Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 3148: Owner, Sutri-Home
1bed/1bath apartment to attached house near Sutri, Lazio
September, 2007, 4 nights
My stay at "Sutri-Home" on the eve of its opening was the result of fortuitous circumstances. For my Slow Travel prize in the 2006 Contest I chose an overnight in the Rome-is-Home apartment near Campo dei Fiori, which was to be combined with a day in the country with its owners, Massimo, Biancamaria and their 6 1/2-year-old daughter Delfina. When it turned out that the Rome apartment would be occupied during the dates of my trip to Italy (which had already been delayed for a year), the family invited me to stay with them at their home in Sutri, explaining that they were in the process of creating an independent guest apartment there. It would be nearly but not quite ready to open when I arrived, so my visit would be a sort of trial run.
Almost equidistant from the Etruscan necropoli of Cerveteri and Tarquinia, and sitting between two beautiful volcanic lakes, Sutri ("placed, like a hanging garden, upon a steep hill on the Cassian Way," says the Catholic Encyclopedia) is an ancient stone town which has a long and fascinating history. Its location near the borders of Rome and commanding the route to Etruria from the sea made it strategically important very early, and its presentation by the Lombard king Liutprand to Pope Gregory II in 728 was part of the first territorial extension of Papal power. According to legend it was here that Charlemagne discovered and embraced (the narrative is worth reading!) his long-lost nephew Roland, or Orlando. Also not far away are both ancient and modern watering-places and a last haven of the Goths. Marking the entrance to the town is an Etruscan amphitheater and burial place carved out of tufa rock, whose complex presents an extraordinary overlay of Etruscan, Roman, Mithraic and Christian cultures embroidered with a luxuriant growth of trees, roots & vines.
All this, and Sutri is only about an hour from Rome! It was partly for this reason, and partly because they could not resist the allure of the little white house on the hillside, that Biancamaria and Massimo chose to settle here when the family outgrew their Roman apartment. Their hundred-year-old farmerís cottage is a mile or so away from the center of Sutri amid gently sloping open fields punctuated by groves of hazelnut and chestnut trees, wheeling birds and radiant morning mists.
The guest apartment is part of the main house but has a separate doorway through a small terrace lined with potted herbs and flowers. Entering into a kitchen area filled with sunlight through a glass double door with an exterior wrought iron grille, you sense immediately that you are in a world which breathes a delicate balance of architectural imagination and whimsy. A nearly-independent arch of rose/umber brick frames the wide entrance to the bedroom and is echoed by the soft bands of Biancamaria's wall painting behind the large, comfortable bed before it disappears into a ceiling of baked tile and emerges again as a fragmented arch over the next doorway. There, a tall wooden door draws you into a little hallway where you find an armoire and the entrances to the bathroom (with shower and bidet) and a small, bright extra room. When I was there that room was still undefined, but Biancamaria and Massimo mentioned their hope that it may sometimes be used as a studio.
Moving back from the hallway, you return to the versatile living area, illumined by large windows at several levels, whose latent cosiness is suggested by a brick fireplace flanked by a comfortable sofa and coffee table on one side, a dining table in the window alcove facing it, and the back of an old fashioned wood-and-wrought-iron coat rack on the fourth side which separates it from the entrance and kitchen. Delfina had hung the fireplace with a garland of paper flowers she had made, which picked up in reverse the shape of the arches. Often my eye was arrested by unobtrusively interesting objects or seemingly chance arrangements of light, shape and texture which I later came to think of as Biancamariaís signatures.
The kitchen area itself has a four-burner gas stove and a microwave oven, a compact refrigerator (not shown in my photos because it had not yet been installed; it took some effort to locate a fridge of the right size which provided actual freezing as well as just ice cubes), a goodly sink, an electric coffee pot as well as an espresso pot, plenty of drawers, counter- and cupboard space. There is also a washer-dryer combination. While I was there Biancamaria was in the process of picking out pots & pans and tableware, comparing towels and curtain materials for the best feel and harmony with the apartment.
The day after my arrival I was so dazzled by the morning light as it poured in through the ungarnished windows that I took a dozen pictures trying to catch it. Since part of the art of being a good host is to foresee possible needs and preferences, though, Biancamaria has now installed curtains of various transparencies to make sure that light-sensitive guests can choose their favorite degree of luminosity. Small, thoughtful touches abound, such as the presence of multiple electrical outlets with converters and the availability of a high-speed Internet connection.
The apartment is connected through a door in the hall to the family living quarters, which are tantalizing in their extent and variety. I never did quite figure out how they all fit into what looks like a small cottage from the outside. Light comes and goes from everywhere. Next to the family kitchen is a large terraced garden rich in red-black soil and ready for planting. Massimo, Biancamaria and Delfina (who are all fluent in English) form an organic household - flexible, welcoming, helpful, busy and well-informed - and enjoy learning about other people, so any time spent with them is a delight; but the apartment is still quiet and private, and has a sense of freedom conducive to relaxation.
The countryside surrounding the house is lovely for both peaceful walks and vigorous hikes, but with the possibility of so many fascinating side trips, and for convenience of grocery shopping, restaurants or trips into town a car would really be advisable.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this vacation rental to independent-minded travelers who love to explore from the comfort of a home that truly feels like theirs, to meet people and mosey in a non-structured setting, to experience the real life of their vacation sanctuary and take the time to delve into the historical and cultural mysteries of their surroundings. In other words, I would recommend it to the Slow Traveler.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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