Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 2516: Sea and Country Villas, Villa Ortensia
2bed/2bath house near Sarzana, Tuscany North
August, 2006, one week
Villa Ortensia is located in the rural hills above the Tuscan town of Sarzana (located on the Tuscan/Ligurian border), about a ten minute drive from the center of town. The villa is the last house at the end of a winding, climbing country lane, and is on the same property as the owners' home. The location is spectacular: the views include the coastline from Tuscany into Liguria on one side, and the beautifully rugged green mountain peaks on the other. The house itself is very private, surrounded by an olive grove, fruit orchard, and pine woods. The only sound at night is the wind moving the pine trees ... fabulous. It is just close enough to the owners' home to be convenient (they are wonderfully welcoming and always available with information and advice about local attractions, beaches, and restaurants), but just far enough away to feel very private. Even in the heat of summer the house was well ventilated and cool at night; we never had problems sleeping. It was the perfect refuge after long days at the beach or exploring the nearby Tuscan and Ligurian coastal villages.
One of the things we loved about Villa Ortensia was its fantastically remote location. The country lane where it is located has neighboring farmhouses and was perfect for an evening walk (we picked figs, apples, and blackberries during our wanderings), but there are no shops or cafes nearby. It is a short drive into Sarzana, which is a charming Tuscan town full of shops, cafes, and boutiques.
Villa Ortensia is an absolutely gorgeous recently restored stone farmhouse at the summit of a hill overlooking most of the Tuscan and Ligurian coastline. The house is set off by itself, so quite peaceful and private. It is on the same estate as the owners' home, but there are no other rentals on the property. Villa Ortensia is not only well fitted out (window screens! enough crockery! real terry towels!), it is immaculate, filled with lovely art and antiques, and owned by a mother/daughter team of hostesses who are incredibly warm and welcoming.
The house is set on two floors: downstairs is a small, charming kitchen decorated with antique ceramics on the walls and bunches of dried herbs strung from the beams; a separate dining area with seating for four to six, and a sumptuously cozy living room with working fireplace and two sofas. There is also a bathroom with enclosed shower and a sparkling clean pantry on the ground floor.
Upstairs there are two bedrooms: the master bedroom with silk draped four poster queen sized bed, and the second bedroom with two single beds. There is a lovely bright bathroom with a tub, and a small balcony with outdoor steps leading to the front of the house.
Villa Ortensia has a wonderful large paved terrace attached to the house (around the corner from the kitchen door), furnished with an umbrella table for six and four padded lounges. There is also a rustic barbecue (they provide pine cones and wood). The terrace overlooks the pine wood, which comes right up to the house. The other two sides of the house are bordered by olive and fruit groves (which overlook the seaside) and the front of the house has a meticulously well maintained gravel parking area. The house is surrounded by lovely pots of flowers and herbs and also has two small covered sitting areas by the upstairs and ground floor external doors.
Across the parking area, within the gated garden of the owners' own home, there is a charming in-ground pool surrounded by a variety of garden tables and chaises, which is shared with the owners' but available for use by their guests as well.
Villa Ortensia is lovely outside, but absolutely breathtaking inside. The house is furnished with charming antiques and period pieces, the walls are covered with intriguing artwork, the beds and sofas are sinfully comfortable. It is the perfect mix of interior design country-chic and warm authentic country-cozy. The owners live in the villa during the winter, so it was more completely fitted out (in terms of kitchen utensils, linens, chairs, bathroom supplies, and general living amenities) than many rental properties. The property was immaculate. Even the cleaning supplies were clean.
There are two bedrooms and one bathroom upstairs.
The master bedroom: This is a bed that would be perfect for a film version of Arabian Nights. A queen sized four poster wrought iron frame draped with meters and meters of gold and burgundy silk voile, a gold silk padded headboard, luxury coordinated linens, and a top of the line mattress. This was a bed built for sleeping. Or not. The bedroom itself is not large ... aside from the bed there are two antique bedside tables, and a wrought iron clothes rack. There are lovely antique pieces of art on the walls, a charming set of period suitcases stacked in a corner, and a huge full length mirror (no, it doesn't reflect the bed). The armoire for this bedroom is right outside the door in the hallway.
The second bedroom: This bedroom is slightly larger than the master bedroom, and has two coordinated single beds and bedside tables, an armoire and desk (both lovely antiques), and padded bench. The two sunny windows and coordinating butter yellow linens on the beds give it a warm, welcoming feel.
The upstairs bathroom is large and bright and has a tub, sink and toilet. I loved this bathroom because there was a large marble countertop around the sink where there was enough room to actually keep my toiletries out and not annoyingly stored away all week in my beauty case. There were charming soaps and lotions set out for our use, and the bathroom was full of the same artwork and sundry antique and period objets d'art set here and there which made the house so charming on the whole.
The ground floor bathroom is smaller, but more practical as it has an enclosed shower, sink and toilet. Again, bright, charming, immaculate. There was adequate hot water and fabulous water pressure in both bathrooms.
This was one of the best fit out kitchens I have ever encountered in a vacation rental. The kitchen itself is not large, but there is a clean, impeccably organized separate pantry and curtained shelves in the kitchen which were both bursting with any cooking utensil, silverware, or piece of crockery you may need. The supplies were all matching and in perfect condition, and the cheerful yellow china and linens made for a very welcoming table.
Again, the kitchen is small, though has the requisite four burner stove, oven, dishwasher, sink, and full sized refrigerator all clean and in perfect working order. There are also numerous small appliances (toaster, American coffee pot) which are often missing in rental kitchens. There is not much work space (i.e. countertop), but we were able to use the kitchen table for prep work and eat outside on the beautiful terrace.
The hostesses also leave breakfast supplies and various non-perishables (sugar, salt, vinegar, their own olive oil), which is thoughtful and convenient.
Problems or Bonuses
The bonus which separates Villa Ortensia from any other run-of-the-mill gorgeous, four star, immaculate, top of the line rental, is, without a doubt, the hostesses Letizia and Francesca .
The owners of this property are a mother/daughter team who are genuinely warm, kind, and welcoming. We were humbled by their frequent generosity and evident care they took in hosting us. We arrived late on our first night, tired, cranky, and laden with two hungry children ... to find a full dinner and a bottle of wine waiting for us on our kitchen table. Not a day passed in which we didn't find some basket of goodies (figs, tomatoes, hazelnuts) outside our door and Francesca went out of her way to accommodate any request of ours. They are both excellent sources of information and always willing to give advice regarding tourist sites or restaurants.
When we left Francesca presented us with a lovely framed watercolor her mother had painted (much of the artwork in the villa is Letizia's), which hangs in our hall and reminds us every day of these wonderful people and their wonderful home. The villa could be only one tenth as luxurious as it is, but with owners like these it would still be a four star property.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
The owners of this property are also the agents of Sea and Country Villas and represent other rentals in the area. We were treated like royalty when we stayed at Villa Ortensia, and I can't image Francesca (who speaks perfect English) doesn't go to the same lengths for all her clients.
The Villa is even more beautiful than how it appears on the website (that's always such a nice surprise!).
We won a week stay at Villa Ortensia through the Slow Travel Five Year Anniversary Contest, so I don't know what the weekly rate is. All I know is that it would be worth every cent.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
I give a wholehearted and unqualified recommendation for Villa Ortensia. As a property owner myself, I am very nit picky about vacation rentals. This one is an absolute gem.
Things to do in this area
Sarzana is a charming Tuscan town, perfect for shopping and a passeggiata. All the famous coastal towns of Liguria are short drives (Porto Venere, Portofino, Le Cinque Terre), and Francesca can recommend some less known destinations which are just as charming without the crush. There are some fabulous beaches in the area.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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