Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 507: Owner, Convento di Novole
apartments on estate near Cortona, Tuscany East
March, 2003, 1 week
Conveno di Novole is about a 15 minute drive from Cortona. It is perched on the side of a mountain, down a steep unpaved driveway. At night, one can see the lights of Cortona and Caumcia, but you cannot hear anything except owls and a gentle stream. The locations is beautiful. We were there in early March and the daffodils were out, the owners have two horses who grazed peacefully nearby, and the morning sun cast a gorgeous glow on the fields and stone buildings. Oh, and did I mention STARS??? It is incredible in the evenings.
You must have a car to stay at Convento di Novole. It is close to all amenities -- a 10 minute drive to Montanare where there are basic supplies, and 15 minutes to Cortona and Camucia where there is a large grocery store, train station, and internet access. The road out of Cortona/Camucia is steep up into the mountains, then when you reach the Novole driveway, it is a gravel/stone driveway that winds steeply down through the woods.
The buildings are historic. The entire set-up is a former convent, designed to be away from it all. The owner does some small scale olive oil production and they have horses. It's very woodsy. The family lives in the main house. Three rentals are in an adjacent building. Seperate entrances. We had opted for the mid-sized one, the chapel, but apparently there were plumbing problems in there, so we were given the "small cottage" which was wood stove heated and charming. LOTS of steps between levels. Not good for people with weak knees or any physical disabilities.
The woodstove situation could be improved upon. It was hard to get lighted, though the owners son showed us "diavoli" (little fire starters) which we bought more of in town. Ample wood outside, though you are charged for it at the end as with most rentals. It was a chore to get the fire lit when we'd come in at night and slow to warm up the house.
Outside was rapture! We looked off a mountainside down at olive trees, woods, horses, and wildflowers. A great place to sit. There are a couple of other places for sitting, though I wonder if other renters wouldn't have gravitated to this one spot as well. There is a varied assortment of barn cats and two dogs who we found very friendly, but if you have allergies, be aware they are in evidence and more than happy to charge into the rental with you. The command "fuori" will induce the dogs to leave if one slips in with you.
The furniture was eclectic. In our rental, there were three kitchen chairs, then up some steps to the bathroom and dressing level -- all stone. Then up some more stairs to a living room with fireplace where we didn't sit much. The furniture in there consisted of 2 straight backed arm chairs and a futon-esque daybed with pillows. Then up from the living room (more stairs) to the loft bed which was essentially a mattress on the loft platform and an antique straight backed chair as a night stand. Because the place was chilly, we actually spent most of our social time in the kitchen (near the stove) with good wine and made simple dinners.
The bed platform was utilitarian. Great light in the mornings from little shuttered windows in the massive stone walls. The mattress could use replacing sooner rather than later, but was sleepable. Great sheets and down comforters.
The bathroom was large, and two of us could do our "morning routines" without tripping over each other. The shower stall had a curtain around it and had good water pressure. A couple of mornings, we experienced sudden waves of cold water when someone in the house would run hot water, but having grown up in an old New England house, I was no stranger to this! The floors in here are cold stone and tile. We bought thin sponge mats about 2 feet square at the grocery store and put them down in front of the shower and in front of the bidet. BRING SLIPPER SOCKS WITH YOU!!!
Kitchen was typical Italian agritourismo rental. All in all, it was servicable, small, and rustic. The good feature was there was a gas oven! Fridge was small but adequate. Sponges provided were dirty, so I bought more. Bought kitchen soap as well. There was some left behind coffee, tea, salt, pepper, sugar. Adequate pans and dishes. Nothing fancy. They did have one of those bi-level silver coffee pots --(I think of them as French) and their son showed me how to use it and how to boil milk in another for morning caffe con latte. I have since bought one and brought the technology home!
Problems or Bonuses
The surprise was the quiet pastoral setting. We saw so many bucolic "looking" agritoutismo places that we had considered -- but in reality, they were placed right at the edges of busy roads which would have driven us crazy with the noise of constant traffic. This was so peaceful -- so ancient -- so perfectly rural country Italian. The best surprise of all was the courtyard at night with a glass of wine.... Millions of stars and no noise! The driveway is in horrrid shape. Be glad you have a rental car and not your own. The bad surprise was how cold the place was in early March and how much energy I had to expend in getting it warm at night when we'd return from a day of touring.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
Stefania, the owner, and her ex-husband Luciano run the place together with their two teenaged children, a son who is in university who speaks excellent English and a daughter who is younger and shy. They were friendly but not intrusive. I wish there had been some reading material in the rental with recommendations for local ammenities and restaurants. I may e-mail her about that. Stefania was not there to say welcome or good-bye, but did come by and share some of her olive oil with us, allowed us use of her washing machine (no dryer) and the phone. She is very laid back - very laid back. Her English is fair. When Stefania is not there (weekends?) Luciano and his new wife and baby are.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
Yes, I would consider staying here again. I loved the location. The price was fair and the privacy was wonderful. In reality, though, I will probably move to another place just because there are so many places to try. You must have a rental car to stay here. Bus service is virtually non-existent on the Cortona-Mercatale road.
Things to do in this area
Be aware Cortona is a hill town, so the trains don't run from Cortona. You can get fast trains closeby at Terontola or Camucia for Florence and other points. Free parking. You don't want a car in Florence or Perugia. Siena was an hour by car though beautiful countryside. Assisi was about an hour.
Cortona has limited traffic and you must park outside the city and walk in. We had dinner twice at a great friendly place called Fufluns. Park at Pza. Gribaldi and follow signs! Most people are greeted as friends. Lots of kissing and welcoming chatter. We found it very comforting when we came in the second time with a reservation to be greeted as family.
We did day trips and toured the loop of wine country from Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino one day. Don't miss Brunello wine, but buy it at the grocery store for 26 euro to bring home with you because at the duty free places its 39 euro!!! (The 5 euro bottles of red are wonderful too!!!) One great lovely surprise was the Benedictine Abbey at Monte Oliveta. Talk about peaceful.
We also caught a great photography exhibit in Asciano by Letizia Battaglia a Sicilian feminist who is fighting the mafia in her own courageous way. Stop whenever there is something local on exhibit and really enter into Italian life as it is today. You will be welcomed and encouraged. Buon viaggio!
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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