Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 1704: Roccia Viva, Apartment
2bed/1bath apartment in house near Campello sul Clitunno, Umbria
June/July 2005, Two weeks
We knew very little about Umbria before we arrived for our two-week stay in June 2005. I knew it was adjacent to Tuscany and similar in some ways, but I hadn’t really done any research and didn’t even buy a guidebook. Other than Assisi, I’m not sure I could have named any famous towns or cities in Umbria. But a few Slow Travel friends had highly recommended the area, several even preferring it to the more-popular Tuscany. At some point in our trip planning I decided to look into spending a week in Umbria.
In part we ended up in Umbria because I fell in love with this rental unit based on their website. I never even sent out any other inquiries for Umbria rentals. Once I saw Roccia Viva, I knew I wanted to stay there and that we would go to Umbria ... in fact, we would stay there two weeks.
Umbria was an unexpected delight, the apartment even better than I had expected. This was one of 20 houses and apartments we rented during our 14 months in Europe, and one of my very favorite. Roccia Viva is a truly unique and special place.
Prior to arriving in Umbria, we spent a month in Tuscany. We traveled only two hours from our month-long base in an area of Tuscany called the Crete to reach our new home in Umbria. Our route took us through familiar territory near Cortona, the landscape changing from rolling hills to rocky, more mountainous terrain. We passed into Umbria on a modern freeway, along the north shore of Lake Trasimeno, then passed the large capital city of Perugia. As we traveled south down the freeway, picturesque towns clung to the sides of mountains—Assisi, Spello, then Trevi. The steep mountainside was covered with olive trees, quite unlike anything we had seen in the olive-growing regions of France. We later learned that some of the best olive oil in Italy is produced in this area. Huge fields of sunflowers seemed to be everywhere, in full bloom at the time of our visit; masses of vibrant gold. I felt happy just to be around so many sunflowers.
Roccia Viva is in the mountains near the village of Campello sul Clitunno, between Trevi and the famous festival town of Spoleto. Although the owner Karen e-mailed us very detailed directions, we made several wrong turns on our initial journey, possibly because it seemed so improbable that a house could be located there, up such a small road, on such a steep slope, among all the olive trees. Beyond the small village of La Bianca, down a road that twists along the mountain and through an unbelievable number of olive trees, we reached Campello Alto, a 10th century walled castle, now a small hamlet with about 15 residents. From there the narrow road continues upwards, finally reaching the old farmhouse, which hangs off the mountainside at 1900 feet. The house looks down on the old castle and then out to the southwest across the wide expanse of the Vale di Umbra, once an ancient lake. The mountain behind the house — Monte Serano — is over 4500 feet tall. In the distance across the valley, at the base of mountains, is a large town with a distinctive castle towering over it: Spoleto.
The view from the house is absolutely phenomenal. I especially liked it at night; miles and miles of lights all across the valley, surprisingly populated for an area that seems quite rural. The Campello Alto castle is illuminated just below the house, as is the Rocca in distant Spoleto.
The apartment is the lower floor of a 16th farmhouse, restored just a few years ago by the hosts Karen and Martin, who live in the upper level. (They also rent a separate, very unique cottage called the Atalier on the hillside above the main house.) Martin is German — an architect — and Karen is American, a ceramicist who has her studio in one area of the house. The house is called Roccia Viva, which means “living rock,” a technical term for surfacing of natural rock formations within an interior or exterior space. The artistic style of both Martin and Karen is clearly evident in the design and decoration of the apartment. It’s a beautiful restoration. Karen’s ceramics and Martin’s artwork add special touches to the décor.
The apartment is spacious and light and extremely comfortable, a house that’s a blend of the very old and the very modern, right in the space where farm animals were once stabled. The long house is built along a narrow terrace on the mountainside, actually built into the mountainside. The back wall incorporates the natural rock of the mountain - in the entranceway, the bathroom and the large living/dining room. In the living room, the old hay manger extends in front of the rock, creating an extremely unique effect. The opposite wall faces out to the valley with many windows and doors leading to outdoor terraces; and that phenomenal view. We spent many hours on the main terrace, even eating most of our meals outside.
The living/dining room is spacious and modern with glass doors leading out to the terrace. It’s furnished simply with modern pieces — a bookcase, a very comfortable couch, a sleek table with four chairs, an interesting reclining chair, and a television set. There’s a great supply of really good books (fiction, non-fiction and local travel guides) in both English and German. Karen and Martin have put together a little book with touring recommendations.
The kitchen is modern and well-equipped, with blond wood cabinets. The appliances are beautiful and new: a large refrigerator, a glistening range, a microwave, a small dishwasher. This is one of those kitchens that make you want to cook wonderful summer meals to eat outside on the beautiful terrace. The kitchen even comes with a pasta machine and a library of cookbooks. The two bedrooms are simple and clean with ample storage space for clothes. The master bedroom has a queen bed. The second bedroom has a single bed and is entered off the larger bedroom. It was an ideal situation for our family of three, but the arrangement may not work for everyone. However, the living room couch folds into a very comfortable bed and can also be made very private. (We had a friend visit for a few days during our stay, so we speak from experience!)
The spacious bathroom (complete with rock wall) has a great shower and plenty of hot water. We also found plenty of extra storage space in the apartment; there’s a big entry foyer and a separate storage closet for suitcases, hiking boots and shopping bags. The house had some unexpected treats for our eleven-year old daughter: three cats and a friendly young dog named Argo whose head and body don’t quite match. Our daughter was thrilled with the animals, but if you’re not an animal person, you just need to let Karen know and she’ll keep Argo away. One lazy afternoon my daughter and I both fell asleep while reading in the living room. I had left the terrace door open and awoke to find a wet Argo nose touching mine.
We enjoyed getting to know Karen and Martin. Karen is an amazing person (read her story on her website at www.karenbamonte.com). She was educated in the fine arts, then a dancer, then a choreographer and dance company director. A few years ago she shifted to ceramics and now sells and exhibits her work. We visited her studio adjacent to their home and also enjoyed the pieces displayed in the house. Karen has the main responsibility for the rental unit and was an extremely helpful and friendly host; always a good resource for anything we wanted to know.
During our two weeks at Roccia Viva we visited Spoleto, Assisi, Bevagna, Montefalco, Norcia, the Piano Grande, Citta di Castello, San Vernanzo, and Orvieto. We even went back to Tuscany (Cortona and Montepulciano) one day; not too bad of a drive. We were lucky to get to Bevagna on the last night of their annual medieval festival, thanks to a tip from Karen. One night we had a wonderful and very special dinner at Il Castello di Poreta, a small hotel/restaurant on a neighboring hillside in the ruins of an old castle, about 15 minutes away. We could have seen more, but we liked the house too much! Several days we stayed close to home, lounging on the sunny terrace, daydreaming across the view, and reading good books from the selection in the living room.
Although the house is remote, it is actually extremely close to “civilization.” We did most of our grocery shopping at a huge modern supermarket in a big mall south of Foligno, about 20 minutes away. Spoleto has a train station and lots of shopping and is only 20 minutes in the other direction. There are also small food shops in La Bianca — we liked the little alimentari and a fresh pasta store with great pasta and prices. Karen also highly recommended the local butcher.
The only caution I would mention about the house relates to the logistics of getting there and the parking. The final stretch of road — although paved — is narrow and rough and very steep. There is a parking place right outside the door of the apartment, but some maneuvering is required to either back in or to back out of the spot. My husband got quite good at this, but I know it would have been a struggle for me!
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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