Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 123: La Bella Toscana, Casa del Giardino
1bed/1bath apartment in San Gimignano, Tuscany West
1999, 1 week
Having spent time in the area and a few nights in a hotel in San Gimignano during our previous trip in 1998, we decided to seek out an apartment rental for this trip (1999). I found this fantastic agency on the internet quite by chance and what a find! I would never deal with any other agency in their area!
Our plane was delayed leaving Paris and we arrived 6 hours late into Bologna. We had called ahead to EuropeCar and also to Gaynor Powell at La Bella Toscana and when we arrived at 7:30 pm, it was dark, raining and I said "no way". The clerk at Europe Car found us a room at the Sheraton, about 1 km from the airport and even had his driver drop us and the car at the hotel. Gaynor was very kind to meet us on Sunday morning. The next morning, we drove the 2 hours to San Gimignano, easily found Gaynor's home/office just outside town (she has since moved to a nearby town) and took care of business.
Parking for renters within the walls was arranged behind a petrol station near one of the entrances (50,000 Lire/week) There was an Alfa Romeo racing team in the garage next to the parking area. Had a great time looking at the cars and also their vintage 1963 stored there. Was a reasonable walk to our apartment which was on a quiet backstreet, but we had trouble finding the door. Had we REALLY read Gaynor's directions literally, we would have had no trouble. They were very explicit.
The situation with the outside entry door was this ... on the walls were the numbers 17 and 31 and a couple doors. We had to enter the one where you see my wife standing in the photo and inside was #29, ours. But we didn't know that!!! We were looking for the number on the outside. Could you imagine us looking for it in the middle of the night had we not delayed our arrival??? When we again read Gaynor's instructions it became clear.
The apartment was magnificent. And huge. It was in a building built in the 1100's as I recall, but was completely modern in every way. You leave the street through a centuries-old door into a small hallway with a couple doors off it. Our door was at the end and opened into the living room. The full kitchen had every conceivable item, beautiful large modern bath (and typical small shower), large living/dining room, all on the main level. Up two steps to the master bedroom (great bed) and from there a spiral staircase led up to a small loft with a single bed. Off the other side of the living room were steps down to a sitting room.
Both the living room and bedroom had French doors opening onto a 1300 square foot garden, complete with grape vines, pomegranate, Rosemary bushes and a tortoise who would chase you around begging for tomatoes or lettuce. We watered things when they looked dry and spent a lot of time just relaxing around the patio table.
The furnishings, appliances and all amenities were top notch. We might as well have been staying with friends at their home. Satellite TV actually had the Cartoon channel in English, CNN, SkyNews from London and at 10 pm, one of the channels had old American movies in English! Was so quiet at night you could hear a pin drop across the street.
San Gimignano is a big tourist spot during the day, but becomes magical after about 6 pm when it's just the locals and the few tourists actually staying there. Dondoli's Gelato is world famous ... and worth it. The townspeople were very gracious to us, considering they have to put up with tourists all the time. But we try very hard NOT to be tourists. This town is also one of the best spots to stay for seeing just about all of Tuscany, including Pisa, Firenze, Siena, Volterra, even a trip to the western coast. If the weather turns bad, there is much to do without leaving town. Siena remains one of our favorite places.
(Just a Siena parking note ... going south on the motorway from Poggibonsi, take the south exit, marked Porta Tufo, then follow the parking signs to " P" Il Campo. Takes you right to a huge parking garage, always plenty of room and a 5 minute walk to the center. Just as easy leaving the city as well.)
We did everything on our own except we hired a private guide to go to Firenze. Driving in the city wasn't bad as we had a "navigator". We still communicate regularly.
Was a fantastic week, mainly thanks to the great apartment "home away from home" ... we saw a lot ... rested a lot ... learned to shop at the Co-op supermarket ... (the first obstacle is to get the shopping carts unlinked with a 500 Lire coin) ... even made some local friends in the village. When we left on Saturday, stopping by Gaynor's office for our deposit refund, we forgot to leave the keys. I discovered this later when almost back to Bologna, called her from my cell phone and she simply said, "No matter … just drop them in the post when you can." Actually, we returned them personally on Monday when we were joined by business associates who wanted to see the area. (Gave us another excuse to return, even if just for a day)
Actually we were so pleased with this experience we rented another apartment from this agency in June 2001 (review 83) on another of our trips. She has several properties within the walls and many more in the country. (We like being in town ... walking distance to everything.)
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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