After a five year renovation, Castello di Casole has opened to those with a love of food, wine and more food. Stylist contributor Gemma Painter packed her appetite and headed to Tuscany
I visited Italy once before and it wasn’t a success. During a student trip, 10 years ago, I took a quick diversion to San Remo and found myself in a hotel where the sheets were grey (and not in a Farrow & Ball way), the bathroom flooded and the lift stopped dangerously short of the ground floor. So as I flew from Gatwick to Pisa International airport I was hoping for a completely different experience this time around. After a 90-minute taxi ride flanked by purple mountains and colourful crops, I drove up the cypress-lined avenue to the Castello di Casole 4,200 acre estate and my memories faded faster than you can say, “Can I stay here forever, please?”
The five-star castle – in the western hill town area of Tuscany and just five miles from the medieval village of Colle di Val d’Elsa (known as the crystal capital of Italy) – is filled with beautiful wooden beams, terracotta floors, antique Italian furnishings and custom-made Murano glass chandeliers. It’s the result of a five-year renovation of the castello, originally built in the 10th century as a home for Tuscan nobility.
Too luxurious for mere rooms, accommodation is divided into suites and villas. My villa had its own living room, roll-top bath, king-size bed and walk-in wardrobe – not to mention deliveries of pineapple and sweet pastries. Downstairs there’s a spa with steam rooms (in a converted wine cellar), cocktail bar and two restaurants; the Ristorante Tosca and the more relaxed Trattoria Pazzia. Most of the food at Castello di Casole is locally sourced. The extra virgin olive oil comes from the estate’s olive groves and the wines include Dodici, the organic vintage created from the on-site vineyards.
I had my first evening meal in the courtyard, courtesy of head chef Daniele Sera, who also cooks for the Moroccan royal family. The menu included lobster, foie gras and steak but the stand-out dish was the pappa al pomodoro; a tomato and bread soup which despite being a peasant dish is utterly delicious. My favourite meal however was an Italian-American style picnic served by the swimming pool. The chips were cooked with truffle oil and sprinkled with parmesan and the hamburger was topped with regional cheese and served in a brioche bun. And I’m still dreaming about the strawberry bellinis that tasted like sherbet. To compensate for two days of eating and drinking I signed up for Pilates in an old chapel and what I thought was a scenic bicycle ride.
A warning for those looking for a relaxed excursion, this is not it. In retrospect I should have taken one of the foodie activities on offer and learned to make stone-baked pizza (using the castle’s original oven), gone truffle-foraging or tried hunting hare, pheasant or deer on the estate. I decided to recover at the medieval town of San Gimignano 30 minute’s drive away. It’s teeming with historic buildings, boutiques, art galleries and cafes serving Italian staples such as melon and dry cured ham. Thankfully, I had just enough time to head back to the hotel for one final frothy bellini. Don’t judge me, you would have too.
A studio suite starts at €325 (£280) per night; castellodicasole.com