You may like Nutella. You may love Nutella. But would you commit to spending a whole weekend with Nutella?
For three days this winter, a few lucky fans were given the opportunity to take a vacation with the world's most well known hazelnut spread. Sure, branded hotels are having a moment, from the upcoming bread hotel in New York to the cheese suite in London to the much-talked-about Palm Springs property that became a Taco Bell hotel for a week. But the Nutella hotel wasn't just any other thrown-together Instagram-bait pop up.
Last Friday, after winding along a road through the vineyard-lined hills outside Calistoga, California, we turned into a driveway and were met by red-suited Nutella bellhops who opened the gates to the Hotella Nutella. We entered the Tuscan-style villa through a giant Nutella jar-shaped archway and checked in at the Nutella jar-shaped front desk before being escorted to a room decked out in Nutella decals, embroidered towels, and breakfast-pastry pillows. In-room amenities included a breadbox stocked with a rustic loaf, a toaster, and personalized jars of Nutella, among other bespoke bits of swag.
The property featured 10 guest rooms, a swimming pool and jacuzzi, a movie theater (with food-themed films like Julie and Julia), a game room, gym, steam room, hedge labyrinth, and views of the mountains, all for guests to enjoy in between the weekend's planned activities. Nutella pop art and decals adorned hallways and gathering spaces, branded beach balls floated in the pool, and giant inflatable Nutella jars were strewn around the grounds. Oh, and actual jars of Nutella were stacked pretty much everywhere in case we got hungry. Was this just a Napa villa anyone could rent for a weekend? Sure. Had it been adequately transformed into a Nutella hotel? Undeniably.
The point of this brand activation wasn't so much to cram in as many casual consumers as possible, but rather to reward a handful of dedicated Nutella lovers. Among the reporters and influencers invited to stay were three contest winners and their guests. To earn their spots, the winners had to prove their Nutella fandom. One did so by writing a song and shooting a music video extolling their love for Nutella, another by creating and wearing a Nutella jar costume to work and reciting an extremely convincing sales pitch for her bonafides, and another sent a video of his proposal to his now-wife which included hiding the ring in a Nutella jar-shaped cake which he surprised her with while dining at the Nutella Cafe.
The first evening saw us served an Italian (by way of Napa) dinner of escarole and meatball soup, lamb with a balsamic Nutella reduction and risotto, and, naturally, a Nutella-filled dessert, all from local chef Matt McNally, plus wines with each course selected by sommelier Anani Lawson.
For morning coffee, local roaster Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Co. created a special Nutella blend and hazelnut cream to pour in. For brunch, Chef Tanya Holland, owner of Oakland's Brown Sugar Kitchen and a Top Chef contestant, wove Nutella throughout her menu, starting off with a cornmeal crepe filled with the spread, followed by a hearty pork and kale hash with poached egg, oat biscuits (Nutella optional), barbecue shrimp and grits, and finishing with a sweet potato and Nutella roulade.
Sarah Crowder Cornmeal crepe with hazelnuts and Nutella from chef Tanya Holland.
Sarah Crowder Barbecue shrimp and grits from chef Tanya Holland.
Sarah Crowder Nutella and sweet potato roulade from chef Tanya Holland.
Guests were then lead into the kitchen for a crepe-making class taught by Holland herself, whose long list of credentials include studying at the La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Burgundy, France.
Sarah Crowder Chef Tanya Holland demonstrates crepe-making techniques.
Sarah Crowder Daniel Drake of Dancakes perfects a pancake portrait.
Sarah Crowder Winner Brittany Law (right) and guest show off their pancake portraits.
The afternoon saw the Dancakes team demonstrating pancake art and treating each guest to an edible portrait before letting them take their own turn on the griddle to draw—what else?—Nutella jars. In the evening, a local wine tasting was followed by Food Network star and Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian cooking breakfast for dinner. Courses included Nutella-swirled banana-walnut bread topped with shaved black truffle, endive salad with hazelnuts, mixed grain porridge with truffle, Nutella-braised pork tacos, and a Nutella tiramisu topped with chocolate budino for dessert. Again, Nutella-filled, but not a ton.
Sarah Crowder Chef Geoffrey Zakarian puts the finishing touches on his "Breakfast for Dinner" menu.
Sarah Crowder Zack Hall shares his passion for baking bread.
On Sunday morning, Zack Hall of L.A.'s Clark Street Bread walked us through the finer points of making bread at home, including the pre-heated dutch-oven method for creating the ideal baking conditions. Then he served a four-course bread pairing menu: Nutella, sea salt, and olive oil on sliced baguette with apple and citrus; a croissant filled with whipped cream, strawberries, and Nutella (a take on a Japanese convenience store staple); Nutella, hazelnuts, pink peppercorns, and sea salt on a charred ciabatta; and whipped cream- and Nutella-topped banana bread. This was the all-Nutella meal we had been waiting for, and each of the courses—despite their shared "bread + Nutella" formula—stood on its own.
Sarah Crowder Strawberry, cream, hazelnut, and Nutella on a croissant from baker Zack Hall.
Sarah Crowder Chocolate, banana, and walnut bread with Nutella, whipped cream, and olive oil from baker Zack Hall.
With brunch behind us, it was time to check out. If the rest of the guests were anything like me, they left with enough Nutella coursing through their veins to feel like they had experienced something special without succumbing to the very possible danger of getting tired of it.
And given that the goal of the weekend was to celebrate Nutella and its superfans, it seemed like everyone succeeded. Honestly, even now, I'm still in the mood for some Nutella.