This ex-Pepsi CEO's 17th century Italian castle just underwent a $12 million renovation to become a state-of-the-art cooking school -- take a look inside

Castello di UgentoCastello di UgentoFancy dining at a 17th century chef’s table?

If there’s one thing Italians know how to do, it’s cook — and now they can do it in one of the most stunning settings imaginable.

A majestic 17th century castle in the heart of southern Puglia, Italy has undergone an $US11.7 million transformation to become an art culinary institute.

It’s called the Puglia Culinary Centre, and it operates in partnership with The Culinary Institute of America.

Along with the state-of-the-art cooking school, the 4,500 square metre castle — which dates back to the Messapians in 8th century BC — now also houses a luxury boutique hotel, a contemporary art exhibition, an event space, and a museum.

In 1643 Castello di Ugento, named after the historical town of Ugento in which it is situated, was bought by the d’Amore family, and has been under their ownership ever since. The property is now owned by Massimo Fasanella d’Amore di Ruffano, an ex-CEO at Pepsi.

In the 1600s Nicola and Francesco d’Amore transformed what was then a military fort — sat at the top of a hill to protect the land and village below it — into a lavish palace.

It boasted elegant salons on the first floor and ceilings “soaring into the star-shaped vaults typical of Salentine architecture, decorated with a glorious mythological cycle of frescoes.” But over the past 100 years the castle has slowly decayed.

Archaeologists, specialist restorers, and art historians were appointed in 2013 to “breathe new life into the dormant Castello” as well as improve its comfort, security, and technology all while respecting its ancient history.

Scroll down for a look at the incredible restoration of the castle that’s home to over 1,000 years of history.

This is the Castello di Ugento, a property with over 1,000 years of history that has recently undergone a renovation to become a state-of-the-art cooking school, museum, and boutique hotel.

Castello di Ugento

Here, you can see the castle before its transformation. It's thought that it was built -- and then rebuilt -- during Roman times on Messapian remains.

Castello di Ugento

Its circular Angevin Tower dates back to the Normans, who controlled the region from 1059.

Castello di Ugento

Here's the Tower from the walled kitchen garden after its year-long restoration...

Castello di Ugento

...as well as the eastern view of the newly-revamped castle.

Castello di Ugento

The Puglia Culinary Centre sits in its own separate wing of the castle.

Castello di Ugento

The ancient Pugliese art of cooking will be taught by House Chef Odette Fada, in brand new, high-tech kitchens with separate bakery and p√Ętisserie areas.

Castello di Ugento

Students from the renowned Culinary Institute of America will come here to study Puglia's gastronomy on a semester abroad from September to April.

Castello di Ugento

They will also learn about Puglia's local wines, with wine tasting and pairing in what used to be the underground cistern, originally built in the late 17th century. Hotel guests can also sign up for cookery classes where they will visit nearby markets to source fresh, seasonal ingredients every day.

Castello di Ugento

Castello di Ugento's restaurant, Il Tempo Nuovo, celebrates local, seasonal cuisine, using recipes passed down through families over the centuries. You can eat in an antique paved courtyard, a vaulted room known as La Torre Scoperta...

Castello di Ugento

...or you can ask to sit at the Chef's Table in the state-of-the-art open kitchen where you can watch your meal being prepared.

Castello di Ugento

It's pretty close to the action.

Castello di Ugento

The Puglia Culinary Centre will use fruit, vegetables, and herbs grown in the castle's restored 18th-century kitchen garden.

Castello di Ugento

This was the orchard before the renovation.

Castello di Ugento

Now it includes lemon, orange, persimmon, figs, and almond trees laden with fruit, while raised beds are planted with fennel, basil, and fava beans during spring.

Castello di Ugento

In summer the crops include peppers, prunes, and peaches, in autumn there are cauliflowers, pomegranates, and persimmons to pick while in winter melons, tangerines, artichokes, and cabbages are in season.

Guests can enjoy sunset cocktails, relax with a book during the day, or take a botanical stroll with the head gardener to learn about its 100 aromatic and medicinal local plants.

Castello di Ugento

Guests can stay at one of the nine unique suites in the castle's luxury boutique hotel, or at the nearby restored farmhouse Masseria Le Mandorle, which has a pool, tennis court, and fruit garden.

Castello di Ugento

This is what one of the bedrooms looked like before.

Castello di Ugento

The frescoes in the grand salons on the first floor were commissioned by Francesco and Nicola d'Amore in 1694 to celebrate the family history...

Castello di Ugento

...and they have been restored to a remarkable scale.

Castello di Ugento

The original majestic staircase or 'Scalone' leads up to the grand first floor salons.

Castello di Ugento

It's adorned with the d'Amore family coat of arms and intricate stucco work.

Castello di Ugento

The elegant first floor apartments now house the museum, which will host the work of Italian and international artists and photographers showcased against a glorious backdrop of golden stone.

Castello di Ugento

Here's what they looked like before...

Castello di Ugento

...and after.

Castello di Ugento

There's also an event space.

Castello di Ugento

Castello di Ugento was bought by the d'Amore family in 1643 and has been with them ever since.

Castello di Ugento

However, over the last 100 years the castle has slowly decayed.

Castello di Ugento

The property is owned by Massimo Fasanella d'Amore di Ruffano, an ex-CEO at Pepsi. He inherited a small area of it from his mother, and over the span of 20 years until 2008 acquired the rest of it from family members and third parties.

Castello di Ugento

Archaeologists, specialist restorers, and art historians were brought in to 'breathe new life into the dormant Castello' as well as improve its comfort, security, and technology all while respecting its ancient history.

Castello di Ugento

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