Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 4703: Castello in Bisticci, The Lemon Terrace
apartments in castle near Florence, Tuscany Chianti
July 1 - September 30 2009, 3 months
We stayed in the top floor Lemon Terrace suite for summer 2009. The castello is about 20km on a scenic winding secondary road about 30 minutes south of Florence and at the turn off at the village of Cellai the Castello is 1.5 km up a very steep narrow country road on a beautiful hill in Chianti Tuscany.
There are about five or six homes up that hill mostly hidden in the trees. Castello in Bisticci is a cluster of three buildings. The main "castle" is a separate property and what used to be the caretakers home and beautiful stone barn are right next to it and are now a separate B&B.
The Lemon Terrace is on the top floor and has expansive views of the valleys from the terrace which runs outside the length of the three bedrooms. The Castello sits on the Chianti Hills and looks over the layers of rolling hills in the Arno Valley and the mountains rising up on the other side of the valley. At night from the terrace room and garden you can see the lights of villages for miles around.
We were strongly advised to have a car by the owner and in the reviews we read. But my husband and I stayed the three months without a car, lugged all our groceries and drinking water up the hill and managed by catching the good bus service at the bottom of the hill to Florence or south to Incisa/Figline.
It's more of a hike than a walk but we were rewarded with peace and quiet amid trees and olive groves edged by wildflowers, expansive views of the valleys and villages below and kilos of fresh blackberries for a few weeks. We spotted deer and near the end of summer, families of wild boar including babies which were very timid and took off in a flash, and we enjoyed the fresco on the stone grotto of the Madonna just below the castello every day when we walked by.
There are two small villages at the base of the hill: Cellai and Troghi. Cellai has an alimentary/mini mart, a good baker, hair dresser and a big caravan park resort which has a big restaurant with terrace overlooking the valley and the big pool. At the time we could use the pool for the day for €10 per person.
In Troghi there is another well stocked alimentari, gas station, bank with ATM, DVD rental, a few small pizzerias, butchers, post office, new pharmacy, a weekly market with clothing, fruit, vegetables and shoes etc. and the fabulous Casa del Popolo's which is a great cafe/bar/tavern and three nights a week has really good outdoor pizza and there are even a few slot machines. Both villages are authentic little Italian towns with friendly locals.
Nearby are the bigger towns of Rignano sull'Arno 8km along a beautiful country road. We used to walk there sometimes it was so nice along vineyards and rolling hills in the gorgeous Tuscan countryside. Going 8km south is Incisa and the bigger Figline, which almost join each other. All have good large COOP supermarkets and all facilities including train stations. The Autostrada is at the base of the hill but is not accessible until Incisa/Figline. And just 10 minutes away by car is The Mall an outlet for designer goods.
The Castello is a 14th century castle on 9th century foundations. The first words out of my mouth when I laid eyes on it were "It's fantastic." It's a big property. Cid and Francesco have restored/renovated the three suites and gardens on one side of the property. They live on the other side and a large portion which you are only aware even exists when you walk around to the car park was as yet un-restored. The property is surrounded by tall trees and beautiful tree covered hills above and below.
At the time we were there there were three suites rented. The lower Palm Garden studio which had no view but had a garden out its doors, The middle level two bedroom Alcove and the top floor Lemon Terrace, which is the most private and the only suite with expansive views from the terrace and tower rooms although the windows were high and so if you were sitting at the chairs and table on the terrace the windows were at eye level and you couldn't sit and enjoy the views. A bar height table and chairs would have been a great addition. But when I walked around the house I enjoyed views from the big windows in every room.
We had to walk by the Alcove suite living room doors to get to our suite, plus the Alcove suite looked out over the driveway and neighbouring B&B so in our opinion the Lemon Terrace was by the far the best positioned suite on the property for privacy and to take advantage of the views.
From the driveway there are two flights of stone steps up to the Lemon Terrace and to get to the garden you go down the stairs to the driveway where there is about a 15-20 foot stone wall with a gate and steps down to the garden level. The gardens for each suite are in a row on a terrace beneath the neighbouring stone barn. The Palm Garden suite garden is next to the house adjoining their suite, then the Alcove garden in the middle and the Lemon Terrace garden at the end.
At the bottom of the stairs there was a path past the Alcove garden to our garden bordered by flowering shrubs and each garden planted with their own fruit trees. Each garden had their own gazebo - ours was wood with a flat bamboo roof. The floor was large pebbles. We had sturdy rattan chairs and a little table. Our garden was the only one with views although the tall stalky plants growing up from the wall below are in danger of obscuring the view. The view is slightly obstructed by a telephone pole and wires. There was a hammock which was torn, faded and stained a clothes line. The Lemon Terrace garden was the most private and the only garden with views. The Alcove garden was the prettiest but had the views had been obstructed.
We did eat lunch and have drinks down there in the early summer but by late July and August we rarely used it due to the heat and bugs. I preferred the unobstructed views up on the landing outside the front door.
The Lemon Terrace was exactly like the pictures. It was very spacious and clean on arrival, there was welcome pack from Cid with pesto and pasta. The two foot thick stone walls were all whitewashed with fresh paint with a gray strip along the bottom. I loved the old original terracotta tile floors.
The huge windows allowed us to get cross breezes all through the house and the vaulted ceilings kept it very cool even all summer. I loved the open living/dining/kitchen. The big dining table was wonderful the two white cotton duck sofas were very comfortable for afternoon naps in the breeze.
Bees and moths fly through the house all day and use the house as a fly-through zone, and hornets had their nests in the house but none of them bothered us. Big bumble bees would dive at the TV all night but I would just catch them in a shallow jar and show them the door. You are surrounded by country and natural beauty so have to expect it to be a bit rustic. I describe it as rustic luxury.
There was a new four poster bed in the guest room, two antique iron frames pushed together with one custom mattress in the master room and a single bed in the third room. All were very comfortable. All of the bedrooms open on to the terrace which has windows all along it. Only the middle and end windows near the bathroom open.
The bedrooms themselves don't have windows but double doors open onto the terrace. Fans were provided and we managed even in the summer. There are no screens on the windows or mosquito nets so we did need to use electric bug repellents and multiple coils at night.
The sheets and towels and light bedspreads were all cotton. They were basic but adequate. When guests were coming I told them to bring their own towels as there weren't enough and the towels were rough. There was a good washing machine. Unfortunately it and the kitchen dishwasher were not economical and cost us a fortune in utilities.
There was only one bathroom but it was ample for the two of us. The bathroom was all new modern white and chrome fixtures with gray slate wall and floor tiles which was very nice. Like many European bathrooms it had a bathtub with a shower head and no shower curtain so the water sprayed everywhere. In the end we gave up and only had baths. If we had to rinse off we did it sitting down. I normally hate baths but it was the most comfortable bath I've ever used.
The kitchen had very nice appliances, dishwasher, big refrigerator, oven/stove. There were ample dishes/glasses and cutlery. I bought a few extra utensils which are almost universally lacking in all vacation rentals including pot holders and tea towels and place-mats to protect the table.
We loved the big wooden dining table with bench stools. It was the center of the house for us and where we spent most of our mornings and many afternoons and evenings writing, chatting, entertaining. The big picture window nearby looked out over the hills and lovely fresh breezed came in their in the afternoons.
Problems or Bonuses
The Internet service was not great. We needed the Internet to keep our business going. We had to replenish the service which was only 100 hours a month for €30. It was insufficient for our needs to run a business as we were charged in 15 minute increments and only a few hours a day. I made this very clear and were told we would have full service.
The owners were on holidays for most of our stay. So in the summer you must be self-sufficient. They were available by email every few days if required. We did have one emergency where the front door locks inexplicably suddenly didn't work and the house could not be locked. The owners were out at sea off southern Italy at the time and as the problem could not be solved by a locksmith we waited in the house for four days until the owner could make it back. We could have left all our belongings unattended but you could also get into their house through our suite and we did not want to be held liable in case of robbery. Every house in the area had iron bars on all their windows so we assumed break ins were common. Although we were told they are not.
The satellite TV was also blown off every time there was a storm and only the owners could climb on the roof to fix it. So for most of our stay we had no TV as paid for. The utilities are very expensive. We paid a €300 deposit which went toward our utilities we were told after arrival. After two months Cid read the meter and told us we had only used about €200 of that. In the third month we were away two weeks and on the last night Cid came to us with a bill of another €300, which at that time meant the utilities were equivalent to $1000. We had to pay her our only cash and the money we'd put aside for our trip to Venice where we were headed for the next three days. This was a terrible shock and I must say ruined our visit to Venice.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
Yes Cid is English but was not on site during our stay. We used to go down to the campground office if we needed assistance in English or to ask questions. Cid did leave printed material. I booked a year in advance. Sometimes my queries and questions went unanswered. The apartment was as advertised in general.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
I loved the house and location. It was very special in many ways. I don't know if I would ever stay again without a car. If you have a car have a small one as the roads are too narrow and the bends too tight for big cars. I wouldn't want to stay up there in winter for sure. You have to be very independent and be prepared to be on your own. Everyone kept to themselves at the house and so you were on your own. You are in the country up a hill and it's for people who like peace and quiet and don't need to be pampered.
Things to do in this area
All the many things available in Chianti and the surrounding region.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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