of fairways in a beautiful place, but a living testament to history.

He first opened it as a spa destination, which worked well enough to last for several years, before the lack of a gourmet kitchen became a problem. That’s when the COMO Group got involved, purchasing the hotel in 2018. It was a fitting alliance, because COMO is the standard bearer for luxurious wellness around the world, with a portfolio that includes sanctuaries like COMO Shambhala Estate in Bali and Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos.

It’s COMO’s first outpost in continental Europe, and according to the local magazine the Florentine, it fulfilled an important ambition for COMO’s founder, Christina Ong, who has a strong allegiance to Italy and who had stayed at Castello del Nero in the early 2000s.

“I have a deep affection for the Italian aesthetic,” Mrs. Ong told the Florentine in 2019. “I admire how they can layer up history with modernity and come up with the most exquisite result. Italians may be the masters of Baroque, but they also understand the way simplicity resonates in its own unique and powerful way, from design to food.”

Now COMO Castello Del Nero is a 740-acre, historic estate with 50 rooms and suites, many of which have views across the surrounding Chianti countryside. The castle’s historic frescoed walls and vaulted ceilings remain untouched, while Milanese interior designer Paola Navone introduced a light and modern “COMO aesthetic.” The result, said one of my travel companions, is like visiting a “fancy aunty’s home.”

Except here you’re allowed to touch everything, to sit on any chair and to settle in for a long soak in a claw-foot bathtub. The design is quietly luxurious but unintimidating, elegant but never opulent, even with the luminous frescoes overhead above the freestanding beds in the premium suites.

The location, between Florence and Siena, puts it within easy reach of a number of excellent restaurants, but there are also good reasons to stay on site. The fine dining restaurant, La Torre, holds a Michelin star for its thoughtful take on Tuscan produce, while there’s always a more casual option. In the winter, guests cozy up in La Taverna, a bar in the original 12th-century kitchen with a selection of pastas and other simple dishes. In summer, a lighter version of that same menu is on offer poolside or inside the Pavilion.

There’s an excellent wine list, but very little of it is from the vines that are in all those postcard views. Only about one-third of those Sangiovese grapes are being used at the moment, to produce around 14,000 bottles a year. The first vintage, 2019, was released last summer, and the 2020 is coming soon. The idea is to export it, along with olive oil, to other COMO properties around the world.

In return, the Italian estate is importing COMO’s signature therapeutic know-how (and its divine-smelling spa products, which are also in the guest rooms) and drawing on a variety of Asian traditions, from Ayurveda to Thai massage, as well as more standard spa fare. Yoga is complimentary.

Of course, mindfulness doesn’t come only on the mat. Other pursuits in which guests can lose themselves include walks around the vineyards, truffle hunting, wine and olive oil tasting, and cooking classes. Of campus, guests can have guided visits to the Renaissance cities or set out in Fiat 500s to explore the region, with stops at homey wineries like Podere la Piaggia, where the owners will set out plates of pecorino and prosciutto, followed by homemade pappardelle with the perfect pesto.

That’s well above par, if you ask me.

Getting there: For anyone traveling from the UK, the Inspiring Travel Company offers packages that include a three night stay in November along with flights and transfers.

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