Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 1805: Owner, Casale Sonnino
5bed/3bath villa near Frascati, Lazio
March 2004, March 2002, one week
The Casale Sonnino is scarcely 2km downhill from the small hilltop town of Monteporzio Catone, 4 km from the Frascati (with its commuter rail station), and just 24 km from the center of Rome. The villa enjoys a splendid isolation, surrounded on three sides by olive groves and vineyards that allow no sight of any other house, while the fourth side - down the slope - looks across vast stretches of olive trees, grapevines, and grazing sheep to other ancient hilltop towns like Colonna and Tivoli - and, at one edge, Rome itself. These sweeping views can be enjoyed from a rooftop terrace; the one unwelcome intrusion, the bustling autostrada connecting Rome to Naples that cuts a gash through the bucolic panorama, is the price to pay for having instant access to Italy's high-speed superhighways for the many "must-see" destinations that make for agreeable day trips.
There is a simple establishment on the road outside the villa property, although I have not stopped there; and inveterate hikers may not mind the walk up to the center of Monteporzio Catone, but we have never done it. It's hard to imagine trudging down that hill with groceries. A car (well, maybe a Vespa motorbike) seems indispensable. That said, it is a 3 minute drive up to the center of town, a 6 minute drive to the center of nearby Frascati. Both have a wonderful array of cafés, pastry shops, and food stores; and in both one can enjoy the evening passeggiata (when Italians throng the streets of old town centers for an evening promenade).
The house is spectacular - an 18th century enlargement of a Renaissance cardinal's country estate, built on foundations that, like so much else in Italy, date to Roman times. Other reviewers have commented on the elegant and spacious salon, which my Roman relatives themselves find breathtaking, and on the exquisitely traditional furnishing; we can only add our confirmation to what they have written. The house has all essential amenities inside, and is enveloped in tranquillity. If you're lucky, you may be able to visit the labyrinth of tunnels underneath the house, dug anciently for the storage of wine, oil, and other goods: It's fascinating and unique.
There is a delightful pergola just outside the house, at the edge of a vineyard, where one can laze away a morning, enjoy a lunch al fresco, or watch the grapes grow. We have stayed at the villa on ten occasions, variously in March and April, June and July, and November; in every season the garden has a compelling charm. (We warmly recommend March, when the first flowering trees are in bloom, and the grapevines are just starting to shrug off winter's bareness.) Happily, there is no pool. The Casale Sonnino is a cultural experience - a villa for the ages, not a tourist resort.
The furniture is classic, comfortable, and very well maintained, with plenty of space for everyone and accommodation of multiple interests. The long dining room table, with its antique wood and sturdy chairs, has allowed us on occasion to host family dinners, 20-strong.
The beds are comfortable, and the larger bedrooms with "matrimoniali" accommodation are particvularly nice. There are three bathrooms, two with full tubs and the other with a shower. They are all in great shape.
The kitchen is very serviceable. My mother-in-law - a star in the kitchen, and in the past a caterer of distinction - has come with us often and created some marvelous meals in the kitchen; we have often the staff of the villa to prepare some great meals as well.
Problems or Bonuses
The owners of the villa are themselves walking guides to history, culture, gastronomy, and everything visitors go to Italy to experience.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
The proof of our willingness to stay here again is that we have done so almost a dozen times. We have had our best friends stay there with us; our relatives from the US Pacific Northwest; and friends who have asked for our top recommendations. It is a splendid place for a leisurely stay "in" Rome - yet away from it.
Things to do in this area
Closest at hand are the "Roman castles" - the castelli romani of the Alban Hills, the summer refuge of Romans from Cicero's days to the popes'. Tivoli is 20 minutes away; the medieval jewels of eastern Lazio - Palestrina, Anagni, Alatri, and the Benedictine abbey of Subiaco - are in easy reach. Just 90 km to the south, the coastline from Terracina to Sperlonga and Gaeta is beautiful and not too frequented. It's a 2-hour drive (at Italian speeds) to Naples and its bay - Pompei, Capri, and then Amalfi reachable in a day (though better with at least a night). Most compelling, of course, is Rome itself.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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