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Baroness Caterina de Renzis Sonnino's historic Italian castle that inspired Gucci - full tour

At her family's historic Italian castle in Chianti, Caterina de Renzis Sonnino on transforming a former fortress into an idyllic winery that inspired Gucci

4 May 2024
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Set amid acres of vines and olives, with vistas over the rolling hills of Italy’s Chianti region, Castello Sonnino has a dreamlike quality. It seems timeless and far removed from the turbulent currents of history. But as its chatelaine Baroness Caterina de Renzis Sonnino tells us, the property has quite a past. 

During the Renaissance, it belonged to the Machiavelli family and later it was home to First World War statesman Sidney Sonnino, an architect of both the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. However, during much of the last century the castle stood empty, until, in 1987, Caterina and her late husband Baron Alessandro determined to bring it back to life.

Baroness Caterina de Renzis Sonnino with Virginia and Leone© Fernanda & Paloma

The couple not only carried out a flawless restoration, they also revived Sonnino’s wine-making skills, so that today some of the finest Chiantis hail from here. Above all, they turned the ancient fortress into an idyllic family home. Now, with children Virginia and Leone joining her to welcome us, Caterina reveals proudly: "We are the first Sonnino generation to live as a family in this house –children, friends, dogs and all!"

Caterina, what was your first impression of the castle?

Castello Sonnino sitting room© Fernanda & Paloma

"I felt a bit scared to be honest because I knew nothing about it and since it was all closed up it was very dark. Then I threw open some shutters, sunlight burst in and found myself standing in the most beautiful enchanted garden filled with birds and flowers. 

"That was my first view of the Flora and Fauna Room and I decided right then to stay."

 Castello Sonnino living room© Fernanda & Paloma

This property has been in your family for two centuries. What can you tell us about it?

"Its standout feature is the perfectly preserved medieval bell tower, which dates back to the 12th century, but the place is even older, originating as a Roman castrum or army camp.

Baroness Caterina de Renzis Sonnino © Fernanda & Paloma

"The main villa was built in the 16th century by the Machiavelli family and is typical of the Renaissance period. Back then, Sonnino used to exist as its own little universe. It had much more land and was totally self-sufficient, with systems for everything from water collection to brick manufacture.  A thousand people would have been living here.

The Sidney Sonnino Archive attracts a lot of interest...

Castello Sonnino dining room© Fernanda & Paloma

"Yes. Housed in the buildings where our ancestor lived and worked, it contains documents of great significance, including the original opy of the Treaty of Versailles."

How did you meet your husband?

Castello Sonnino library © Fernanda & Paloma

"Alessandro was from Florence, like me, and we met in 1979. I was studying art in New York, but I was captivated by his qualities. Witty, highly cultured and full of life – as well as handsome – he seemed like a gentleman from another era. On top of that, he brought me to my dream place. We lived happily together for 37 years."

What is it that you like most about your home?“

"As an artist, I get great satisfaction from capturing the light inside the castle and its reflections."

Castello Sonnino tree print wallpaper© Fernanda & Paloma

You have a strong aesthetic streak...

"By profession, I’m a graphic designer. I specialise in creating brand identities for food and wine companies and have been lucky enough to work with some of the best-known Italian wineries."

Leone de Renzis Sonnino posing in library© Fernanda & Paloma

"As for my passions, I love painting, photography –especially wedding albums – and flower arranging. I usually pick the leaves and blooms myself and the direct contact with nature’s beauty brings me such joy. It is a kind of meditation."

Do you entertain friends here?

 Castello Sonnino bedroom with four poster bed© Fernanda & Paloma

"We adore having people come to stay. When the children were small, we used to organise weekend lunch parties, preparing a big table full of food for whoever turned up – sometimes ten people, sometimes 40."

"Those were such happy days and great training for what we do now as part of the Gucci Places project. Sonnino is one of eight venues around the world where the brand hosts VIP clients."

Castello Sonnino bedroom© Fernanda & Paloma

Your family worked very hard to bring the castle back to its best...

"The decision to do it came naturally. In Sonnino, we found somewhere complete, with its own special character, so, guided by respect for its heritage, we decided to restore it and to transform the dusty and decaying vineyards into a contemporary business."

Virginia at Castello Sonnino© Fernanda & Paloma

Virginia, you left a career in fashion to return to live and work at Sonnino. What can you tell us about the family venture?

"Our mantra is: 'Tradition and innovation'. We produce one of the highest-quality organic olive oils in the region, harvesting the olives by hand and sending them to be pressed within eight hours.

Castello Sonnino exterior view© Fernanda & Paloma

"Our wines are denominated Chianti Montespertoli and are characterised by elegance, freshness and balance. They’re aged in wooden barrels in our ancient cellars, while the grapes for our traditional Tuscan vin santo are dried in a 500-year-old airing attic that I call my zen room.

RELATED: Life in a Normandy Chateau: Count and Countess Lepic open the doors to historic French home 

"That environment helped create a vin santo once named the best sweet wine in the world by Decanter magazine.”

Castello Sonnino at sunset © Fernanda & Paloma





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