Sometime in the early nineteenth century lived Elvira, an only but adored child named Elvira. Every day, little Elvira insisted on taking a special route to school so she could walk passed a magnificent castle located in the centre of town. Seeing the joy this castle brought their little girl, Elvira’s parents secretly had a replica built for her.
Many years later, Elvira’s parents unveiled the greatest gift she could have ever asked for—her very own castle in Trepuzzi, a town in the Apulian province of Lecce.
To show her gratitude, Elvira set off into the 37-acre property in search of fruits, exotic mushrooms, and vegetables for what would become a feast of gratitude.
However, before Elvira could present the wonders of the land, she collapsed and perished at the footsteps of the castle’s grand entrance.
There never was a feast that day.
A poisoned mushroom.
Grief-stricken, her parents abandoned the castle, never to be visited, spoken of, or opened to anyone ever again.
So for the next ten decades, shrubs, cacti, trees and vines grew up and around the property as if to prevent anyone else from ever setting foot on it.
That is, until 120 years later when the life-loving Steve Riseley and Harvey B. Brown ploughed their way in.
The creative couple arrived in Puglia on a quest for adventure. Harvey, a renowned artist, and Steve, an interior designer and entrepreneur, are both boundless dreamers unafraid of taking risks and fulfilling their wildest fantasies together.
After years of considering Greece and Spain for new investments, they were enamoured by Puglia’s charm—which was and still is somewhat preserved, protected, and raw. A paradisiacal land of vegetation, agriculture, seascapes, picturesque villages, and properties—properties which many have been left to rot for centuries—and like Castle Elvira, each with a jaw-gaping story waiting to be told.
In 2019, upon arrival at the castle, all they could see was overgrown land. Determined to see the property, they took a machete to the thick and tangled vegetation to clear a path through the dense undergrowth under the scorching Apulian sun.
They sealed their fate.
Steve and Harvey were now owners of a castle.
The restoration of Castle Elvira has taken three long years, but the result has been well worth the effort. Today, it has become a discreet celebrity hideaway, but make no mistake, Castle Elvira is not another snobbish establishment. Instead, it feels like a home away from home, or more accurately, the home we all wish we had: Grand, lavish yet comfortable, with stunning spaces, each painstakingly restored and adorned with original artwork.
Puglia still needs to be discovered. Why Puglia? What brought you here in the first place?
HBB: As an artist, I do not limit myself to the boundaries of what is expected of me. I still wander, wonder, and dream about ever-evolving scenarios and fantasies. So, when Steve opened my eyes to the possibility of having a beautiful opportunity for us in southern Italy, it ignited my inner core– and I was thinking, whoa! Ok, I never even thought of that! It gave me a sense of adventure, and that’s an integral part of our relationship: Ride life like a Luna Park rollercoaster—a bit scary, a bit exciting, yet having the time of our lives. Our love story is about that synergy between us, to love life and waste no day without enjoyment. As May West said, “Once around the world is enough if you live it right.”
How did you find Puglia?
HBB: Steve is a true pioneer; he has the ability and vision to detect the next big thing, but more than that, we couldn’t help but fall in love with Puglia.
Castle Elvira is a hotel but also a contemporary art gallery. Why have you decided to display sellable art throughout the hotel?
SR: We opened our home for people to come and indulge in our world as it’s very much a reflection of who we are, so it was a very natural extension to present art for sale as part of the experience.
Harvey, a well-known contemporary artist, creates elaborate, decadent portraits in collaboration with London-based photographer David Scheinman. The artwork presented in nearly every room is a mixture of photography, paint and mixed media. They are appropriately titled ‘Adored and Adorned.’ Much like restoring castle Elvira by re-making a decaying structure come to life, Harvey uses throw-away everyday objects such as lottery tickets, covid tests, used napkins from his local café and found broken jewellery to redress the portraits and magnify the subject’s iconic statue.
What were your major challenges with the project? Personal and practical
HBB: The first major challenge was the language barrier. We find ourselves between international sign language and google translate. The second was the blurry edges of Italian law, which often appears contradictory among consultants. We figured out that you must choose what laws to obey because sticking to one law means you break another!
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What were your significant design challenges?
HBB: Design-wise, the main challenge was restoring the castle and surrounding buildings to their former glory, altering original features as little as possible and preferring to restore rather than install. The castle offers luxurious hidden modern features such as a cold and hot underfloor system, avoiding any abrupt plastic air-con units, around-the-clock airflow system that regenerates fresh, clean and filtered air throughout (proving to be a smart move since Covid-19). TVs are artfully disguised as antique mirrors, and the luxury shower streams like Niagara Falls.
Looking back, is there anything you would do differently? Any regrets?
HBB: Following your dreams is never an easy path. And it doesn’t matter what the dreams are; the reality is that working through them is difficult. Fulfilling any desires and building a new business is challenging at best; you must face a mountain of adversity. However, looking back, we have no regrets.
After all, we live in a castle!
Everything speaks luxury: From the heavy, oversized soft towels to high- end eclectic furnishings.
The main castle has four spacious, luxurious ensuite bedrooms, high vaulted ceilings and original frescos, private living rooms with breathtaking views over the land and pools, and hand-carved solid marble baths.
The ground level boasts the main living spaces, an enormous modern kitchen, a walk-in fridge, a private dining room, double sized living room with grand piano, a cinema room and a sparkly red elevator that will take guests to the roof terrace where daily aperitifs are served at sunset by a dedicated barman.
The dedicated onsite breakfast/restaurant room by the parking feels like walking into Aladdin’s cave: You can’t decide what to buy: from cutting-edge original artworks to local designer robes, glasses and specially made jewellery. The castle also offers life drawing classes and is reportedly one of Puglia’s best life drawing experiences.
Pools: The court boasts a scenic swimming pool and a shallow “cocktail pool” where guests can sit or lay around while sipping delicious beverages prepared by the staff at the onsite restaurant kitchen. The extra-large sun beds are perfect for lazy sunny days while your dedicated waiter delivers your snack or lunch.
Extras: Other structures on the property include a two-bed, two-bath outhouse with private outdoor showers and seating area, an ancient tower with a vast rooftop marble bath and a round bed and a Masseria (*typical farmhouse) with its pool and grounds.
Castle Elvira offers off-the-chart services: From pasta and cooking classes to life drawing classes, wine tasting, vibrant pizza nights serenaded by local talent, massages, tours, special decoration requests, and even handmade customized Christmas cards as requested by Hollywood actress Kate Beckinsale who stayed in the castle during Christmas 2022.
Photos courtesy of Mark Cocksedge / Rei Moon