Umbria’s Palazzo Seneca

 

Palazzo Seneca
Palazzo Seneca has a total of 24 rooms and suites, including Junior Suite No. 101 shown here. Some suites have pieces belonging to the Seneca family.

 


The 16th-century Palazzo Seneca, Umbria’s only Relais & Châteaux property, is worth a visit if only for the food. But then the town of Norcia has been a gourmand’s dream destination for centuries: there are the black truffles, the Norcineria wild boar, pork prosciuttos and sausages, the delicate Castelluccio lentils and roveja peas, artisanal cheeses and, not to mention, the lamb reared in the verdant national park next door.

Ristorante
Ristorante vesp asia sources local ingredients, including its black truffles from the territory of Norcia.

We visited the palazzo during the restoration, when Vincenzo and Federico Bianconi were working to add a luxury property to their family’s collection of small hotels in the Norcia area. Today, the palace is exactly what had been promised—lavishly restored using both ancient and modern materials, offering a high level of comfort and, in this foody paradise, a momentous menu.

Michela, the hotel’s receptionist (info@palazzoseneca.com), showed us around. English architect A. Lerwill Bowen’s design includes putting heating under original stone and wood floors in all 24 rooms and suites—a nice touch for those who want to join Norcia’s popular Christmas events or the February Truffle Festival. Norcia, in Umbria’s far southeastern corner, on the edge of Le Marche, is next door to the National Park of the Sibillini Mountains, so the town draws adventure travelers as well as food enthusiasts.

A hand-carved Baldacchino bed with huge twisted bedposts is the star of the only true suite, No. 108, and sits atop an ancient oak floor. There’s a small antique-filled living room with a sleeper sofa, a dressing room and two-and-a-half sleek black granite bathrooms. Note: The suite has two entrances, one leading directly into the living room and the other into the bedroom, which is perfect for two couples sharing.

The Junior Suite No. 100, one of four, comes with a carved wood bedstead and is large enough for two additional single beds. There’s a huge black granite shower with two showerheads and a half bath. Connecting this suite to room No. 101 results in adequate space for a family, along with a private foyer for both rooms.

We took a peek at Superior Room No. 104 and found a lovely space consisting of tiled floors and a windowed white marble bathroom with travertine accents and shower/tub. There’s a canopy bed along with wingchairs like those used by the Catholic cardinals of old.

The smaller rooms in the Romantic series have balconies overlooking Norcia or the surrounding

 

 

 

What to do in Norcia


Activities for culinary tourists around Norcia include the pleasures of browsing the many delis in the center of town, which sell Norcineria, the local cured meats made since the 1200s, and artisanal cheeses. Take a selection of each and have a picnic in the national park. Other restaurants in the historical center of Norcia include the casual Taverna del Boscaiolo and the traditional Granaro del Monte.

 

The Palazzo Seneca will also arrange visits with the chef to local producers, truffle hunts, wine tastings, ricotta-making school, olive oil tastings and cooking classes at the family house, Casa Bianconi.

 

Adventure travelers can go rafting on the River Corno, mountain biking, horse riding, Nordic walking or trekking (with or without mules) in the national park. Winter excursions include snowshoeing, igloo building or cross-country skiing.

 

The hotel provides transfers by car or van from Rome and Perugia airports, as well as other destinations in Italy. They will also organize luxury car rentals or pickup by helicopter.

 

countryside: ask for Nos. 205, 206, 207, 208 or 209. In addition to those rooms, Junior Suite No. 210 and Superior Room No. 206 have balconies. Luxury travel advisors should contact Sales Manager Daniele Pintaudi (daniele@bianconi.com) or Reservations Manager Luca Clementi (info@bianconi.com).

The public areas in the hotel are spacious, filled with old woods and ancient stone fireplaces flanked by big leather chairs; in the summer, there are tables outside on the grand terrace with smaller leather wingchairs that add comfort during evening-long Italian dinners. We loved the reading room, with its classic ambiance, and the wood-beamed dining room, which would be the perfect spot for a wedding dinner. The lounge is English Gentlemen’s Club-style, softened by Palladian windows and Italian leathers.

The spa, with vaulted ceiling and stone floors, has a stone whirlpool that can accommodate six. A variety of mouth-watering and skin-soothing ingredients are used for the massages and treatments, including chocolate, brown sugar, lime, bergamot, cinnamon, ginger and sage. After a day spent trekking in the national park or truffle-hunting, a massage here will put a guest in shape to enjoy a fabulous dinner.

Despite the beauty of this restored palazzo, it is the food that will bring everyone back again and again. Our lunch was probably the best meal we’ve had in Umbria in 15 years. Flavio Faedi, who once was the private chef for Italy’s renowned lyricist Mogol, has created a menu in Ristorante Vespasia that is worth every minute of the hour’s drive from Spoleto (an hour-and-a-half from Rome or Florence). From free-range pork to biodynamic wines, chef Faedi sources almost everything locally—95 percent of the ingredients he uses are from no more than 20 miles away. Our dessert, Karkade crème brulée with flavored infusion and wild rose bavarois, could have been used by the Sirens to lure Ulysses, for it may be the best dessert being produced on the Italian boot.