Her family inherited a 900-year-old Italian castle. Here's what it's like living there
Published Wednesday, September 27, 2023 12:06PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, September 27, 2023 12:06PM EDT
Sannazzaro Natta moved into the 45-roomed, turreted, fairytale Castle Sannazzaro when she was four years old. (Ludovica Uberta Sannazzaro Natta)
When Ludovica Sannazzaro Natta introduces herself to new people, she always leads with the key facts:
She’s 21, about to turn 22. She’s Italian. She’s a “very proud Scorpio.” She studied musical theatre in Los Angeles and New York.
Then, she’ll add an unexpected extra detail into the mix:
“I live in a castle full time.”
GROWING UP IN A CASTLE
Sannazzaro Natta moved into the 45-roomed, turreted, fairytale Castle Sannazzaro when she was four years old.
Sannazzaro Natta is descended from Italian nobility and her father is a count. This medieval fortress, located in picturesque countryside near Giarole, northern Italy, has been in her family for 28 generations.
The previous generation used Castle Sannazzaro primarily as a summer home, but in 2006, Sannazzaro Natta’s parents decided to move from Milan and make the castle their full time residence, taking their young daughter with them.
“When I moved here, it was just so normal for me,” she tells CNN Travel today. “It was just my home and where I was going to live for the rest of my life.”
While the castle was “normal” for young Sannazzaro Natta, she still recalls the thrill of discovering the abundance of rooms in the castle – there are 18 bedrooms, 9 bathrooms, as well as sitting rooms, a library, a ballroom and a dining room, not to mention the moat, a chapel and secret passageways. Her parents soon realized that in a castle, games of hide and seek can last a long time.
“I would just run around the castle,” Sannazzaro Natta recalls. “My parents couldn’t find me sometimes because I thought it was so funny to hide inside closets.”
Sannazzaro Natta has an older brother, but he’s 14 years her senior, so Sannazzaro Natta spent her childhood exploring the castle with her gang of friends. The kids would spend long days inventing tales of princesses, witches and wizards amid extremely appropriate surroundings. The castle, says Sannazzaro Natta, was a “very creative” place to spend her formative years.
“I grew up with Harry Potter and Narnia and all those things,” she recalls. “Of course, the castle was absolutely great to recreate those kinds of atmospheres and fantasy worlds – so it would be our own Harry Potter in my castle.”
As a teenager, Sannazzaro Natta attended boarding school elsewhere in Italy. With that distance, and her growing maturity, Sannazzaro Natta developed more conflicted feelings about her palatial childhood home.
“I didn’t really know how to tell people about living in a castle,” she says.
She became aware that “this particular thing about myself can change their view about me, their opinion on me” and found herself holding back the information until she felt she’d developed a good rapport with a potential friend.
“I live in a castle. That’s so not normal,” she realized. “That’s very unique and special.”
While Sannazzaro Natta began reckoning with that privilege and what it meant, she also became fascinated by Castle Sannazaro’s history and how it intertwines with her own family legacy.
“It’s almost 900 years of history, between this place and between my family,” she says.
She helped her father sift through old family letters. She shadowed paranormal investigators who came to investigate potential ghostly goings on. She researched her family tree to understand how the castle came to be built in the first place.
SEEING THE CASTLE THROUGH A NEW LENS
After graduating high school, Sannazzaro Natta moved to the U.S. to study musical theatre. Her new American friends were even more dumbfounded than her Italian schoolmates when she lifted the curtain on her family home. But, by then, Sannazzaro Natta was more comfortable in herself and felt able to own her story.
“I’m not going to hide a part of me just because I’m scared of what they’re going to think,” she decided. “If they really want to know me, they’re going to know me with this specific thing, because it is part of me.”
Then, midway through Sannazzaro Natta’s U.S. studies, Covid hit. Like many pandemic-era college students, she found herself decamping to her parents’ house – only, of course, her parents’ house was a castle.
Sannazzaro Natta saw the fortress through fresh eyes after her time away.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I just love this place. Sometimes I don’t appreciate it as much as I should. Probably because it’s my home. And it’s so normal for me. But I truly, truly love this place.’”
With this newfound appreciation of the castle came the birth of Sannazzaro Natta’s social media account, The Castle Diary. In between her studies, Sannazzaro Natta passed the time posting videos on TikTok and Instagram summing up what life’s really like in a medieval castle. Yes, it’s beautiful, she explained, but there’s also poor Wi-Fi, a lot of rooms to clean and drafts aplenty.
It was March 2021 and her videos provided some well-timed pandemic escapism. Plus, everyone was talking about the Netflix series “Bridgerton,” and Sannazzaro Natta seemed to be living some real life version of that. Her TikTok account quickly gained traction.
As her following grew, Sannazzaro Natta leaned into the period drama of it all, enlisting her mother to sew her gowns that would look more at place in the 1800s than the 2020s.
Today, Sannazzaro Natta rarely appears in modern clothing in her videos and fully embraces the “princess aesthetic” on social media.
At the same time, she’s still committed to showcasing the reality of castle life. She still makes videos about the castle’s unexpected quirks from its multiple old toilets to the frustration of forgetting your keys and ascending several flights of spiral staircases to track them down.
And to be clear, Sannazzaro Natta isn’t actually a princess– although she does stand to inherit her father’s title and become a countess one day, which is pretty Bridgerton-esque, although the title has no real meaning in republican Italy.
EXPERIENCE A SLICE OF CASTLE LIFE
Sannazzaro Natta’s social media presence has become a family affair – her mother helps with her outfits, while her father often pops up in front of the camera and her brother helps with the administrative and financial side of Sannazzaro Natta’s social media fame.
The Sannazzaro Natta family have been pleasantly surprised by the widespread interest in the videos – not least because it’s provided a boost to the on-site bed and breakfast they run at the castle.
That’s right – if you want to live like Sannazzaro Natta for the day, you can – six of the eighteen bedrooms in the castle are available for vacationers to rent. More rooms are available to rent for weddings or other large events.
The castle is around an hour away from Milan, Turin and Genoa, and 650 meters from Giarole Train Station.
“This area is very famous for its landscapes,” Sannazzaro Natta says. “It’s full of these little towns. There’s beautiful hills,” she says. “Of course, the food is amazing. And the area is very well known also for wine. So there are tons of different wineries.”
SHARING THE EXPERIENCE
Sannazzaro Natta says she loves nothing better than when the castle is full of guests and pulsating with energy – whether that’s thanks to visits from her disbelieving, delighted American friends (whose reactions to the castle she often documents on social media) or via tourists.
That, for Sannazzaro Natta, is when her home comes alive, so if her social media boosts visitors, all the better.
“The reason why my dad opened the bed and breakfast was because he wanted the castle to be lived in. He wanted people to see and breathe this reality.” she says. “And I want the exact same thing.”
Inspired by the success of her social media aesthetic, Sannazzaro Natta is planning upcoming public events that embrace what she calls the “fantasy” of the castle. First up, she hopes to organize a historical-themed ball in 2025.
Now that she’s an adult, Sannazzaro Natta is increasingly aware of the costs and upkeep associated with castle living. Expanding into hosting balls and historical events could also be a way to ensure the longevity of the castle – something she has a vested interest in, as she, alongside her brother, will inherit the property one day.
Sannazzaro Natta says she is also still pursuing musical theatre and is currently fantasizing about playing one of the six wives of Henry VIII featured in the musical comedy “Six,” all of whom knew a thing or two about castles. She’d love to host a performance at Castle Sannazzaro.
Sannazzaro Natta says ultimate goal is to “share the atmosphere of this beautiful place” with everyone she can – whether via social media or in person.
“I have something so unique and special that I want to share with people,” she says. “Because I don’t think that a lot of people know about this reality. They don’t even think that it exists unless it’s in movies.”