By Francesca Street, CNN – 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 theater 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 balloom 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.
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 US to study musical theater. 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 US 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.’”
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.