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Review 294: La Bella Toscana, Fattoria il Piano

www.labellatoscana.net

Recommended
Review by Mare from Seattle

aparments on farm near San Gimignano, Tuscany West


When

Fall 2001, 1 week

Location

Fattoria il Piano, Apartment Rosmarino - 2 bed/2 bath apartment near San Gimignano, Tuscany

The name of this complex, Fattoria il Piano, means the plateau estate. True to its name, the apartment sits atop a plateau 5 km from San Gimignano. Access is via an extremely narrow, partially paved country lane that winds through vineyards and cypress trees. The unpaved portion of the lane is quite steep, rutted and filled with potholes as farm vehicles and cars alike share it. The fattoria is surrounded by 180 hectares of pasture, vineyards, olive groves and woods.

From this location we explored Monteriggioni (20 minutes), Strove, Abbadia a Isola, Casole d’Elsa, Mensano, Montalcino, Pienza, Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Montisi, Montepulciano, San Biago, Castellina in Chianti, Rocca della Macie winery, Greve in Chianti, Montespertoli, Montagnana and San Gimignano.

Day trips to Firenze (60 minutes), Prato, Volterra, Siena (20+ minutes), Asciano, Rapolano Terme, Sinalunga, S. Quirico d’Orcia, Bagno Vignoni, Abbadia S. Salvatore, Monte Amiata and Radicofani are viable from this location.

The House/Apartment

This beautiful Tuscan stone farmhouse has been divided into four apartments; two 2 bedroom/2 bathroom and two 1 bedroom/1 bathroom units.

The panoramic view along with the towers of nearby San Gimignano is spectacular. The farmhouse is very private and quiet with the exception of early morning hunters (October) and farm equipment.

Amenities include a swimming pool with shower and changing room, utility room with a washing machine and use of mountain bikes. There is plenty of free parking adjacent to the farmhouse. The fattoria produces and sells its own wine, olive oil and fresh pecorino cheese. We purchased and thoroughly enjoyed everything. We have never tasted such a mild, soft and creamy pecorino cheese.

Rosmarino apartment is a 2-bedroom unit on the ground floor. This apartment was very comfortable for four adults (70 sqm). The living area is furnished with a small couch, end table, two petite chairs, telephone table (telephone for outgoing calls only), floor lamp and a dining table with four chairs. French doors lead from the living area to a huge covered terrace (48 sqm) with a dining table, four chairs and two lounge chairs. The terrace and all interior floors are finished with ceramic tile. Guests may use the large outdoor stone barbecue near the terrace.

All windows are fitted with screens and shutters.

Bedrooms/Bathrooms

Bedroom 1 has a comfortable double bed, dresser, nightstand, lamp and a freestanding wardrobe with ample hanging and storage space. Bedroom 2 has two single beds that on request can be converted to a double bed, dresser, nightstand, lamp and a freestanding wardrobe with ample space. A folding single bed is available if needed for a 5th person.

Bathroom 1 has a tub with a handheld shower (you cannot stand to take a shower), toilet, bidet and pedestal sink. Bathroom 2 has a shower room instead of a tub. A shower curtain separates the toilet and bidet and wall showerhead from the remainder of the bathroom. This arrangement is somewhat common in Europe but is rather messy as most of the bathroom floor and fixtures get wet. There was plenty of water pressure and hot water.

Kitchen

The kitchen is open to the dining and living areas. It is equipped with an under the counter size refrigerator, four gas burners and an electric oven (no dishwasher). We found the kitchen to be the perfect size to prepare a simple meal but not adequate for an elaborate dinner. The kitchen was adequately equipped with cooking supplies, dishes and utensils.

The apartment is equipped with two large laundry drying racks, ironing board and iron. We did laundry in the bathrooms and hung it on the drying racks on our covered terrace.

Agency and Representatives (and price)

We rented this apartment from October 6 – October 12, 2001 (Saturday to Saturday) for $462 USD ($66 day/$33 couple). Payment terms: 25% at time of booking and 75% two months before arrival. On arrival, we paid a cash cautionary/damage deposit of $50 USD and administration fee of $25. The $50 deposit, less charges for heat, is refundable; the property owner retains the $25 deposit.

A local laundry company supplies linens and towels. It is the renter’s responsibility to make up the beds. Bath towels are large terry towels. Daily cleaning service is not available.

Breakfast is not included and is not available at the fattoria. See “Shopping” section below.

Credit cards accepted.

All apartments at Fattoria Il Piano are represented by LaBella Toscana agency in Colle di Val d’Elsa. For a list of properties and rental terms, see www.labellatoscana.net

The operator, Gaynor Powell, is very professional, extremely efficient and very knowledgeable. We rented two properties from her in October 2001. She promptly responded to our email within 24 hours. Pauline of this web site had an opportunity to meet with Gaynor in October 2001.

We will definitely book with LaBella Toscana in the future.

Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?

We loved our week stay at Fattoria il Piano with our friends. We enjoyed meeting Nancy from Florida (from the Slow Travel web site), her husband and friends as they were our upstairs neighbors for the week.

The estate owner and his daughter, Claudia, were very warm and charming people. Claudia speaks fluent English but we regret the need to have her translate for her father and us. Although they do not live at the estate, they made us feel very welcome. Their housekeeper, Mora, was very accommodating but communicating was somewhat challenging.

We loved the very sweet and extremely pregnant estate cat. We never learned her name but we called her “Miss Kitty”. She moved in with us for the week and enjoyed the good life of a very spoiled cat. She is probably the only cat in Tuscany to eat a diet of fresh pecorino cheese, prosciutto and milk along with dry cat food. We felt it was the least we could do to help her through her pregnancy.

We loved our apartment and its setting but we would not likely stay here again because we felt it was too far from our favorite places in the crete senese (south of Siena). We are not disposed to spending time in San Gimignano because of the crowds. We highly recommend Fattoria il Piano to anyone who wants to tour the area in and around San Gimignano and Chianti.

If we should ever decide to explore this area in more depth, we would definitely stay here again. We thoroughly enjoyed its private rural setting, vineyards, olive groves and panoramic view.

Things to do in this area

Stores/Shopping: Drive to either of the two Coop grocery stores; the small one in San Gimignano or the larger one just outside of Poggibonsi.

Restaurants: For a nice dinner, we recommend Osteria Bottega di Lornano located at the only intersection in the small village of Lornano (NE of Monteriggioni). It is surprisingly sophisticated, elegant and busy considering its remote location. It is about a 20+ minute drive through beautiful countryside from San Gimignano. Hours for lunch 12:15 – 2:30 and dinner 7:15 – 9:30. It is a very popular spot, reservations highly recommended. It is unlikely that you will find this osteria listed in guidebooks. I believe Zak of TuscanHouse did a review of this restaurant.

For a special dining experience, we recommend Il Pozzo in Monteriggioni (20-minute drive). Il Pozzo is our favorite ristorante in Tuscany. We have eaten here numerous times and we have never been disappointed. Unlike the US, being a waiter in Italy is a profession and Lorenzo, our favorite waiter, has spent most of his adult life at this ristorante. When telling us of the dessert choices, he named Zuppa Inglese. When we asked him what it was he smiled and said, “well, it’s neither zuppa, nor Inglese” and then gave us a taste. Because it is famous and listed in most guidebooks, reservations are highly recommended. Check out their web site www.ilpozzo.net for its history, specialties and great photos of both the ristorante and this charming walled village.

Also, see a review on this web site for Ristoro di Lamole in the village of Lamole (near Greve in Chianti). Unfortunately, we arrived too late for lunch but we purchased a bottle of Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico Riserva, 1997. They are open for lunch 12:00 - 2:30; dinner starts at 7:30. The drive through vineyards and olive groves is lovely but not recommended for anyone prone to motion sickness as the road is narrow and very windy. To see photos of the ristoro and its wonderful view go to www.ristorodilamole.it . Telephone 055.8547050.

Try our favorite place for thin crust pizza (L. 8,000), Pizzeria il Fondaccio, via Ferruccio, 27, Castellina in Chianti. They also offer the best deal around for antipasto; a self-serve bar loaded with good quality meats, cheeses, etc. for only L. 12,000. They do not serve lunch but are open 7 days a week at 6:30 pm for dinner. Telephone 0577.741.084.

In Pienza, we highly recommend Il Prato at Viale S. Caterina (a half block outside the city walls). This ristorante is the first to open and last to close in Pienza. Open for lunch 12:00 – 1:15 and for dinner 7:15 – 9:-00, closed Tuesday. In our opinion, their funghi zuppa was the best we had in Italy. The presentation was perfect and everyone in our group loved the lamb, veal, turkey breast fillet, ravioli and pici. The house vino (rosso) was excellent and the burnt cream was superb. Reservations recommended. Telephone 0578.749924.

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal at La Porta Osteria in the tiny village of Monticchiello (10 km east of Pienza). The osteria is located at Via del Piano #3 which is right inside the town walls adjacent to the parking lot. The view from the deck is outstanding. Open 12:00 – 3:00 for lunch and 5:00 – 12:00 for dinner, closed Tuesday. The handmade ravioli was beautifully presented and arranged to look like a flower blossom. A small red tomato decorated the center of the “flower”. Finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese covered the entire flower and plate. Telephone 0578.755163.

Things to do: Plan to spend the good part of a day exploring the ancient town of Colle di Val d’Elsa (upper town). It is Italy’s largest producer of fine glass and crystal. Refer to a guidebook for a list of sights and museums.

Need to find Internet access? There is a wonderful Internet Caffe in Colle di Val d’Elsa’s (lower town) off Piazza Arnolfo near S. Agostino church at Via del Fossi, 59. This new caffe has 22 computers, an espresso bar and pizzeria. Internet fee is L 2,000 per 15 minutes. Telephone 0577.92.69.70.

You can easily spend a couple of days touring museums and interesting sights in San Gimignano. Go early or arrive late in the afternoon after the tour buses leave as the town is always teeming with tourists regardless of the season.

Spend a couple of hours in our favorite Tuscan village, Monteriggioni (population 60). This picturesque village with its fortified walls and 14 towers is one of the most perfectly preserved villages in Italy. In recent years, it has become a popular spot for tour groups so arrive either early or later in the day after the tour buses depart. See “Restaurant” section above for recommendation.

Tour the beautiful Benedictine monastery, Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore. One of its three cloisters is decorated with a beautiful and well-preserved series of frescos by Luca Signorelli and Antonio da Bazzo, or Sodoma. The cycle tells the life of St. Benedict in 36 panels. Open daily, hours change by season. The abbey has a café open at lunchtime that serves panini and a menu turistico. Outdoor dining is available in the summer. Telephone 0577.707017.

Take a scenic drive through lovely countryside to Abbazia di Sant’ Antimo near the village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate. For a translated version of the Abbey’s sign and hours of the Gregorian chants see Pauline’s posts on this web site.

Climb to the top and walk the defensive walls of Montalcino’s fortress (14th century) for a breathtaking panoramic view of the town and surrounding countryside. Open daily April – October from 9:00 am – 8 pm (shorter hours in winter). Its well-preserved walls enclose a public park and one of the most well known enotecas in Italy—an excellent place to sample and purchase some of Montalcino’s famous Brunello wines. The enoteca offers a huge selection at competitive prices.

Take a self-guided tour of Pienza, walk along its town walls and admire one of Tuscany’s most beautiful views. Walk 10 minutes from Piazza Dante to Pieve di Corsignano. This was the town’s original parish church (10th century) and is one of the areas best Romanesque style churches. See “Restaurant” section for our recommendation. I believe Pauline of this web site did a review for one of her favorite ristorante’s, Latte di Luna.

Drive 10 km east of Pienza to Monticchiello, a tiny medieval hillside village with walls and crenellated towers. There is a superb view of Pienza and the Orcia Valley from the parking lot at the entrance to town. This village contains a tiny old-fashioned shop that sells some of the most beautiful fabrics imaginable—all made by hand locally. We highly recommend dining at La Porta Osteria (see “Restaurant” section). Spend a day exploring Montepulciano and Chiesa della Madonna di San Biagio (below town). An avenue of cypress trees leads to San Biagio (1529).

If you are interested in purchasing leather goods (purses, wallets, briefcases, belts, jackets, gloves, etc.), here is a place you will not find in your guidebook. LBG Italia, located in Greve in Chianti, is a manufacturer of fine leather goods. They manufacture items for top designers such as Gucci, Calvin Klein and Escada as well as their own brand name. We took a guided tour of the purse manufacturing facility. We learned about patterns for new purse designs, saw prototypes made from synthetic materials to simulate leather, saw types and colors of leather used to make pre-production samples, watched skilled technicians cut the leather, saw assembly workers molding the interior pieces for purses and technicians stitching the pieces and watched as completed purses were cleaned and sealed in plastic bags for shipping. LBG showroom/factory is located just outside Greve at Via G. Pastore, 3/A. The woman who led the tour speaks flawless English, French and German. Telephone 055.85.44720. The LBG web site www.lbgitalia.com is currently under construction).

If you do not like crowds, stay away from Greve during the month of September because it hosts the biggest wine fair in Chianti.

Stroll along the covered soldiers’ walk in Castellina in Chianti’s defensive walls (15th century). The village has several excellent enotecas and interesting pottery shops. Try our favorite pizzeria (see “Restaurant” section).

Be sure to stop by the picturesque medieval village of Montefioralle (1 km west of Greve). The village walls are intact along with old tower houses and two Romanesque churches.

Tour the majestic Castello di Brolio (10 km south of Gaiole) which is open daily 9 - 12 and 3 - sunset. This beautiful castle was rebuilt after the war and in the 19th century Baron Ricasoli converted it into his fortified residence. You can sample and purchase wine and olive oil from the estate.

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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