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Review 426: Homebase Abroad, Il Casello

www.homebase-abroad.com

Recommended
Review by colleenk from Cambridge, MA who is a SlowTrav Contributor

4bed/4bath villa near Siena, Tuscany South


When

September 21-28, 2002, 1 week

Location

Il Casello is a house on a working farm in Vico d'Arbia, a small hamlet which is 15 minutes from Siena. It is located up a long winding dirt road in a breathtakingly beautiful setting. We felt as if we were living in the middle of a post card! The views from every window of the villa were spectacular. Lush hills, valleys and the tower of Siena in the distance. The sunrise with the mist some mornings were to die for! Some of my fellow travelers arrived before I did. When I called from the Co-op to ask what we needed they were almost besides themselves with how beautiful the villa was - "You're not going to believe it!" They were right - the setting exceeded my highest expectations. When I heard from the agency that the owner had used this house as the setting for her daughter's wedding I was not surprised.

The owner, who is very gracious, lives down the road and rents out another smaller villa a few minutes away. Il Casello was totally private, we could not see the other houses from our villa. The area was very peaceful and quiet except for the farm animals! Some mornings we were awakened early by the roosters, and loud mooing of cows.

We loved this location for its proximity to Siena (one of my favorite cities), literaly a 15 minute drive. However, the drive up the dirt road was a bit tricky especially in the dark after wine with dinner!

Nearby Amenities

Nothing is walking distance from this villa. The closest place for coffee/sundries was at the bottom of the dirt road which was about a 10 minute drive. We never frequented these places because Siena was so close.

The House/Apartment

The villa has been restored with the utmost care and taste. I can honestly say everything about it was first class. It was nothing short of elegant. All the rooms were spacious and we did't even use the second huge kitchen and living room downstairs.

Garden

The grounds were beautiful with lots of flowers, bushes and herbs. There were olive and fig trees on the property as well. The grounds were totally private. There was a path down to a cabana area which had it's own bathroom and shower. It was also equipped with pool towels. Although it was too cool to swim for all but the hardiest among us, the pool was lovely complete with a deck area and chairs. The pool area afforded more spectular views of the country side. There were also various benches strategically placed on the propery to enjoy the view from different points. There was also a small table and chairs in a courtyard area, as well as a grill for cooking and eating outside. We didn't use this as it was either too cold or we were off eating in wonderful restaurants!

Furnishings/Cleanliness/Living Areas

The furniture was very comfortable, attractive and in good shape. Upon entering the house there is a large hallway with stairs leading up to the main living quarters. On that first floor (which we rarely used) was a huge living room, a large kitchen with a washing machine and a 2 1/2 bathrooms. On the main floor a lage living room with a working fireplace was located which was a room we enjoyed using. Up 2 steps off that room was another "den" like room with couches and a large square coffee table where we often brought oour food into eat buffet style. Our favorite room was a terra cota colored covered porch off the living room which was open to the outside without windows. This room also had a table large enough to seat 8 comfortably and was the room that had the best views. This is where we ate our first night welcoming dinner (also a birthday celebration) that was prepared for us by the owner. She also happens to be a gourmet cook!

Bedrooms/Bathrooms

There were 4 bedrooms and 1 study which we ended up converting into a bedroom. The 4th bedroom with its own bathroom was downstairs and was only accessibile from the outside which seemed too isolated from the rest of the group. It was also a little musty. The den had a pullout couch which 1 couple turned into a comfortable bed by bringing up the mattreses from downstairs to put on top of the pull out couch. This worked out fine, although it did mean that 2 couples had to share 1 bathroom. However the bathroom they shared was enormous with double sinks and even a comfy chair to sit in! The other 3 bedrooms were beautifully appointed, large with very comfortable beds and hotel quality linens. The master bedroom (which I got by the luck of the draw) had its own ensuite bathroom. The bathrooms were all very modern but it took quite a while for the hot water to come on in the morning (up to a half hour). The water pressure was fairly good. One bathroom had a jacuzzi.

Kitchen

The kitchen was very large and well stocked with all you would need to cook full meals for a party of 8. There were plenty of pots, pans, dishes and glasses. The dishwasher worked well. There was a beautiful large wooden table that the group often gathered around to read maps, plan our day, etc. as well as eat our meals. We enjoyed this room very much which also had a nice view.

Problems or Bonuses

Even though we had been sent pictures of the villa by the agency, we were pleasantly surprised at how incredibily beautiful the villa and setting were. The owner had a large bowl of fruit for us and a couple bottles of wine. As our arrival day was my bithday, she also presented me with a bottle of champagne and a birthday card. The meal she prepared for us, fried zucchini flowers, various cheeses and salami, veal, potatoes, salad and a chocolate mousse cake was delicious for $45/person. It was served by two locals whos also worked on the farm and provided cleaning services. They were lovely and friendly even though they didn't speak much English and our Italian was elementary to say the least. We also opted to have a change of towels and cleaning mid-week for an extra fee. The owner Dominica, is an elegant French woman married to an Italian whose family has owned this property for generations. She speaks perfect English and was very helpful. She had wanted to invite us over for drinks one night but we so busy soaking up the surronding sights that the timing never worked out.

The only "bad" surprise was the farm animals close by that sometimes woke us earlier than we wanted and if the wind was blowing the wrong way the smell of cow dung was quite strong! The long dirt road up to the villa might be a problem for some, especially in the dark.

Agency and Representatives (and price)

I found Homebase Abroad personnel to be very professional, honest, helpful and friendly. Shortly before the trip they sent us detailed arrival instructions, a terrific map of the area, restaurant and touring suggestions as well as general Italy info. They also arranged for dinner reservations at Cane a Gato in Siena for our last night. We received our deposit back in a very timely manner.

Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?

I would stay here again in a heartbeat if I had a large enough group to go again so that it would be affordable. It came out to be about $1500 a couple which considering its elegance was well worth it. It is hard to convey just how beautiful the villa and setting was. I only wish we could have stayed 2 weeks so that we could have spent more time relaxing at the villa but we had to many slow traveler suggestions to do!

Things to do in this area

As Il Casello is located so close to Siena, all of the wonderful things that city has to offer beckons you. What's not to like about Siena? We loved Cane e Gato (the best meal of our trip), and La Torre as well as the great shopping there. Trip report with more details and restaurant reviews to follow. It was an easy location to get to the Autostrada from. We did day trips to the Chianti trail (Panzano, Greve, Castellina in Chianti), Monteriggioni, Volterra and San Gmignano another day, The Monte Oliveto Abby, Sant'Antimo Abbey, Montalcino, Pienza and Montepulciano in another long day and of course Florence which was about an hour away. All were very doable day trips from this location.

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

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