Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 338: La Foce, Vespa / Bersegliare
apartments and houses on an estate near Montepulciano, Tuscany South
Sept. 7-21, 2002, 2 weeks
Myself and my pal Scuba, our best friends Mick and MaryClaire and their two little ones, Boyce (3) and Finlay (11mos), and Nissa the Nanny Goddess rented two apartments (Vespa and Bersegliare) in the building Chiarentana on the La Foce estate. Chiarentana is a very large square stone farmhouse with a central courtyard that houses five rental apartments as well as the home of one of Iris Origo's daugters and of some of the estate workers. Chiarentana is 2 km down a spectacularly beautiful strada bianca (dirt road) from the intersection where La Foce itself sits. There really is nothing near Chiarentana at all: the calm and quiet is broken only by the cries of the house martens swirling round the courtyard at dusk. It is very beautiful and peaceful indeed.
You can't walk to anything at all, really. A car is a necessity; we rented two because of the size of our crowd. The nearest and best caffe is at La Guardiola, about a ten-minute drive away down the dirt road from La Foce, past the castle, at the gate of the beautiful village Monticchiello. Terrace under the fig tree, great hostess (Crosetta), good menu: we started or ended our days there many times. Oasi La Foce is quite near the main La Foce buildings, but I never ate there. Others in our group did and they weren't too impressed. Very grumpy staff, which I can attest to as well, as I asked to look at a menu and was refused rather curtly, as the restaurant wasn't open. We did our shopping at the wonderful Supermercato at the Etruscan Mall by Chiusi exit of the A1, maybe 20 minutes away. Open Tues-Sat 9-9, Monday 3-9. Closed Sunday.
I understand the building at Chiarentana dates back to 1200. It is very beautiful, massive, covered in vines, with lovely tiled roofs speckled with soft lichens. The courtyard is paved with stones, flowers are everywhere and a giant lime tree fills the center of the courtyard. The two apartments we rented were completely modernized and in great shape; we never saw inside the other apartents nor did we meet any of the other tenants, except to exchange hellos by the pools or in the courtyard.
There is no sitting space in the courtyard, which is a pity. A note asks us not to move chairs and tables into the courtyard. I can understand it, really, after I gave it some thought. It is a big, stone courtyard, and its extraordinary peace would be broken if we all wanted to have breakfast out there. I think the courtyard would echo and reflect sound as well. There is about a half acre of grass beside the house with scattered tables and chairs for outdoor relaxing and dining. We ate out there twice and it was wonderful. It would be nice if there were a pergola/terrace/table area right adjacent to the apartments, but the lawn is only 2 seconds away, so it's no big deal. The pool. Not the square one in some of the illustrations, but a newer nicer one across the huge lawn and down past the tennis court. An oval set in grass, with a shaded pergola and plenty of chaise lounges and two big umbrellas. Utter bliss. Cool water. Views down through the olive groves (planted between the rows with blooming lavender) across the farmland of the Val d'Orcia to Mt. Amiata and Radicogfani. Totally spectacular place. The flies were bothersome, but who cares.
The apartments were very nicely furnished. I think ours, Bersegliere, the one-bedroom, was just a little nicer than Vespa. You walk up a long flight of travertine steps from the courtyard and you are in a small hall: to the right, the living room of Bersegliere, to the left, the kitchen of Vespa. These are by far the two nicest public rooms of the apartments, and we used them both all the time, leaving the doors open to the common hall. Our living room furniture was a good combination of comfortable modern sofas and some antique pieces. It was a wonderful room in which to relax. A desk in the corner became Guide Book Central where I planned out the next day's adventure while watching Italian variety shows on the TV. (BBC World yes, CNN, no; about six Italian stations.) The kitchen of Vespa, where we cooked and hung out, I'll describe below. One point: the apartments are decorated very tastefully with an interesting mix of antique ceramics, old prints, and very good modern art. The living room in Vespa was nice, but it and the bedrooms were up the stairs from the wonderful kitchen, so we hung out across the hall. Visitors came to stay and we stashed them there on a sofa bed. Oh, yeah, screens on all the windows.
Our bedroom was spectaular. 20 x 20, with a fifteen-foot-high beamed ceiling. Oh, old cotta floors everywhere, with nice fuzzy area rugs. Fine, firm bed. The bathroom very large and luxurious, shower with curtain and giant tub as well, wooden sink surround, very classy indeed. Our hot water shortage was fixed as soon as we told management. The two bathroms in Vespa were very nice as well; one had a separate can with a charming view of the roof tiles. The bedrooms in Vespa were fine.
Open hearth fireplace, good 5-burner range, big oven, marble-topped table that sat eight, tall fridge, lots of cooking equipment: the kitchen at Vespa was perfection. I ended up cooking many of our dinners there with MaryClaire. I'll post a couple of recipes on the message board later. We barbecued one night and ate lots of salami and pecorino. Our kitchen in Bersegliere was smaller, with 2 burners and no oven except a toaster oven. This could make a difference if it were rented alone, but we didn't care. The sink is copper. The lighting is dramatic, rather than practical. We used it mainly for bottled water storage and to make coffee.
Problems or Bonuses
La Foce is an old and well-established 5000-acre farm; the countryside and the buildings are far more beautiful than I ever expected. Our apartments were more luxurious than we expected, with nothing of the "rental unit" look about them. This was the first time we have ever done this, and we were wowed. Lucky? I guess so.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
We didn't use an agency at all, having found the web site while googling on Iris Origo. We booked directly and had no problems. The people in the office were very nice, professional, spoke English, answered our questions, fixed the few things that needed fixing. I mean we didn't become bosom buddies or anything. The workers on the estate were quite aloof. One man in hunter camouflage sat with his dog every day on a bench at La Foce, where we turned for Chiarentana. We waved at him as we passed, and he sat motionless, never cracking a smile. But what the hell, we didn't go there to make friends.
Note from SlowTrav: The La Foce apartments and villas can also be booked through Italian Vacation Villas.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
I'd stay there again in a heartbeat. It was a wonderful, relaxing vacation in really spectacular surroundings, with very comfy and nice places to return to each day. It worked out perfectly that we rented the two adjoining apartments, as this gave us two fabulous public rooms as well as all the privacy we needed. The place is a dream, really, and I feel fortunate to be able to have been there. We saw the exterior of one of the free-standing villas, and it looked great, too, but we didn't poke around too much. And they rent two places in their old castle, Castelucchio, which we might try next time. For there will be a next time.
Things to do in this area
Lots and lots. See my travel notes, which I will post soon.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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