24-Hour Room Service: Castello del Nero, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa

The old adage that it takes money to make money certainly rings true at the Castello del Nero. It's clear for all to see that no expense has been spared in renovating this 12th-century castle turned luxury hotel.

Hills of Tuscany: Vines and views

Mary Novakovich is given a warm welcome as she takes a ramble through the Tuscan hills

Pandora: Mick's new social circle

Despite the chatter, don't bet your house (even if it is one you have bought outright with a parliamentary second home allowance) on Michael Martin, the hitlisted House of Commons Speaker, resigning before this year's summer recess.

Leading article: Home movies

A report that buyers of second homes abroad are guided in their purchases by blockbuster films or television series will bring contemptuous smiles to the faces of those who count themselves immune to such propaganda.

Here's to you, old bean: Skye Gyngell's Tuscan feast

To celebrate a visit from an acclaimed Tuscan food writer, Skye Gyngell created a simple, robust feast to make her guests feel right at home

Italy: From top to toe, it's a bumper year in the Boot

Celebrate Palladio and Puccini's birthdays, or learn football from a World Cup star. Sarah Barrell reveals what's new in Italy

Villa: Val d'Orcia, Tuscany

Anyone can book a hotel online these days, but demand is growing for expert advisers who know exactly where to get the best plate of pasta con le sarde in Palermo or where to go for a blow-the-budget fishing trip in Russia's Kamchatka peninsula. Bespoke specialists can open doors that would otherwise remain firmly shut.

Different class of protester fights for 'Chiantishire'

Were it not for the placards, anyone strolling past the National Gallery might have thought the gathering was a novel extension to the debutante season.

Renaissance Siena : Art For A City, National Gallery, London

By Michael Glover

Flower power: A trip to Italy provides Anna Pavord with a riot of inspiration. But how to translate the glory of Tuscany to a British setting?

I have a new mission. It is to walk every footpath shown on the superb maps produced by the Club Alpino Italiano. We made a small start this month using just one of the maps, grandly headed "Itinerary of Montagnola Senese and the Lecceto Wood". We were staying in a farmhouse at Cetinale and this map alone, covering the region west of Siena, gave us 18 different route marches.

Milder than forecast winter aids acquisitive Homeserve

The emergency repair group Homeserve unveiled a better than expected 28 per cent jump in its annual pre-tax profits yesterday, boosted by a milder than forecast UK winter.

Candida Crewe: The weigh-in could become a weapon in the war against fat

At the beginning and end of each term we were ordered into a queue for our turn at the stake: a step up in front of everyone on to the old-fashioned scales in the school hall. They closely resembled the outsized ones in the school kitchen, daily employed to weigh large slabs of meat or dough.

Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy

At least he cut their throats first

Scourge and Fire: Savonarola and Renaissance Italy by Lauro Martines

The politician who tried to be a prophet

Muriel Spark, giant of literature, dies

Author of 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' and 'The Girls of Slender Means' dies in hospital in Florence aged 88
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Day In a Page

Independent Travel
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
Lake Como St Moritz & the Bernina Express 7 nights from £809pp
Vietnam
Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
South Africa
Spain
Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect