Serendipitous is one of my favorite words. I like saying it, the way its multisyllabic intonation rolls off my tongue, and I like the images it brings to my mind when I hear or read it.
After morning yoga (poolside, overlooking the hills of Tuscany from our picturesque hotel on the edge of Tavarnelle val di Pesa) we hiked to the village by way of a footpath through vineyards and farmyards. Meandering through quiet streets where local children kicked a soccer ball and church bells clanged, we spotted a small sign indicating the direction to a castle. We suddenly knew our destination! No longer wandering aimlessly, we followed the winding road, past fields of wheat and wildflowers, tasting grapes growing along the way and applying sunscreen as we ambled.
Uncharacteristically, I hadn’t Googled this place beforehand. I was expecting crumbling castle ruins -- maybe a turret, and a courtyard around an ancient well. However, we soon arrived at the glorious Castello del Nero estate and I stood agape with surprise. A 12th century castle that was originally the country home of the Del Nero family from Florence, it is now a boutique hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant set amidst 740 acres of olive groves, vineyards, and woods. We were awed by the captivating juxtaposition of original architecture and contemporary design; medieval terra cotta floors and antique wooden beams combined with contemporary decor designed to indulge and pamper. Mosaics and antiques along with welcoming oversized vases of hydrangeas led us to a breathtaking, panoramic view of the Tuscan countryside. Arriving at lunchtime with no reservations, we were nevertheless led to a table with an expansive view, where we dined on organic, seasonal produce locally sourced from the estate and neighboring gardens. Accompanied by wine from Castello’s own cellar, we spent several indulgent hours soaking in the sunshine and building serotonin reserves.
On this trip, we had several busy days scheduled around city sightseeing, walking tours, cooking classes, and yoga instruction. How serendipitous, then, was this happy, relaxed encounter with an unexpected treasure where local history and culture combined with a delightful culinary experience.