La Casella, a hidden gem deep in the green heart of Umbria
Umbria is a region of contrasts and moods that both symbolises spirituality and stirs curiosity, its hamlets and towns painting individual portraits of history and tradition, yet joining in a mosaic of commonality, writes Michael Cowton
This region of Italy has long been a crossroads of men and cultures, which has helped shape its character. Here, in the green heart of Italy, you can find a symbiosis between nature and art, landscape and architecture. It is also here that the sloping hillsides and verdant valleys reveal hidden gems.
La Casella is a case in point. Tucked discreetly away 6km from the nearest paved road, this eco country resort and spa has expertly intertwined nature, culture, history and hospitality into a lifestyle. Yet this is no 5-star hotel in the traditional sense. There are no televisions to distract the guests and, with no signal, you can bin your mobile phone.
The Nenna family purchased the property, complete with 450 acres of farmland, over thirty years ago as an investment opportunity. Luciano Nenna, who at the time was working in pharmaceutical sales in Milan, and his brother, who was in the construction business, had no thought of wanting to venture into the hotel business. However, they did have a joint passion for nature, and Luciano would think nothing of driving the two hours from his home in Abruzzo to go horseback riding in the countryside.
In time, one of the bundle of small farmhouses was restored and used as a weekend retreat. Then one day, Luciano decided to quit his job and make a complete lifestyle change. Over the following years, the farm buildings were remodelled utilising local materials as much as possible.
La Casella officially came on stream as a business in 1987, and today is recognised as an ‘Albergo Diffuso’, being part house and part hotel. The term ‘diffuso’ denotes a structure that is horizontal, as opposed to vertical such as a traditional hotel. La Casella has its rooms spread throughout four farmhouses. All have been restored with respect to their original shape and materials, and fashioned with locally manufactured furniture.
According to Luciano’s son Mattia: “We seek to maintain a low impact on the land while preserving 19th century buildings which remain untouched on the outside, but have been tastefully restored with a local flare, furniture and style reminiscent of a yesteryear in Umbria.”
Whilst La Casella is constantly evolving the level of quality and service provided to guests, the owners are also conscious of balancing that quality with the preservation of its natural habitat, culture, artistic patrimony and bio-diversity. “It would be easy to erect an antenna for a mobile phone, and to put televisions in all the rooms, and turning La Casella into a 5-star hotel, but it has been my father’s choice not to do that. This place exists to give people something they do not have in their everyday lives,” said Mattia.
“The Spa at La Casella is a good example. Plenty of resorts have a spa, but there is a difference between the one here and one in London or Rome where can enjoy the best treatment in the world, but when you walk out the door, you probably walk straight into traffic noise, thereby losing everything that you have accomplished in a second. At La Casella, we can offer wellness simply by someone coming here and enjoying the surroundings. As my father says, ‘We sell silence, not rooms’.”
Much of the food served in the restaurant is grown on La Casella’s organic farm, with traditional recipes inspired by Umbria. The remainder is purchased within a 20km radius. Wines are also sourced from local vineyards.
Guests can take part in a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding at La Casella’s riding centre, where all-day treks can be organised around the estate. Nearby excursions can include those to Civita di Bagnoregio in Lazio, an attractive medieval village approached along a 300-metre bridge. Then there is Orvieto, the old town centre being accessed via a funicular railway or a system of escalators dug into the cliffside. At its heart is Piazza del Duomo, on to which look the town’s most important public buildings and the façade of the Duomo, a masterpiece of gothic architecture with its polychrome marble inlays and dazzling mosaics. The interior of the cathedral contains many important works of art.
As for La Casella, it was chosen to become part of Eco Luxury, a global project launched in 2001 to showcase retreats around the world that are committed to reducing their impact on nature and the local population, preserving culture, re-investing in training and focusing on local procurement, whilst offering the highest level of luxury in hospitality.
In its own special way, La Casella has clearly achieved 5-star status.
The nearest airport is Perugia Sant’Egidio, 70km away. If travelling by car, use the Highway ‘del Sole’ A1 Florence-Rome