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Review 116: Italian Itineraries, Podere Luisa (La Novellina)


Review by Amy from MA who is a SlowTrav Contributor

5bed/3bath villa near Tavernelle, Tuscany Chianti


July 2001, two weeks


We rented the house Podere Luisa at the La Novellina farm for two weeks in July 2001. As an extended family (nine people, including two children and their grandparents) we were looking for a property in Tuscany that would offer plenty of room, and a location to satisfy a variety of interests. This property is listed with Italian-Itineraries, with whom we booked.

Dealing with Barbara Maher at Italian Itineraries was pleasant and hassle-free. She had recommended this property and a few others from her listings as being suitable for large family groups who wanted nice location and some degree of privacy. Barbara is located in Australia, and was always prompt with email replies to our questions. I spoke with her once in the beginning at her toll-free number. She has a dry wit, and is pleasant and professional.

La Novellina is an olive farm located outside the small village of Marcialla, around 16 miles from Firenze. The area is a 10 minute drive to the Tavernelle or San Donato exit on the Autostrada. While outside the Chianti Classico region, the area is just as lovely and much less touristed. The location is wonderful for day trips to Chianti (20 minutes to Castellina), Firenze (25 minute drive to Porta Romana, 45 minutes by bus from Tavarnelle to S.M.N.), Siena (40 minute drive), Pisa/Lucca (just over an hour), San Gimignano (35 minutes), Montalcino/Pienza (just over an hour).

The village of Marcialla has a tiny square with playground, an alimentarie with good produce and cold cuts, bar, hotel, and three excellent restaurants. The road through the village to La Novellina is only one lane wide, and you need to stop and check carefully to avoid meeting another car in one area. There is also a steep hairpin turn just outside the village which can be exciting when meeting a camper on its way to the nearby campground.

In July, the town sets up a pizza/spaghetti stand, bar, and gelato stand in the square open from about 7:30 every evening. Bands play starting at around 10:00. We had several very enjoyable evenings hanging out here, eating great pizza and listening to the music with the local people and the other lucky travelers. A short drive down the hill takes you to Tavarnelle, a town the Blue Guide calls "nondescript" but we found charming in its everydayness. Two more good restaurants, forno, gelateria, fresh pasta shop, more shops, and bus to Firenze or Siena. There are Coop grocery stores in Tavarnelle, Certaldo (10 minutes down hill), and the huge one in Poggiponsi (20 minutes down autostrada).

Now, La Novellina! It was just as lovely as described on the websites, if not more so. From the road from Marcialla, (opposite a castle!) you turn down a very steep gravel driveway. At the bottom are two houses. The larger is Podere Luisa, and the smaller is lived in by the owner, Luisa. While the two houses are close together, the outside living areas are on opposite sides, so there is a great deal of privacy. While we were there, Luisa was still recovering from having broken her leg during the spring. A farm worker and a local woman who helps Luisa and does the cleaning were around but unobtrusive.

The house has parts that date from the 12th century, and has been extensively rebuilt and beautifully restored. Furnishings are wonderful antiques and comfortable, if slightly worn upholstered furniture and beds. Ceilings are vaulted and beamed, windows open to incredible valley and hill views all the way to San Gimignano.

I would caution that it would not be suitable for very young children, (open slate stairway) or for anyone with difficulty with stairs. You also need to have everyone close windows before dusk to keep out those zanzaras. We needed to apply bug spray to my youngest son at bedtime, since the mosquitoes especially adored him.

You enter to a large entryway. To the left, two steps down to a small cozy sitting room with TV, and then to a large lovely master bedroom (double bed) with private bathroom. Only downside here is handheld shower, and no dresser for putting away clothes. However, closet, decor, and door to outside make up for it.

On the other side of the entranceway, a few more stairs go down to a large, two-level kitchen. Very Tuscan, with old stone sink, huge table, and stone wood burning oven for charm. Modernities like an additional steel sink, six-burner stove, oven, and mid-size fridge. However, as the steel sink, dishwasher, and glassware were on the upper level (two steps up, at opposite end from stove, fridge and dish storage), large-scale cooking would be a bit awkward. The kitchen table seating was benches. Our meals at home were generally pasta, salads, and cold cuts eaten outside, which worked fine in this kitchen. American coffee maker, plenty of cookware, dinnerware, etc.

Back to entryway, an open flight of stairs leads up to another large (room sized) hallway, and then two steps down to a large, lovely living room with stone fireplace, cozy (though slightly lumpy) couch and chairs, good lighting, desk and game table, and a tiny balcony. Off this same large hallway, opposite living room is another large bedroom (double bed) with private bathroom (stall shower, tub, and dressing room); a tiny single bedroom with closet (uncomfortable bed, but my son didn't mind); and a small bedroom with two single beds and small dressing room. Also here is a large bathroom (stall shower).

Up another open flight of stairs to the tower bedroom, with two twin beds, a very large closet, and incredible views out the window.

From the kitchen, you exit to the large gravel patio area, (owner's house is to the right), and then a few steps left to a large wooden table with chairs set under a loggia covered with jasmine. Ahh, the views...We spent many evenings out here, sipping wine and watching lights come on in the valleys. Till the zanzaras found us!

Across the gravel patio (ringed by pots of lemons, oranges and flowers) down a lavender-framed flight of steps to the pool. The pool is small and round, but plenty big enough for cooling off. It was perfect for my children, as it was only deep enough to come up to my 7 year old's chin. Lounging chairs, fruit trees, and more of that wonderful view. Caution - wasps in the back of the pool plantings. A few of us got stung, but the discomfort was mild. The farm worker sprayed the nest.

Luisa is a woman in her early 60's, with pretty fair English. My husband usually spoke with her in Italian, and she was available for questions or advice. She has two adorable dachshunds named Aso and Oggi, which she sternly admonished my children to not feed. (From the amount of soulful staring from under the outside table, I guess the dogs have eaten well here in the past). The dogs were hysterically funny, especially as they teased Luisa by staring at her from a safe distance when she called them in at night. They knew very well that she could not chase them on her crutches. We brought them home to "mama" on many evenings, after hearing her calling them to no avail!

Up a hill from the pool is a chicken coop (rooster kept sensible hours!), a few geese, and some large vegetable plots. When we bought a bottle of the farm's oil (very green, strong olive flavor), Luisa also gave us the homegrown garlic and hot pepper for our spaghetti.

All in all, a Tuscan delight. We'd return in a heartbeat! This house would be perfect for two couples and up to 5 children (though not toddlers because of stairs)!

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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