Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 2019: Summer in Italy, Casa Raffaella
1bed/1bath house in Praiano, Campania
July 2004, 1 week
This villa is located in Praiano, a small town on the Amalfi Coast between Positano and Amalfi. It is up on the hilly part of town and requires a lot of walking to get to. The property is wedged in between other buildings, but there are many gardens around and the arrangement of everything is such that it felt private. It is a quiet location and the setting was pleasant. I did like the area, but the town itself was nothing special compared to Amalfi, Atrani, Positano or some of the other little towns. I actually knew that beforehand and didn't mind too much. I was hoping to have more quiet and a financial break by avoiding the most touristy towns on the coast.
The challenge of the location is that after getting up a large hill (by car, foot or bus) you must travel down a walkway which is fairly long. ((Parking must be found on the hill, which can be difficult and results in having to walk much of the hill anyways.)) After the walkway you must descend some 75 steps down a narrow staircase to get to the property. On the one hand, this set-up perfectly illustrates the settlement and town structure along the coast---it is a giant cliff, so it should be expected. On the other hand, it requires some strength and dexterity to move luggage down (and later back up)... not to mention groceries, beach supplies, etc.. So the logistics can be a challenge and not everyone would be patient enough or charmed enough by the authenticity of it all to manage a week.
You could walk to two little grocery shops, although they are tiny mom-and-pop stores with lots of dust and minimal choice - again, authentic! If you went down the big hill you could get to the restaurants to have coffee, but I never did that.
This is an old building and has been in the owner's family a long time. His grandmother used to live there. Despite the age, it was in good repair. The terrace must have been recently resurfaced. I think there was an apartment below, but the entrance was completely separate. The fact that the whole hillside is composed of stone structures makes it seem like everything is interconnected in some way.
There is a terrace with some patio furniture. The view is nice and the terrace is in very good repair. The only problem is that the patio furniture is of the standard plastic variety. There were two concerns with this. They were hard and could use some mats or cushions and maybe a blanket for staying out later in the evening. Secondly, the furniture was really lightweight. Since the terrace was subject to a lot of wind, it was a real possibility that the chairs, tables or umbrella coould be lifted right off the patio. To avoid this, the owner had large bottles of water that had to be kept on the pieces of furniture when not in use. We were not to leave the umbrella open unattended. There was no tablecoth for the table, either. The umbrella that was provided was actually broken and the owner had to buy a new one while we were there. He wasn't too happy about that and complained about the past guests having obviously broken it without informing him!! (More about that later.)
The terrace really could have used a little cozying--i think it could have been gorgeous with some plants. There were none. As a result it felt kind of bare. The area has some beautiful vegetation and lush plants. This terrace could have been magnificent if it reflected the scenery around it.
There is a very private little entrance to the apartment. It actually had some plants (more suited for it because of less direct sunlight). The only problem was that you spend no time there to enjoy the plants, and the poor plants had tiny pots (no room to hold water) and no trays underneath the pots, so when you watered them, the water ran out. I mention this only because the owner watered them when we first arrived, asked us to water them daily, and complained that past guests obviously had been neglecting the plants because they often died. My mom suggested he get some water trays to help keep the water in, but he seemed incredulous to the suggestion that small pots and no trays could contribute to the plants' deaths. We even looked in the nearby store to see if we could find any trays for him. I think we bought two, but were out of luck for the other few plants.
The furniture was in decent shape. The couch was very soft from wear and had plywood boards underneath the cushions. (This reminds me of Gary's review of another Sleeps in Italy apartment, Villino dei Limoni). The little cot bed was not very comfortable, according to my mom, but the double bed was satisfactory. It was minimalist in terms of furnishings and linens (that includes towels). The dining table was also simple but functional. There were four chairs.
As for cleanliness, I expected a bit more. We had to pay a check out fee for the "cleaning lady," which actually turned out to be the owner himself. It doesn't matter who does the cleaning, but if you are going to put a surcharge on the rental, I would expect it to at least get thoroughly cleaned! When we arrived, however, the floor had not been swept. There was evidence (organic) of the previous guests. We told the owner (before we knew he was the cleaner), so I hope that in the future he would be more attentive to that little detail.
Again, the beds were satisfactory, but nothing plush. It would have been nice to be able to open the windows or leave the terrace shutter doors open, but there were too many mosquitos (no air conditioning). I was otherwise very happy with the bedroom. It was light, spacious and comfortable.
The bathroom was OK. It was relatively clean but a bit cramped. I think there were only three or four smallish, thin towels (we could have used more). The shower was a bit problematic. It's one of those elevated ones with a curtain (always set right next to a toilet!), the kind of shower that always manages to get water elsewhere in the bathroom no matter how careful you are about keeping the curtain shut.
The kitchen was usable. There was a working minimum of cooking supplies and cookware, cheap cutlery (the kind with the plastic handles that seem really unsanitary to me) and pretty flimsy pots and pans. But they all sufficed for making basic meals. This is not a kitchen for someone who wants to cook a lot during the vacation. There was little to no counter space (we used the table which seems to now be located in the living room and no longer in the kitchen - this from current photos of the rental). I also think there were few tea towels (the sparcity of linens is a common theme in rentals in some areas, I presume).
There was a washer in an outdoor room. That was a nice bonus and we were glad to use it. We especially needed to clean the towels, since there weren't a ton of them.
Problems or Bonuses
The owner had warned us about taking garbage out daily, not leaving food around, and I think, about eating only in the kitchen area; he said there could be a few ants. The first day we got there, there were a couple, but I wasn't too concerned. They actually alerted me to the fact that the floor hadn't been cleaned (and so I swept it myself). We had noticed an ant 'highway' out on the terrace in one of the lines of grouting in the tile. That was perfectly fine with us since they stayed seemingly on course and didn't come inside. We were diligent about getting the garbage out. We were careful to clean up any food. The ants seemed to be mere neighbors.
We were naive.
One evening we returned home to find literally thousands of ants all over one of the walls in the living room--the one closest to the terrace. They appeared to be coming out of some tiny cracks near an outlet and near the floor - tons of ants - indescribable. Despite our efforts to kill them, the situation progressed. I think we bought some spray and used the broom to conduct an all out massacre of these tiny, but persistent and countless creatures. We tried to deter more ants from coming in with the repellent.
But the next morning the situation had deteriorated again. We had literally piles of deads ants resembling mounds of coffee grounds all over the terrace and in the living room. It looked like someone had opened a can of Folgers and dumped it out into several little heaps on the tile.
I called Luca from Summer in Italy and asked him what to do, what was going on? He said it was quite normal to have ants, even lots of them. I think he gave us the common advice--take out the garbage, sweep, etc., which we had been doing very diligently from the beginning. (And if that had been the problem, I suspect the ants would not have colonised the part of the apartment they did--they would have gone for the kitchen). I told him the problem was way beyond that and seemed unrelated to garbage or food. Luca told us to contact the owner. I kind of felt angry that the agency wouldn't talk to the owner for me since I was in the middle of exploring Positano, so my mom offered to call instead. He was totally confused at first, but then said he would go check it out while we were gone that day.
That afternoon we came back from Positano and found the owner working hard to stem the tide of little six-leeged soldiers. Armed with a can of insecticide and surrounded by piles of ants, he had obviously been there for a long time, and was clearly overwhelmed by the problem. He had managed to eliminate a lot of them, but the supply was never-ending and more continued to trickle in. I give him credit for coming over and trying to take care of the the problem right away. But we still had to defend ourselves by saying that we had been really careful about not attracting such unwelcome visitors (with food, garbage). W were exhausted. Needless to say, it was an experience I would have rather not have had to deal with. And my poor mom, being the first one up in the morning and hoping to enjoy some coffee on the terrace, had to battle all of Praiano's ants for about three mornings in a row.
One thing I wanted to add was that taking the garbage out was something we were happy to do daily. However, it did require ascending 75 stairs and walking a block to get to the common dumpster. As one can imagine, it wasn't on the top of our list of things we wanted to do after a day of sightseeing, sun, and climbing hills.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
We were treated well by Summer in Italy in terms of booking and getting all the information. I was a little disappointed that Luca didn't seem to feel more empathy for us after dealing with those ants for hours when we should have been enjoying the view from the terrace!
As for the owner, he is a nice, sociable, Italian-American. (He is a native English speaker.) He is very talkative, loves the property, but nevertheless, made us feel a bit uncomfortable at times.
He had a huge list of little no-no's that he spent a good time explaining to us in the beginning. He also complained about prior guests. For example, since his plants weren't faring well, he jumped to the conclusion that the guests weren't watering them. When an outdoor lightbulb wasn't working upon our arrival, he said he suspected the couple before us had left the outside light on too long at night, thus using up the bulb. He also ranted about previous guests having brought a candle onto the terrace and leaving some wax stains (oil discoloration) in the terracotta tile. When the umbrella was broken, he was annoyed that the previous guests hadn't been more careful with it and had failed to tell him. We tried our best to be good guests, but I can only imagine what he probably said about us when the next group came!
The owner also really loved the property and had a lot of nostalgia for it. It was his grandmother's home. While that created a sense of history and humanness to the whole villa, it also made us worry about possibly damaging anything. He was very careful to warn us about breaking this or that. I personally feel that people should remove any articles that have too much sentimental value to be risked breaking.
Finally, I felt that the owner, though again, very nice, could have avoided many hassles and frustrations for himself and for guests if he would only invest in a few things: perhaps some heavier patio furniture, cushions for the patio, some plants with proper pots and trays, and some nice towels. That would have made the place a lot cozier, without making a huge investment. It also might have prevented umbrellas from being broken, plants from dying, etc.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
It has taken me 1.5 years to complete this review! I was very unsure of what I thought. I recently looked at Summer in Italy's website and saw the villa, as well as looked at reviews by other slow travelers. I really wanted to contribute what I had experienced in this one rental in case anyone was considering it. I also wanted to add to the collection of Amalfi Coast/Summer in Italy rental reviews because I saw a lot of similarities in those guests' experiences and my own.
So, my final answer: I am neutral.
Would I personally stay there again? No. Do I believe someone else could go there and have a stupendous time? Yes.
I am honestly surprised that there are 20 glowing reviews on Summer in Italy and I do think that if you look at some of the other non-positive reviews of rentals for the agency here on Slow Travel (see Villino dei Limoni, for example), there is a theme:
With the lower-priced villas (less than 600 Euro on the Amalfi Coast in peak time) you will have to expect many inconveniences: a few bugs (probably NOT a colony of ants!), showers that spray water, chintzy kitchenware, less than comfortable furniture, etc. Expect it!
That being said, I don't need luxury to be comfortable and didn't plan on it for that price, so I wasn't caught by surprise and didn't feel deceived.
I don't blame the owner for the ant fiasco. I don't know how hotels handle such issues, but I suspect you have to be good about ant management and spray often.
I personally had some small issues with him, however, in terms of my comfort level in dealing with him and feeling welcome. I felt like I was in a trap in a way: things that easily could break/blow off the patio but warnings not to let that happen.
Things to do in this area
Too many too mention here. None of the activities were in Praiano. The best thing we did was take two day-long boat trips from Positano with "Salvatore and Gennaro." One was along the coast and included a lunch at a restaurant on this awesome little cove beach, and the other was a trip around Capri. Otherwise, I loved the ruins: Paestum, Ercolano, Pompeii, etc.
We had a car and I am not shy about driving in Europe, so we took some further away daytrips that I suspect many others wouldn't venture to do. Driving on the Amalfi Coast in July requires patience and guts.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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