Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 302: Parker Villas, Villa dei Pittori
large villa near Siena, Tuscany West
July 5 to 13, 2002, One week
Villa dei Pittori, also known as Villa Lechner or Villa Vecchio Maniero, is located in the small, picturesque town of Sovicille, about 20 minutes from Siena. It is a very large villa. There are other houses nearby, but once inside the villa, you are completely unaware of them. The views from all the bedrooms are lovely, overlooking the park on the villa property and panaromic views of the countryside. I was there with 16 other people, coordinating tours, activities and meals etc. Sovicille, though a remote village, was very convenient because it was 20 minutes to Siena, an hour to the Chianti region and 1.5 hours to Florence and to the seaside area of Grosetto.
Directly across the village square is a small "Bar" where you can have a coffee, buy deli items, fresh fruit, frozen treats, a bottle of wine and basic groceries, though a limited selection. Also located in the square are a Tobacco Shop for cigarettes, stamps, postcards, magazines etc., a hardware store and a church. Within walking distance is the post office and another ""bar" with a comfortable, lovely restaurant attached to it.
One plus of the villa was Vecchio Maniero, an upscale restaurant attached to the villa. The restaurant provided our breakfasts in the garden, a welcome lunch, our cocktail hours, and four wonderful dinners, one of which was a formal, farewell dinner complete with music. All menus were preplanned before our arrival. Frederico, the restaurant owner, was wonderful to work work with. If I had a question about the villa or the area, he had an answer. His young staff were extremely attentive, friendly and professional. By the end of the week, they knew our requests before we asked for them. The restaurant shares their terrace with the villa. Prior to our arrival, I thought that the villa terrace was separated from that of the restaurant. This is not the case, though I suppose that if requested, an area could be separated by potted plants. One night we had dinner separated from the other diners in the garden and held our formal farewell dinner in the villa's dining room. On the other nights, our cocktails hour was held in a small semi-private section of the terrace and we dined with the other resturant diners. It was actually nice to be with other people, although being the fun loving group we are, I'm not sure the other diners always appreciated us!
When I shopped for the group, mostly soft drinks, bottled water, snacks, fruit, wine and liquor and household items, I shopped at COOP, the supermarkert chain. For the biggest shop, I went into Siena. This was the largest of all the stores that we saw. They do not take credit cards, travelers checks or US dollars. There was a working ATM however.
The villa was once a castle. It is an impressive, imposing and beautiful structure. As our group arrrived, they were in awe as they walked from room to room. The two living rooms were the rooms that were most commonly used. The villa is in great condition. It is filled with antiques and assorted bric brac. It is comfortable, and surprisingly not stuffy. The halls are lined with renderings of family members and their biographies, quite impressive. I met the owner of the villa, Andrea Lechner, whose office is attached to the villa, near the front entrance. He lives in a separate area in the villa. (The enormity of the villa registered only as the week went on.) Andrea was friendly and easy to work with. After our initial meeting, I only saw him sporadically, mostly when I needed to request the services of his office. I did, however, have all his phone numbers, including his cell, so I was comfortable knowing I could always get in touch with him. One recommedation I would make to anyone who needs to conduct business while away would be to try to negotiate a way to receive and send faxes and perhaps use the email service located in Andre's office. I am not sure if he would be amenable to this, but it would be worth a try. The six hour time difference made getting messages from home a bit difficult.
There is a terrace off the second living room. This is located in the back of the villa. It is above the restaurant terrace, and overlooks the restaurant terrace and the beautiful countryside. There are stone benches along the wall and I would usually find a few members of our group enjoying their cigars or chatting with one another before going to our cocktail hour. There is no pool, although one was supposed to be built by the summer of 2002 (apparently there were permits issues.) Because of this, The Parker Company made arrangements for our group to use the pool at a nearby B&B. While we took advantage of this, it would have been much more convenient to have a pool at the villa. A few group members mentioned that it would be have been nice to have a pool on the property to come back to after a day of touring. It would also be nice to have an outdoor area with lounge chairs to relax.
The furniture is eclectic, ranging from a 15th century table and chairs to a nicely worn leather sectional in the living room. There were enough chairs in the formal dining room along with two tables. We chose however to dine either outside or to use anoher dining room in the back of the villa to take advantage of the view and the airflow. The restaurant supplied tables and chairs. While the villa is filled with antiques and a collection of furniture and bric brac representing the many generations that lived in the villa, it all works and is very comfortable.
Each of the bedrooms are different, having their own character, some more charming or fancier then others but all comfortable and special in their own way. Because there were more bedrooms than our group needed, after touring all, I made a decison not to use the more modern of the double rooms, a room with 2 single beds and a room that had a shower in the room, without anything separating it from the bedroom (this was to me the least desirable of the rooms.) No one complained about the beds, a good sign, but some commented that the mattresses were very soft. Most rooms had a double bed, or had single beds that could be joined together. The bathrooms, probably remodeled in the 1970's, could be updated but are functional. Some have tubs with handheld showers, others just have shower stalls. There is one hot water tank for every two bathrooms and at times the water pressure was weak. Like the bedrooms, the bathrooms are all different, some more charming than others, some larger.
The kitchen is small but functional. We did not use the kithen to cook in. I think it would be difficult to have more than one or two people in the kithcen preparing meals at one time. The refrigerator is smaller than what we are used to. If you were going to cook your meals in the villa for a large number of people, you would need to make frequent market trips. There was a new stove. There is a small kitchen table, but certainly not big enough to accommodate the number of people that the villa accommodates. An American coffee maker was brought in for our use.
Problems or Bonuses
The biggest surprise was that the villa was accurately described and met, if not exceeded, our expections. The location was perfect, remote enough to be exciting but offering stores and restaurants within walking distance and close enough to allow reasonable travel times for tours.
I was also pleased to find Frederico and his staff so accommodating to our requests since I had no contact with them until I arrived.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
The villa was accurately described by The Parker Company's literature. The Parker Company representative was very nice to work with. However, because I was responsible for ensuring that 16 other people were comfortable and happy, I was not comfortable with using my Parker Company representative for the very detailed arrangements I was making. I felt that there were too many layers in the equation and TPC would not allow me to speak directly to the person at the villa, who turned out to be Frederico.
So I found someone that lives in Siena to look at the property for me. This was a very good thing to do. It put our minds at ease that we were renting a property that was right for the group. I found a wonderful company, who I cannot praise enough, Tours by Roberto,(011-390-577-704789) to be my eyes and legs prior to the group's arrival. Roberto Bechi is from Siena and his partner and wife Patti is American, a perfect combination. Roberto actually toured the villa for us, painting a very realistic description of the villa, comparing it to other villas he was familar with. He worked with Frederico, putting together menus for my review. Roberto and Patti also coordinated three days of off-the-beaten-path tours for us, the dinners we ate in local restaurants, helped me with arranging spa appointments and a cooking class at a cooking school in Siena and generally answered my numerous questions, concerns and tons of e-mail. Frederico was also a huge asset, speaking English very well, helping to make the small items that came up during the week non-issues.
Planning so much prior to our arrival, though leaving room for flexibility, allowed me to enjoy the trip. Many of the activities we chose to participate in require advance planning. Planning all dinner menus prior to arriving also helped to ensure that food allergies and ingedients not eaten could be avoided.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
Yes, I would recommend this property. Our group went into a rental agreement knowing that while the facility may not offer the accouterments that a five star hotel would, we would be immersed in the Tuscany way of living and that the villa would offer us an experience that we had never participated in before.
Things to do in this area
With the tours that Roberto arranged for us, we toured an Etruscan tomb, a small, private winery in Chianti and visited the Villa of a Contess that is a descendant of the Medici family. We toured the Uffizi and a textile expert in Florence and the small Medieval hamlet of Serre di Rapolano where we learned about the making of olive oil and the way life existed in the past and a tour of a 14th century monastery with beautiul frescoes by Sodoma and Signorelli. All the tours were wonderful but were brought to life by Roberto, a truly renaissance man.
Some of the group also participated in the following activities:
Ballooning - simply incredible - Robert Etherington, Ballooning in Tuscany - www.ballooningintuscany.com
Golf - Donald Scalmanini - www.teesoftuscany.com
Bicycle Rental - Giorgio Trovato - www.walkingagency.com
Cooking School - Scuola di Cucina - 011-390-577-46609
Spa - La Terme Antica Querciolaia - www.termeaq.it
Resturants - Because we were such a large group, we put together prefixe meals that were incredible. Our favorites in order:
Trattoria Bottega Nuova, just outside Siena, 011-390-577-284230 Da Divo - Inside the walled city of Siena - 011-390-577-284-381 Ristorante Il Pozzo Monteriggioni, in Monteriggioni, 011-390-577-304127
Favorite for lunch - in garden near monastery - Ristorante La Torre, Monte Oliveto
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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