For somebody who did an Oxford history degree, I’m really not very good at it. I have next to no memory retention, and not the biggest attention span. Dreadful, I know. Years of my Grandad quizzing me with basic history questions to try and find ‘my period of expertise’ has left me feeling quite defeatist about it all, and resigned to the fact that maybe I don’t have ‘a historical period’.
Despite this, there’s the odd occasion where something grabs me, and I get ludicrously excited about it. Like when the Nepalese Royal Family got massacred, or I set about understanding the creation of Israel, or this amazing audio tour I did round Warkworth Castle.
Castello del Trebbio was one of these moments—I hung onto every word spoken about it, and I absorbed it, and I remembered it. So, I thought I’d write a tiny bit about the history of this amazing place, just for old time’s sake. If you’re entirely food-based, then skip down to the meal I had there, which was just as inspiring as the castle itself.
Castello del Trebbio was built in 1184 by the Pazzi family, who were rivals of the Medicis.
The name ‘Pazzi’ translates as ‘crazy’, which is quite appropriate considering the history of the family. The Pazzi Family were (as the name suggests) at the heart of the Pazzi Conspiracy, which was planned in the living room of the castle we visited - a foreboding room with few windows and a trap door in the floor.
The conspiracy was a pivotal event in Italy’s history, and is still being re-hashed and written about – mainly because it was a conspiracy that contained the big man himself: The Pope. To try and put it briefly, Pope Sixtus IV fell out with the Medici clan. He gave the Pazzi brothers (Salviati and Frencesco) his blessing to come up with a plan to overthrow the Medicis, and reinstate themselves as Florence’s powerhouse family.
In 1478, during High Mass at the Dumo, one of the Medici brothers was stabbed to death, but, (unfortunately for the Pazzis) the other escaped. The result of this ballsed-up coup d’etat was pretty horrendous. The surviving Medici family members wielded all their power to make sure that the Pazzi uprising was well and truly quashed: one brother was chucked out of a window, dragged naked through Florence by an angry mob, and then dumped in the Arno. The other brother was hanged, and the family were stripped of their wealth.
As you can image, Castello del Trebbio, one of the Pazzi’s summer get-aways, eventually fell into disrepair. So, I’m going to skip forward half a century, and pick up the story again when the castle was being looked after by the reliable chap you can see pictured below. He started out as the keeper of the castle in the 1950s, and has been there ever since (except for one week – the clause in his contract that forbade him from getting married was changed – two weeks later he married a local girl, and went to the coast for a week…apparently wearing his gamekeeper’s garb, feather in the cap and all - apparently it’s the only set of clothes he owns!)
Meanwhile, there was a twenty-year old Austrian girl, who decided to expand her horizons with a little trip to Italy. On the train journey there, she fell in love with an Italian man. Who was 60. The man in question had no children – he asked the girl to marry him, and she agreed. Five years later, they were living together in Milan with five children!
The man in question was (unsurprisingly) very grateful to his wife for the second chance at life she’d given him, and he wanted to buy her something really special to thank her. As he was pondering this over, he met a guy who was looking to sell a castle in Tuscany….Castello del Trebbio. He jumped at the chance, and bought it for his wife, who loved it so much she moved the family there, and set about doing it up.
Castello del Trebbio has been beautifully renovated (with the odd Raphael hanging on the wall – another in the series of The Beautiful Gardener, to be precise). The family own 350 hectares in the area between the Chianti Colli Fiorentini and Chianti Rufina. Nearly 60 acres are devoted to vineyards, and the family have also planted 10,000 olives trees to produce a high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Recently, they’ve also started to branch out with guesthouses, wine tours and a restaurant, La Sosta del Gusto.
The final chapter was that the old Milanese man died in his eighties. Just eighteen months later, his wife who was forty years his junior, was killed in a car crash. Out of their five children, their daughter Anna, who’s in her early twenties, has decided to take on the castle, and try and keep it going. Judging by the delicious wine and olive oil they produce there, as well as the full guest house and restaurant, it shouldn’t bee too much of a strain.
On our last day in Tuscany, we decided to celebrate with the five course taster menu at La Sosta del Gusto, which was a very reasonable €30 (cheapest bottle of wine €8).
We were greeted with a complementary glass of prosecco, and some nibbles which we sat and ate outside, overlooking the castle’s vineyards in the rolling hills which were still breathtakingly beautiful – even after driving through them for seven days.
Rather than boring you with a long spiel about the food, I’ll just show you in photographs…and yes, it was as delicious as it looks:
When we reached the end of the feast, the waiter gave us a pudding menu, and said that we had to pick something off it – it was included in the price. Despite his insistence, I really couldn’t eat a single thing more (which is very out of character – my stomach can usually stretch itself for a pudding!) The waiter said that if we really couldn’t eat anything more, then we should have a complementary pudding wine instead.
He poured out a generous amount of Sauterne, and a big glass of fig liqueur which was the perfect digestif. If you’re ever ‘in the area’ (!) then I couldn’t recommend anywhere more highly for delicious food, great service, and one of the best value meals I’ve ever had.
Castello del Trebbio
Via Santa Brigida, 9
50060 Santa Brigida (Florence)
Tuscany - Italy