Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 2399: InTuscany, Villa Ortensia
2bed/2bath house near Sarzana, Tuscany North
September 2006, 1 week
At the top of a high hill outside Sarzana, ďLa CasettaĒ of Villa Ortensia is literally off the map. We could not find it on any Internet map program, and when we got to the turnoff from the main road, our GPS showed us going off into space. The location is like something out of paradise, so high up and so private that you are in your own world, with amazing views over tiny hill towns, out to the sea and through the forests. But since the drive up to the villa is four kilometers of constant switchbacks (I counted 25 of them), you donít just run out for a cup of coffee!
Sarzana is the closest town; La Spezia, Lerici, and the Cinque Terre are all close by. The villa is actually within sight of the Tuscan border; Pisa, Lucca, Siena, and Florence are all easy day trips.
There really isnít anything closer than about a 20-minute drive, because of the high, twisty access road. But once down the hill, Sarzana has everything you would need, including an Ipercoop. We didnít need much, though, because Letizia, the owner, stocked the villa with more than enough essentials for a week. I have never stayed anywhere that was so well supplied ó lots of delicious food in the pantry and the fridge, plenty of paper towels, toilet paper, napkins, etc., even a couple of bottles of wine!
The operative word is WOW! This is the only place I know of that is not only better than the pictures on its web site, but about three times more beautiful! It is impossible to convey what a gorgeous house this is, like something out of a fairy tale. I felt as if I were living in a combination of House Beautiful and an art gallery, yet everything was arranged to make the guests feel at home in these luxurious surroundings, with every possible comfort. There were even screens on all the windows, a rare commodity in Europe!
You can view the property here: Villa Ortensia
There are spacious grounds with olive and fruit trees outside, plus a path into the woods. The house has a large deck with plenty of patio furniture and fabulous views. The setting is completely private (just the ownerís estate next door).
One thing to note is that the pool is actually on the ownerís estate. I know it would have been at our disposal if we wished to use it (we never had the time to do so), but it really isnít clear from the web description that you do need to go into the ownerís garden area (behind a locked gate) to reach the pool.
The furniture and decor would have made a very impressive spread in a design magazine. The owner is a talented artist, and the house reflects her artistic flair. Everywhere you look you find something new to delight your eyes in the way she has placed, for example, an arrangement of keys on the wall, shards of Roman pottery in the living room, some of her own works on an easel.
There is a comfortable living room with a TV and DVD player. We could not ever get more than a few channels although there appeared to be a satellite hookup. This wasnít really a problem, though, since we didnít have the time or interest to watch much TV. Thereís also a nice dining room, although when we ate at home, it was always in the eat-in kitchen or on the patio.
The information on the web site said that there were a cell phone and telephone available. We didnít need a cell phone, so didnít ask about that. We did not see anything in the way of a regular telephone in the house. I mention this mainly because we had hoped to be able to use a dial-up modem line for our computer, but this did not seem possible.
Everything was very clean and obviously lovingly cared for.
Upstairs there is one extremely romantic bedroom with a canopy bed, and another, larger one with a desk. In the hall there is a huge wardrobe for the canopy room, and another wardrobe inside the second bedroom. The beds were incredibly luxurious and comfortable. (The second bedroom can be made up with twin beds if desired.) There were more, and better clothes hangers than I have ever seen in a rental.
There are two large and very modern, well-equipped bathrooms. On the ground floor is one with a nice standup shower. On the floor above, the bathroom has a tub with the usual hand-held shower apparatus.
The eat-in kitchen had a gas stove, dishwasher, good-sized fridge, and a large, very well-stocked pantry. There were plenty of dishes and silverware. We didnít cook much, but for the small amount of cooking we did, we had all the utensils that we needed. No microwave, but there is an American-style electric coffeepot ó and there was enough delicious Italian coffee provided to last us for a week of breakfasts. (By the way for eating in without cooking, we recommend the little bakery on the edge of old Sarzana for takeout pizzas, farinata, and other yummy goodies.)
The only clothes washing machine available is in the home of the owner next door. Iím sure she would have been happy to let us use it, but it really didnít work out to be convenient, since we were mostly gone all day and did not want to bother her late in the evening. But we were able to do hand washing in the bathroom, and use the drying racks outdoors.
Problems or Bonuses
When we first arrived, Letizia (the owner) greeted us warmly and served us drinks and snacks on her patio. She had left a delicious light supper for us, including olive oil from her own trees and tomatoes from her garden, as well as lots of breakfast yogurts and pastries. We never had the chance to see much of her after that because we were out and about most days. But one time when we had a problem with the dishwasher, she was right there to help us fix it. And on the day we left, she gave us a beautifully framed example of her own art work, which is a treasured souvenir of our visit.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
We had the villa as a [half-price] SlowTrav prize from the agency InTuscany, and had a very good experience with them. The manager, Manola, was very efficient and answered all our questions promptly by e-mail. The only slight glitch was that somehow we did not receive the phone number of Moira, who was supposed to be our arrival contact. We had a different name for the keyholder, but fortunately she was able to point us to Moira when we arrived, and things went fine from there. Moira, who handled the initial contact when we arrived, is British. Letizia speaks a little English and is so warm and gracious that communication was never a problem.
Even at full price (which you can see on the agency web site), Villa Ortensia is a good value for such a gorgeous property.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
The villa is like something out of a dream, and I canít imagine that anyone would not be thrilled to spend a week in such utterly beautiful surroundings. The only caution I have is that you need to be aware of the narrow winding access road, and you need to be willing to accept the somewhat difficult driving to this place of secluded peace and beauty. As stated on the web site, the home is not appropriate for children because of the valuable furnishings.
I have put together a photo album of the villa, which you can see at: Villa 2006
Things to do in this area
The owner has placed a booklet in the house with lots of information on places to visit in the area, including boat and train schedules.
The high point of our visit was a boat trip along the Cinque Terre with Megan of Bella Vita Italia, who was a superb guide and lots of fun. (See her classified ad on SlowTrav.) The younger couple in our group also went back to the Cinque Terre on their own for hiking, swimming, and diving. We enjoyed a visit to Genoa, stopping at the charming town of Camogli on the way back. There is no end of day trips you can make along the Italian Riviera, up into the hills of the Lunigiana, and into Tuscany. Just take a map and point your finger anyplace within 100 km or so, and you will find an intriguing destination!
Note: Roz won her stay at this property in our SlowTrav 2006 Contest.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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