All Images credit Castle Elvira

Castle Elvira: Salento, Italy’s Darling of Castle Hotels

May. 13th, 2024

As children, many of us have had the fantasy of one day living in a castle. But as we grow older, those dreams fade away replaced by more practical ambitions. But not for all of us. When growing up Harvey B-Brown always dreamed of living in a castle and be it manifestation, fate, or just luck, his life’s cards played out in such a way that is exactly what happened. He and his husband Steve Riseley would become the owners of one of the hottest new hotels in the world which just happens to be a castle. In Salento, the heel of Italy’s boot, is where you’ll find his once-upon-a-time daydream, the Castle Elvira.

All Images credit Castle Elvira

Castle Elvira is a masterpiece in so many ways. This magnum opus of its owners is a showcase for the love of the Dolce Vita with good food, gorgeous art, and the utmost in creature comforts coming together in one place.  This castle retreat can be described in many ways and all would be true.  Design-led, five-star boutique hotel and, an art hotel would be expected along with a luxury hotel with a cooking school and art classes as well. What it is most of all is a place where guests can go for a holiday in Salento where they can be treated well in a splendid environment.

Cast Elvira is set on a lush 37-acre estate overlooking southern Italy’s farmlands and beyond.  There are 10 lavish suites spread between the castle, Tower Elvira, The Masseria, and the gatekeeper’s cottage. Each accommodation can be booked individually or guests can buy out the castle or the entire property. It makes the ideal venue to celebrate special occasions, weddings, or even corporate events.  

The story of the castle is as interesting as the art collection that you’ll find inside. It is a replica of a famous castle in Naples and was built 150 years ago. A well-to-do family had a daughter that they adored and called her their little princess. One day, when passing the castle, she remarked to her parents: if I’m a princess, why is it that I don’t live in a castle?  The dotting parents, always one to indulge their child, decided to build her a castle of her own and gave it to her when she came of age at 17. Her name was Elvira and the namesake of the hotel. Tragically, she never got to live in the castle very long. Shortly after moving in, she wanted to prepare a meal for her family to show her appreciation. While foraging for ingredients for the meal, she came upon what she thought were porcini mushrooms but sadly there were not. She ate them and tragically died. Distraught from what happened to their adored child, the family abandoned the castle where it sat, untended for over 120 years.

The next owners are the current owners, artist and film director, Harvey-B-Brown, and his husband and property developer, Steve Riseley. The couple purchased the estate in such run-down condition it was overgrown with trees and vines and required a herculean effort to bring it to the hospitality triumph that it is today.  Instead of what Harvey B Norman refers to smash and rebuild the castle was carefully restored to keep as much of the castle's treasures and character as possible. Throughout you’ll see the original fresco ceilings and the colorful original Italian tiled floors.

Today the property is an architectural and design darling with accolades from the purveyors of luxury travel from Conde Nast to Travel and Leisure and it is essentially on every hot list one can find. It is also where celebs and the well-to-do of the UK and US have been looking for such as Kate Beckinsale who has celebrated several holidays there and even the 1980s Cruel Summer band Bananarama,  who recorded their latest video, Masquerade there.  

The castle is located a fifteen-minute drive from Lecce in the Salento, the heel of Italy’s boot.  For those who know Salento and Puglia, they know it’s a much more slowed-down way of life there. Holidays there are about leisurely days lazing about and unhurried dinners with family and friends. So those after the night clubbing till the sun comes up or those glitzy see-and-be-seen resorts will not find it there. The retreat is located a short distance from both coasts of the Ionian and Adriatic Seas so an afternoon on a secluded beach or a day of boating are easy to be had options. Guests will also want to visit the charming seaside villages such as Otranto and Gallipoli, and of course, an afternoon to explore the city known as the “Florence of the South”, Lecce.  

Down a long gravel driveway past the olive trees and open fields, the castle appears. As one would envision from a fairy tale, it is complete with turrets, crenated rooftops, and Juliet balconies. The symmetry is perfect, a cube-shaped structure with one side identical to the next. The façade is a time-worn patina of pink and faded red surfaces, weathered by the decades, that adds a depth of character to its appearance.

Around the property’s 37 acres are some manicured areas along with olive groves and citrus trees while most of the land is left in a natural state.  Guests can get lost exploring one place to the next walking the crushed stone paths perfect for a stroll after dinner.  Around the property, you’ll find the castle, the restaurant with plenty of al fresco seating, and further along,  an equally stunning tower turned accommodation, Tower Elvira, and the Masseria which houses more rooms.   

Out of doors, the castle’s most alluring feature is the pool area.  It appears plucked from the pages of Architectural Digest with two pools surrounded by sitting areas, chaise lounges, hammocks, and cabanas curtained with flowing white muslin. The pools could not be more decadent;  both are heated with stone surfaces and a 750 square feet in size with an infinity edge. The pool is also fitted with a Sonance sound system where you can swim to your favorite tunes underwater. 

The second is a shallow solarium pool with a partially submerged table and chair where one can take off their shoes and refresh their feet while perhaps perusing a magazine. For even more relaxation, guests can laze about in the large jacuzzi with sunken stone seating perfect for up to 12 guests.  Away from the main pool area at the castle, the Masseria on the far end of the property has a large pool area as well.

The fantasy continues with your first step indoors.  It is a case of not knowing where to look first: the gorgeous artwork, opulent furnishing, or decadent lighting are all worthy of admiration. Something is intriguing to find in virtually every space and at times you may feel as if you are living in an avant-garde art gallery. And that’s just the idea here, beauty seems to be the goal in all that you’ll see.  

The living room area is in a word stunning. The décor respects the historical past of the castle and then indulges its guests with intriguing artworks, and retro chic furnishings, velvet sofas, antiques, unusual odds and ends. The centerpiece of the room is the Beckstein Grand piano, awaiting an impromptu performance and sing-along by guests.

The castle is set over four floors with the impressive castle rooftop cocktail bar for an apertivo with accommodations on the second floor. In the basement, you’ll find the castle’s cinema room for movie nights complete with popcorn and all.  Guests recline on a wall of sofa lounges to take in their favorite stars of the silver screen in supreme comfort.  

The castle offers a private dining room as well with the original fresco ceiling and gorgeous light fixtures. There is also a professional gourmet kitchen for entertaining or cooking classes.

Throughout the castle,  the most spectacular feature is the dreaming collection of beguiling artwork. One riveting piece to admire after the next with a curated collection of original works by talented artists from Itay and around the world,  with many available for purchase and to take back home.

As you ascend the staircase to the second floor, you’ll see an art piece featuring a larger-than-life King Kong with ruby red lipstick and bright blue eye shadow. This wonderful piece of art is from none other than the castle owner Harvey B-Brown from his collection, Adored an Adorned which he creates in collaboration with London-based photographer David Scheinman. Throughout the estate, you’ll see his captivating art pieces that are decorated with whimsical mementos and adornments.

The opulence continues in each of Castle Elvira’s guest rooms. In the castle are four spacious guest rooms with original frescos on vaulted ceilings to be admired with the bespoke furnishings. In two of the suites, the bathrooms are hidden behind circular doors, and inside awaits rainwater showerheads and brass Italian-made fixtures while another suite features a hand-carved marble bath for two. All have the best of creature comforts, King-sized beds with tufted velvet headboards, and top-notch electronics including Marshal speakers and Apple TVs. On the second floor, there are exclusive lounge areas as well.  

Beyond the castle, guest accommodations are found in the Masseria and the Tower Elvira. Tower Elvira is a sight to behold, tall and cylindrical, the spaces inside have been reimagined into an unforgettable accommodation with soaring ceilings, round beds, fireplaces, and of course, winding staircases. Each of the two rooms has a signature art piece as well.

The top unit has access to a private rooftop lounge with a sandstone bath for two and commanding views over the surrounding olive groves and landscapes.  Guests staying in Tower Elvira share an infinity pool with the two equally stylish rooms in The Masseria, a former farmhouse.

The dining experience is a form of art as well at Castle Elvira. This isn’t about fancy food with spumes and molecular this or micro that, it's good honest fresh, and delicious cuisine with ingredients and recipes from the Salento region. Pure and simple. As with any proper dining experience in Italy, the evening begins with an apertivo. Here guests arrive by the fourth-story rooftop by way of the bright red lacquered elevator. The ambiance is perfect with sultry lounge music, exquisite canapes, and hand-crafted cocktails by their talented mixologist.  The most memorable feature is chatting with your host and other guests while taking in the mesmerizing sunsets over the Salento countryside.

As the appertivio winds down, guests depart for a long and entertaining evening at the restaurant. There they’ll experience. local comfort food with dishes such as homemade plates of pasta, wood-fired pizza, eggplant parmigiana, or a juicy steak.  This region produces amazing seafood that makes its way to the menu such as the fresh line caught sea brim, whole with bone-in, seasoned with thyme and lemon accompanied by tangy tomatoes marinated in vinegar. 

What makes these dishes such pleasure in the mouth is the ingredients all local. But there is something about a tomato in Puglia that makes it different from a tomato in New York or London, it is the soil land that makes it taste so good and beyond compare. The food concept is uncomplicated. Take ingredients from the area, deftly prepared by the chef with traditional Salento recipes, and throw in great service and good conversation for a meal that their guests will cherish.

There is so much to do in and beyond the property.  Guests can arrange cooking classes in the chef's kitchen or an art class led by Harvey-B-Brown.  This is Salento so with access to both coastlines, there are countless beaches for a swim, or perhaps visiting the seaside villages or a day of boating on a sleek yacht.  Guests will also want to spend a day exploring Lecce, a historical gem with gorgeous Baroch architecture.

Castle Elvira is a special place. Yes, sure, guests will remember the stunning décor, creature comforts, meals, and service but there is something more. Beyond that, they’ll mostly cherish the special time with loved ones and the magical moments created in Castle Elvira.

Glenn Harris

Glenn Harris is an accomplished journalist focusing on international travel, fine dining, and luxury lifestyle events. His wanderlust has taken him to over 105 countries where he is constantly straying off the beaten path uncovering new and exotic finds. He particularly enjoys seeking out lesser known travel gems and places to stay, dine, or experiences to capture. ...(Read More)