When I think of Italy, the image that comes to mind is rolling green hills, olive tree groves and lines of cypress trees as far as I can see … i.e., Tuscany. After action-packed days of sightseeing in Venice and Florence, Zach and I couldn’t wait to hop in our Lancia rental car and snake through Tuscany’s jaw-dropping scenery. We were especially eager to get going because our first stop was the hotel we had been looking forward to the entire trip: Castello del Nero. Nestled in the Chianti wine region, the restored 12th century castle promised complete relaxation—and somehow it even exceeded our high expectations. Read on for my guide to Italy’s gorgeous Tuscany region!
Castello del Nero
We set out from Florence with Zach behind the wheel for the 35 minute trek south from Florence into the heart of Tuscany. In 2016, he drove around Ireland for a week with the driver’s seat (and therefore the gear shift) on the wrong side of the car and in the left lane, so navigating Italy’s similarly-tight and winding backcountry roads was no sweat.
Arriving at Castello was a dream. After schlepping our suitcases up five flights of narrow stairs to our Airbnb in Florence, being greeted with a bottle of Prosecco, chocolates and the merciful help of a valet and bellhop felt like the ultimate luxury. It was finally time to unwind and do nothing but relax and drink wine.
After a tour of the property, we returned to our room to freshen up before our wine tasting class. The hotel’s sommelier talked us through a tasting of different Chianti Classico wines, accompanied by local cheeses and charcuterie. The best tip we learned was also the easiest to remember—when shopping for Tuscan wines, keep an eye out for 2010 and 2015 vintages, as these were two of the best years for wine in recent memory. Every wine store we visit back in New York we keep an eye out for those years, and especially those bottles labelled Riserva (i.e., aged Chianti). Even if we’re not shopping for Italian wines, we can’t keep from purchasing them … our bar cart keeps accumulating more and more bottles!
The next morning, we woke up early to take a walk around the property. The hotel provides a map with four trail options, so we set out to explore.
Castello del Nero is surrounded by the property’s Sangiovese grapes, olive tree groves and pops of red from the brightly colored poppies.
After two hours of exploring, we couldn’t wait to jump in the pool and lounge for the rest of the day (rosé in hand of course).
Castello really had everything you could possibly need … even this adorable old school car I was dying to rent.
On our first night, we ate in splendor at the Michelin Star hotel restaurant La Torre. On our second night, we ventured out into nearby San Donato. We had an incredible meal at La Locanda di Pietracupa, including the heavenly ravioli below followed by a traditional Bistecca alla Fiorentina. The T-bone steak is a classic Florentine dish, and you order by the kilogram. We almost ordered 2 kg without thinking, but thankfully we turned on our cell phone data long enough to find out the pound to kilogram conversion—for those not fluent in the metric system, 1 kg equals 2.2 pounds!
The next day, we had to say goodbye to Castello and set out for an hour and a half drive to Montepulciano, in the heart of Tuscan wine country.
Salcheto Wine House
We knew we wanted to stay in Montepulciano, but I left the booking to Zach. Let’s just say that me having a Type A personality is the understatement of the year, so not even contributing to the decision on where to stay was a big step for me. But of course Zach found the most perfect, unique spot: Salcheto Wine House. This organic, biodynamic winery just recently became a hotel in 2013 and is home to nine rooms that overlook the vineyards.
Salcheto prides itself on sustainability and operates an energy independent cellar system. The silver domes on the terrace use mirrors to reflect light through into the wine cellar below—no electricity needed.
The thing I was most excited about, though, was the hot tub. Overlooking the vineyards with clifftop Montepulciano in the distance, this wood fire hot tub was a tiny paradise and a well-deserved break from the non-stop action.