Castello di Ferrano

The Bocci Benucci family who run their 19th century castle near Florence offer unique experience to their guests - if you book a room you'll get the whole castle at your disposal.

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Artiom Ganin had a great opportunity of talking to Sara Bocci Benucci, one of the daughters of Fabrizio Bocci Benucci, the owner of Castello di Ferrano near Florence, Italy. The story of how the family got the castle is somewhat unusual to say the least. When Fabrizio was a child he lived next to the castle with his parents Gino and Zelinda. They worked as farmers for the Bocci family that owned Castello di Ferrano. In the long run the last representative of the Bocci - Livia who did not have children and was never married - 'adopted' Fabrizio and he inherited the castle when she passed away. We've talked about this 'fairy story', the castle which is so dear to him and his family and their exceptional way of receiving their guest who literally get the whole of Castello di Ferrano at their disposal when they stay in the castle!
Francesca, Fabrizio and Sara Bocci Benucci

THE FAIRY TALE OF THE 20TH CENTURY

Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Sara, could you please tell me about your family? Your father's story and how he became the lord of the castle is simply incredible!
Sara Bocci Benucci (SBB): This is true! The story of our family is a bit atypical. My father, Fabrizio was born in 1956 in Ferrano, in a small house next to the Castle. His biological parents, Gino Benucci and Zelinda Vettori, worked since 1945 for the Bocci family who owned Castello di Ferrano. Livia was the daughter of the castle's owners who was of the same age as my father's parents. Livia's father never allowed his daughter to get married with a partner of her choosing and have children. So, Livia started helping my biological grandparents in my father's upbringing. One day Livia talked to grandpa Gino and grandma Zelinda and asked them if she could adopt Fabrizio. At the beginning of the 80s my father changed his surname: from Fabrizio Benucci he became Fabrizio Bocci Benucci, and, from that day he officially had two mothers and one father.
Fabrizio Bocci Benucci
CnP: Absolutely unbelievable! So, you father became Livia's only heir and this is how the castle came into your family's possession, isn't it?
SBB: Well, you said it! Our family formally inherited the Castle in 2011 when Livia Bocci passed away. But Castello di Ferrano already existed with its own identity as Fattoria di Ferrano: a farm that comprises 500 hectares of woods and fields, mainly devoted to extra-virgin olive oil production. Long before the decision for adoption, Livia had chosen Fabrizio as a reference person, despite his early age, to manage Fattoria di Ferrano. As a start, he used to help and support the official manager of the farm, and after a period of practice, he was able to make important decisions for the farm's development.
CnP: Do you live in the castle?
SBB: No, we don't live inside the castle, we live 10 minutes away from there becuase we chose to preserve the personality of individuals who used to live there, specifically Livia and her family.

CnP: Maintaining a centuries old property can be challenging – what about your castle? What's the biggest challenge?
SBB: I think the biggest challenge is to preserve the history and memories. We are constantly researching to better understand the story of the castle and the people who lived there. In addition, another big challenge is to respects the needs of the place and not bend the place to our needs. Running the castle is a 24/7 activity!! And the day ends in a blink of an eye.
CnP: Indeed, and the maintenance costs are high, aren't they?
SBB: Exactly.

CnP: When did you have restoration works for the last time?
SBB: There is a slow continuous upgrade of the facility, which needs to be compliant with the standards applicable to plants. For instance, 3 years ago we upgraded the electricity facility on the ground floor, as it was necessary by law to safely welcome guests and visitors. Every time we need to launch either a small or a big restoration process, we try to get in touch with professionals who can come up with the best possible solutions to proceed. It is important to preserve the historical value of the place. So, we restored the old furniture after consulting a local wood craftsman who actually helped us to make it happen. Up till now, the restoration of frescoes was never necessary as the place has been inhabited and the steady temperature helped preserve them.
CnP: Have you found anything interesting on the castle estate - like some artifacts from the past times?
SBB: Yes we did! The castle witnessed the life of at least 3 generations, therefore there are plenty of examples we can provide: from ancient kitchen tools and old pictures to hidden treasures in strange places like old diaries, postcards and books. Every corner is a place to take good care of! Consider that, after Livia passed away we had a period of mourn in which we didn't know what and how to start readjusting the place. In fact it took us 3 years to start figuring out the basics.
CnP: Where do you store these items? Do you have a castle museum?
SBB: As I always say "the castle is not the place we work in, it is our home", so the official definition of museum doesn't fit here. Visitors who book a tour of the castle are welcome to participate in such a visit. It is more being part of the story of the people who live there, through their memories and objects, rather than standing in front of a case with exhibits on display. If you come as a guest and stay with us, you will enjoy a totally different castle experience compared to what you'll get if you come as a visitor. We decided to separate the experiences and preserve the identity of the rooms with the personalities of the people who used to live there.

THE WHOLE CASTLE AT YOUR DISPOSAL

CnP: Let's talk about this - you offer accommodation and it is so exclusive! Basically, your guests get the castle at their disposal if I am not mistaken! How does it work?
SBB: Yes, you are completely right! We offer a castle experience to share the luck we had. Guests are hosted in the most ancient area of the castle, which has a fully-equipped suite with a kitchen, a living room, a bedroom and a bathroom. During their stay they have the whole property at their disposal: the panoramic terrace, the gardens, the outdoor pool etc. Our guests can also decide if they would like to enjoy some family experience such as participating in a tour of the other parts of the castle with me, taste the products from our farm or harvest some fruit from the green garden. This is the reason why our guests usually book the castle a year in advance: the experience is unique and they don't need to share the place with others.
CnP: Being the lord of the castle even for one day is something to be remembered for agues! Please tell me about the interiors of the castle - what do you pride on most of all?
SBB: We love the ceilings and the frescoes, the original furniture with the castle crest and all the treasures we keep finding along the way from time to time. Last month while hunting for extra outdoor chairs and tables to display in the garden, we stumbled on an old sewing machine stand: we decided to give it a new life by turning it into a table for the garden! This means we also respect the place with an eye to sustainability and to giving new life by reusing all materials that are on site, before looking for new things that might be fancy, but they won't have anything to tell.
CnP: What can I see on a guided tour around the premises?
SBB: We normally organize tours on demand when we don't have guests during the hospitality season as well as in the harvest season. You can check the dates on our social media or our website and see when you can pay us a visit. Once you come to us you'll be able to see the ground and the first floor of the castle and taste our farm products.
CnP: Do you make wine and organize wine tasting sessions?
SBB: We don't produce wine because as Grandpa Gino used to say: "The soil for good olive oil is not good for wine". But as I said before you can taste a lot of our products. Last year, additionally to the extra-virgin olive oil, we launched a small selection of products linked to members of our family: La Cotognata di Livia (Livia's quince jelly), I Marroni del Nonno Gino (Grandpa Gino's chestnuts), Le Olive di Zelinda (Zelinda's olives), Le Noci di Sara (Sara's walnuts) etc. You get the idea, don't you? All products have a story that we share during our tasting session.
CnP: I think this this is a great idea to commemorate your loved ones and share their stories. I really like it! What else can you offer to castle lovers – can they have a destination wedding for instance or hold some other activities?
SBB: Yes, of course they can. Our policy, though, is that for anyone it has to be a unique experience. So, when we have guests, we don't host weddings or organize visits and vice versa. We 'give' the castle to those who book it first.
CnP: I've read that your garden is quite an amazing place. Can you tell me why?
SBB: I think it is because my mum really cares about it: she selected plants and she also built a section with rocks on her own! The garden also possess some great special spots, such as the panoramic terrace, the pond with fish and the pool.
CnP: What do you like most about your castle?
SBB: I love the atmosphere which the castle and its story help us to create for our guests and visitors. One of the goals of our family is to establish human connections and memories with those who choose Castello di Ferrano for their experiences.
CnP: What's the strongest emotion linked with the castle?
SBB: The stongest feeling that the whole family shares is gratitude and luck. Actually, the reason why we chose to share the castle with guests and visitors is because we strongly believe that when you are this lucky, you feel satisfied to share it with others, instead of keeping it all for yourself. Sharing is caring.
CnP: All of your family members should have their favourite places in the castle - could you tell me what are they and why!?
SBB: I do love the panoramic terrace and its sunsets; my sister the library on top of the tower, she also loves the green garden and picking fruit in the fields - especially blackberries - with her son and friends; my dad loves the door on the ground floor that leads to a side, cozy living room. This door is very special for him. My mum loves the old fabrics and pieces of furniture and, of course, the GARDEN!
CnP: When I talked to Chiara Gibelli - the owner of Castello di Gropparello in Parma - she told me they are responsible for different activities in the castle – how do you share responsibilities at Castello di Ferrano among the four of you: your father, your mother, your sister and yourself?
SBB: My father is "the man who solves all the problems" and he directly manages the whole farm. He is so much into machinery that any chance for work is a chance to drive a tractor of his! My mum Sonia takes care of guests and the garden. She is the keeper of its secrets and she also loves to talk to people about the castle and its plants.
SBB: My sister Francesca, which lives a bit far away from the castle (30km), is more on the remote part of the job running reservations, emails, and communication with guests in different languages. When it is the harvest season we are all involved and we try to cooperate and to be present as much as possible. Finally, I run our social media (Instagram and Facebook) and I help my mum with guests during the season. I also take care of the tours of the castle and I try to share our story with as much people as possible!
CnP: Including Castles and Families! What does your typical day in the castle look like?
SBB: The day starts when we feed our two cats, Gilda and Stagnola, who are always hungry. Then, it depends on the season: in winter our main activity is processing our olives, chestnuts and quince. We harvest the fruit and subsequently produce preserves and press extra-virgin olive oil. In summer, when our hospitality season is in full swing, my father starts the day with cleaning the pool, while my mum checks the garden. Francesca and me are not there everyday, because she works as a professor and I'm trying very hard to start my academic career, though we are present when the effort of the whole 'team' is required.
CnP: Your castle dates back to the 19th century. Do you have all modern amenities like central heating or do you warm up with burning wood in fireplaces?
SBB: We have both systems. However, we use the central heating and we have separate systems for the different areas of the castle. We also have air conditioning in the guest area.
CnP: Have you ever thought of moving to a spacious apartment in a big city and forget about the headache which running any castle in principle may bring?
SBB: For Fabrizio it is impossible, Ferrano is the village where he grew up and nowadays when he looks at old pictures, he is still moved by them. As for me I'm planning to move closer to the castle but at the same time to keep following my dream to be a university researcher. My sister lives 30km away from the castle. You know, Ferrano may seem to be a remote location, but in reality it is only a 30-minute drive from Florence!
CnP: This is one of the coolest things. The place looks remote but you can get anywhere really fast. My traditional question – what would you tell those who are dreaming about buying an old rundown castle and restore it to its former glory. Is it that romantic?
SBB: Well, I can't say for sure, because we didn't buy the castle. What I can say is that the costs are high, maintaining and running a castle is really expensive, but if you work hard and if you are really motivated, follow your instinct!
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Sara from the Bocci Benucci family who owns Castello di Ferrano near Italy's Florence!

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