Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 1694: Agriturismo Cretaiole, Apartment
apartments on a farm near Pienza, Tuscany South
July 2005, 2 weeks
We had the vacation of a lifetime at La Cretaiole. From the website you can see that it is a charming 14th century Tuscan farmhouse, beautifully restored, tastefully and comfortably furnished with Tuscan antiques, in a picture- postcard setting. There are spectacular vistas in every direction. The house and setting reflect the antiquity and natural harmony that are the essence of Tuscany.
What you can't see from the website, however, and what really sets La Cretaiole apart, is the family that owns it, the Moricciani family. Luciano and Liliana have farmed near Pienza all their lives, first as sharecroppers, then as renters, and now as landowners. They, their daughter Laura, their son Carlo, Isabella, his wife, and Carlo and Isabella's 6-year-old son Nicolo treat their guests like family. Isabella speaks perfect English, and one could not ask for a kinder hostess.
Isabella made everything easy. Each of the seven apartments has a copy of her thorough 50-page notebook (in English) with itineraries, maps, local attractions, restaurant suggestions, and phone numbers. She was always available to recommend a destination, look up train schedules, check the weather, or answer any question. She wears her cell phone around her neck, and cheerfully and efficiently made reservations for restaurants and activities for us.
Each week the family arranges four or five special activities. One evening Carlo (a master taster on the Olive Oil Commission) taught us to discriminate among different types of olive oil. Isabella took us on a private guided tour of an important nearby archaeological site, the Romitorio, consisting of caves carved out of stone cliffs. (This ancient Etruscan site, which is owned by the Moriccianis, has not yet been fully excavated so it is not open to the public, but guests of La Cretaiole get a private tour.) Isabella also arranged wine tastings and a guided tour of Siena.
One evening a week, Isabella and Liliana teach their guests how to make pici, the local handmade pasta. Afterwards, the family treats all of the guests to a 7-course farm feast, featuring prosciutto, the homemade pici (doctored with Liliana's secret sauce), bacon, sausage, vegetables, pecorino cheese, and salad --all from their farm. All, of course, was accompanied by their own delicious wine. Better even than the wonderful food was the warmth with which the Moriccianis welcomed us to their table and their lives.
The best part of the house, to me, was the stone courtyard with a wooden table in the middle. Most of the apartments opened to the courtyard. We sat at that table for the olive oil-tasting and the pici-making, and the courtyard was a place to gather with the other guests, sharing food, wine, and stories. We got into the habit of sitting at the table in the evening moonlight, joined by other guests, who were Italian, Canadian, and American. Some evenings Luciano would stop by for an evening chat. He tolerated our pidgeon Italian with good humor, and we enjoyed our evening conversations filled with sign language, dictionary-thumbing, and laughter.
Luciano freely shared his lush vegetable garden with us, so every day we ate fresh zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, squash, etc. There were flowers everywhere, and big pottery planters in the courtyard filled with thyme, oregano, and sage, perfect for spicing the day's meal. There are also several big grills and lots of cut wood. We did a lot of grilling. There was a fig tree at the corner of the house loaded with fresh figs for the picking.
La Cretaiole is in a wonderful location. It is about 3 miles to Pienza, a gorgeous Renaissance town, and several times we walked or biked there on back farm roads. Walking and biking are wonderful ways to see the country and experience the landscape. The Moriccianis have serviceable mountain bikes available, adequate for short rides.
If you are lucky enough to go to La Cretaiole, be sure to watch the sun rise over Pienza at least once; hike into the surrounding countryside a few times (make sure you get to the Pieve di Corsignano, with its pagan sea serpent carvings, and to the Travertine marble chapel nearby, the one you see on postcards all over Tuscany); and take time to sit on the lounge chairs and relax, with the vista of Pienza spread before you.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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