Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 1512: Owner, Black Farmhouse
3bed/2bath house near Mondaino, Emilia-Romagna
June 2005, One week
After we left the A 14 Autostrada at Cattolica and were winding up into the hills of Romagna, I had a feeling that I was going to love being in this area. The further we got from the coast, the more beautiful the countryside became. The Black Farmhouse is located a little west of Mondaino, overlooking a beautiful valley, rolling hills, and neighboring hill towns with the Appennine mountains in the distance. The views are stunning. If you know where to look, you can actually see Urbino, about 15 km away, as the crow flies.
The house is a good kilometer or two down a white road from the main road. There's a wonderful sense of rural quietness and privacy, yet I found the proximity of neighboring farms to be comforting and pleasant. The valley was abuzz with animal sounds - chickens, roosters, donkeys - local birds including cukoos and nightingales.
From where the white road meets the main road, Mondaino is about 1 or 2 km away - a nice hill town - part of it lies within the old walls, part just outside. You could walk into Mondaino if you wanted, but I'd estimate that it would take the better part of an hour. So you really need a car here.
Once you're in Mondaino, there's a very comfortable, friendly, neighborhood-ish bar right on the central piazza, Bar La Loggia. There is a small grocery store in town as well as a butcher, a couple of banks, other bars, one very good restaurant, hardware store, etc. There are a number of smaller towns very close by as well as a few agriturismi with restaurants that were recommended by the Blacks. Also there are a few towns about the size of Mondaino very close by (within 5 km) - Salucedio, Montegridolfo, Tavoleto - all which have good restaurants, stores, other amenities.
I believe that the farmhouse dates from the 17th Century, although I could be wrong about that. It's a wonderful space and Suzie and Phelan Black, both artists, have decorated it beautifully and lovingly. It's obvious that they take a lot of pride in it. Suzie is a mosaic artist and Phelan is a painter. Their work is scattered all over the house - quite nice. They also did a sort of stenciling treatment to many of the walls - actually it's not stenciling. Suzie explained the procedure to us and I promptly forgot what was involved. Suffice it to say that each room is different, interesting, lovely ...
I'd describe the house's layout as kind of unusual, for lack of a better word. I mean that in a complimentary way - I liked it very much. Rooms aren't necessarily where you would expect them to be. I suppose this is commonly the case in old, converted farmhouses. The main entryway is into the kitchen. You then proceed up a few steps into the sitting room, which overlooks the length of the kitchen. The main bathroom is off of a landing from these steps. There are two master bedrooms accessed from the sitting room, one on the same level and one behind a door up a few more steps, kind of like a loft. There's also a lovely little outdoor balcony with a table and a couple of chairs off of the sitting room.
Off of the kitchen, down a narrow set of steps with very low head clearance (which I dubbed the "birth canal"), is the twin bedroom. This bedroom has a door to the outside. As you step outside, there's another adjacent door to another bathroom (which I dubbed the "outhouse" because you have to literally walk outside for a step or two to access it). Under the "loft" bedroom, there are a couple of other rustic rooms, one that holds a clothes washer, the other a basement.
One of the things I liked best about this house was its outdoor areas. Right outside the twin bedroom, at the back of the house, is a little patio with some chaise lounges as well as a picnic table. From here, the views of the surrounding valleys is gorgeous - it's the prime outdoor spot to which we gravitated, ate many meals, wrote in our journals, etc. Every morning I would get up, make a cup of tea, and just sit and look and just be ... heaven!
On the side of the house, there's a lovely wide gliding seat (I'm sure there's a proper name for it, but I can't come up with it) - the perfect place to sit and read a book and enjoy the view. There are also herb bushes of various sorts out in the garden. On the hill side of the house, you can go up into another, higher garden area - that's where the huge rosemary bush was. There's also a swing on the side of the house you drive up to - it, too, has great southwest views over the valley.
Another feature of this house is that there are a number of hiking trails in the immediate vicinity. You can wake up, roll out of bed, and go for a nice walk in the countryside. There's a lake very closeby and many other areas with unrestricted walking.
The furniture is attractive with some nice antique pieces, if I remember correctly - it definitely has a "country" feel. The house was clean, but not fussy. The Blacks have achieved a rustic feeling without sacrificing comfort. The kitchen table accomodates at least 6. The sitting room has a nice desk. Even though the sitting area itself, in front of the nice fireplace, isn't large, the Black's have arranged the furniture to make maximum use of the space.
All of the beds were firm and comfortable. The "loft" bedroom got a little toasty, since it was the highest up. By contrast, the twin bedroom stayed quite cool, even in very hot weather. Both bathrooms have shower heads in the middle of ceiling and drains in the middle of the floor, but are large enough rooms so that everything doesn't get wet when you take a shower. That said, a good portion of the floor stays wet after a shower and you do need to use a squeegee-broom thing when you're done, to direct the excess water into the drain. The drain in the floor of the "outhouse" was a bit slow.
The kitchen was good with enough dishes, pots and pans, plenty of counter space. No dishwasher. We used the kitchen quite a bit, preparing a number of meals there - not extremely elaborate ones, but full meals just the same. And the kitchen table was comfortable.
Problems or Bonuses
Suzie and Phelan live up the valley on a farm. They showed us around their house as well as the adjoining apartment which they also rent out. The apartment was very attractive and, even though the apartment is basically part of their house, there's plenty of privacy there. They really live on the land with lots of farm animals - the donkeys I mentioned, sheep, chickens, roosters, 3 dogs, cats, etc., and you can tell that they really love it as well as sharing it with guests.
The second day we were there, Phelan drove up in the AM and told us about this culture/nature walk in a neighboring borgo that he thought might interest us. We were so glad for his suggestion, so we tagged along and listened to local lore as well as poetry in the local dialect. Another morning, Suzie stopped by with a beautiful basket stuffed with greens from her garden - spicy arugula, dill, lettuces, etc. We really appreciated these sweet gestures. Despite this generosity, the Blacks perfectly balanced being available for our queries with leaving us to our own vacation. Terrific people - I'm so happy to have met them.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
We paid 450 British Pounds (approx. $800) for the week - I believe that they charge 600 pds during the high season. Quite reasonable! The pictures on the website are accurate, however, there is nothing there that quite captures the fantastic views from the house - what I consider to be a major selling point!
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
I absolutely recommend this house to others as well as the apartment that the Blacks rent out.
Things to do in this area
As I said previously, there are a number of neighboring towns worth seeing. In addition, Mondaino is 25 minutes from Urbino, about 1 hour from San Marino and 1 1/2 hours from San Leo. The other major small towns in the Montefeltro area are great - Sassocorvaro, Carpegna, Pennabilli, etc. If you're interested in going to the coast, there's easy access to beaches at Cattolica, Riccione, Rimini as well as Pesaro and Fano. It's a great location.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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