Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 5141: Rentvillas, Palazzo Santa Croce - Giorgionne
3bed/2.5bath apartment near the Bargello, Florence
Sept 22 thru Sept 29, 2011, 7 nighrts
This apartment was located just east of the Bargello, at the intersection of via Vigna Vecchia and via dei Stinche. The location was perfect: close enough to the center to make everything convenient, but just far enough away from any busy piazza or street that would have been too noisy. Having said that, still bring ear plugs. The area has every possible shop needed within easy walking distance: restaurants, gelati, caffe, pharmacy, banks (BNL very close) , grocers small and bigger, bottle shops, souvenirs, jewelry, 99 cent store, Sant'Ambrogio market, etc.
The building had about eight apartments total and they appeared to all be rentals. There were a total of three terraces. Our apartment was on the top floor (small elevator available) and had a huge private terrace with incredible 300 degree views. Seeing the Duomo and Santa Croce lit up at night makes your heart stop. The other two smaller terraces I believe are accessible to the rest of the apartments.
The name of our apartment was listed in different ways from different sources. The agency we used called it Giorgione Santa Croce, but it is also known as the Fiesole. When you read the various advertisements and reviews about this building it gets confusing because the separate apartments seem to be lumped together. For example, we were expecting to share the terrace, but ours was private. We could see the other two below us and they are probably communal. Also one review said they liked having the drying rack and we could not find one, but did see it down on one of the other terraces.
Vivoli Gelato is so close if you were on crutches it would still be easy to reach. They open early and have delicious caffe as well as alcohol available. There is a tiny grocer in front of Vivoli. And every direction you can possible turn there is an incredible amount of osterias, trattorias, pizzerias, wine bars in the immediate area. A major grocer, Billa, is maybe a three minute walk away. Because of some mobility issues in our group, we used taxis from time to time, but the whole city is accessible by foot from this apartment. The Brancacci Chapel was the furthest and if we had walked there without browsing, it would have taken 30 minutes. (As it was, it took us two hours). I don't think it is possible to have a better location.
You actually cannot drive within the historical center and having a car would be a nightmare (even though the Bargello Garage is right behind the apartment) it is within the ZTL and parking is €40 easy. But everything is so close it is just quicker to walk.
From other postings I gather that the building does have a historical background, something about it being 600 years old and related to one of the Medicis (Cosimo I grew up there?) It was in fabulous shape: clean, neat, well maintained, good quality furniture, plenty of seating, nice bathrooms. The entry hall and staircase is a pleasure to view in itself. Very grand and majestic. I don't think anyplace in Florence is truly peaceful, but there was not any horrible racket since it was not on a major piazza nor on a major street. But sound carries easily to the top floor and the weather was so beautiful we slept with the windows open, so I used earplugs. The others didn't and mostly complained about the noise their roommate made, not the street noise so much.
The buildings in Florence are crowded together and the neighboring buildings are right there, so close your shades when dressing/undressing! This apartment building has about eight apartments, all seem to be rentals. The rooms are of excellent size and our layout was good. I believe some posts complained about the terrace access was through the top bedroom, but our group of six women did not find that to be an issue. If you are sleeping in that room though, your companions, if they stay up later than you do, will interfere with your sleep. I just switched rooms with one of the night owls.
The cleanliness of the details (floor boards, corners, baths, sills etc) as well as general cleanliness was excellent. The paint was in pleasing condition, no wear and tear showing (it is advertised as 'not suitable for students'). There were plenty of towels, blankets, hangers, chairs, eating utensils.
The floor plan was like this: you entered into a large combined living and dining room with a desk, fireplace and three windows. (The natural light in this apartment was fabulous). To the right was a short hall off of which was the kitchen, fist right, a twin bedded bedroom, first left, a full bath, second right, then the second left was a double bedded bedroom with private full bath with tub/shower.
Each first level bedroom had huge wardrobes. The private bath and kitchen had big electrically operated skylight (like I said, the natural lighting was fabulous). The daylight in the kitchen almost required sunglasses. The appliances were a surprise: big fridge and oven and dishwasher. A good clothes washer (didn't bother with the dryer cycle - easier to hang to dry). Double stainless sink with cool overhead drying rack and a side draining area. Also there was a microwave, American coffee pot and a Moka, toaster. Why is it groups always congregate in the kitchen? No different here. Although it was small there was a table for four and wall storage shelves and we all managed to be in it most mornings: sitting, cooking, washing dishes or clothes.
Back to the front entrance: making an immediate right U-turn takes you to a staircase to the third twin bedded bedroom with a half bath. This bedroom was inadequate as far as closets goes: there was no place to hang anything, although there was an okay amount of drawers.
You can view the property directly: Palazzo Santa Croce - Giorgione.
We chose this rental because it did have a terrace. In September we expected (and received) beautiful weather and searched for a rental that had it. Wow. Was it worth it. I cried the first night we arrived and saw the view from the terrace: the lights were illuminating the Palazzo Vecchio, the Bargello, the Duomo; you could see the twinkling lights in the hills going up to Fiesole; the verde gris green dome of the Sinogoga was right there; and Santa Croce Church is magnificent in the glow of the lights on its elegant facade. The bronze David is almost visible way across the Arno (you have to use your imagination and know where to look) but San Miniato is very regal right next to the Piazzale. Sigh. For the rest of our lives these sights we will remember. I got up at dawn the first morning to see what it all looked like in the light and was surprised to see a light haze of fog? Mist? Shrouding all the buildings. Then in full daylight the blue sky was dazzling as a back drop to these buildings. I always thought in the guide books the photographers photo-shopped the brilliant blue skies. They don't. Those skies are real.
Oh, yeah, our terrace was private with a large drop leaf table and two chaise loungers. This terrace must have been 40 x 40? Maybe bigger. The other two terraces visible to us below I believe are shared, and smaller, maybe the size of a two car garage. Plenty of room for all to enjoy. The lower terraces would not have as dramatic of a view as our top terrace, but still nothing to sneeze at.
The furniture was in very good shape and there was plenty of available seating. And the style was comfortable and complementary to the apartment. There were neutral but lovely pieces of art hung appropriately on the walls. All in all it looked like an apartment someone would actually live in, not just something furnished with hand me downs, good enough for tourists.
As mentioned before the cleanliness was exceptional and above average. No 'icky' feeling at all.
There was two love seats facing each other and a full sofa in the living area, all facing the fireplace (which we did not use - it was hot and humid!). There was wireless available in the apartment and a desk to set up the computer. The dining table had chairs for six and the kitchen had chairs for four. Each bedroom had at least one upholstered chair and one even had a nice vanity.
The overall roominess of the apartment was very pleasing.
The beds were firm and the consensus was that they were comfortable. The linens were exceptional, almost luxurious (open to interpretation, but better than I have at home), The first level bedrooms were more livable than the top floor bedroom but there was nothing wrong with any of them. It was a real treat having two full bathrooms as well as the half bath, but as is typical the showers could not run concurrently. We got good at timing the running of the water after the first night.
The bathrooms were spare and modern, with bidets and showers in the two full baths. There was a little decorative accent tile, enough to add a little charm, but nothing special. The towels were generous sized and of surprising thickness. No complaints there. In fact a sister said she wanted to get some that size for home (there were hand towel sizes and a bath size as well as what could be called a bath sheet).
The kitchen was all white with molded wood cabinets and overall good quality of finishes, appliances and pots and pans. We cooked minimally there and did not miss anything, but the wine opener gave out on us so we purchased another one at the Billa grocery. We had a chef come to the apartment to cook us a meal (fun! and eating out on the terrace!) and there seemed to be enough of everything to prepare a four course meal. I was surprised at the weightiness of the flatware and the pots and pans. These were not cheap, thin metal pieces. Very substantial.
Problems or Bonuses
Good surprises: size of terrace; privacy of terrace; quality of all the furnishings and finishes; the absolute perfection of location; the incredible views from the terrace; size of rooms and baths. The availability in immediate area of all kinds of shopping and eating and drinking.
Bad surprises: lack of clothes drying rack; no broom or dust pan to clean up (we were there eight days and dust and crumbs and hair just collects); no comparable clothes storage in third, upper level bedroom.
Sky lights: we were unsure of how to operate. Finally found the (obvious) switch close to the light switches. Duh.
Mosquitoes: came prepared with the battery operated Off! mosquito repellents from WalMart and although we slept with the windows open, we only had to use them a few nights. Had read from other posts that they can be horrible. I think our timing was just right: we were there September 21 through September 29.
Weather: warmer than expected therefore used the washer more than expected. washer worked great. Drying rack would have been nice.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
Okay, we really liked Barbara and Rent Villas. There are different sources to rent these apartments from, but this group was polite, professional and organized. Upon final payment we received a classy brochure with our receipts and instructions as well as two books written by the owner of Rent Villas on Living in Italy. It had a multitude of hints and resources. Like where to find the chefs that will come to the apartment and cook a meal. And don't touch the produce in the markets. And what is different in Italy vs the US (just because it is different doesn't make it better, or worse. Just different). And what is regulated by the government and not just a quirk of the apartment owner. Etc.
The on site people, the key holder, were reported by the members of our group that met him, to be polite, courteous, helpful and spoke English. No complaints.
The photos published on the Rentvillas website were actually less attractive than reality. So we were pleased with our choice when we viewed the website and really pleased after arrival. I think there could have been more photos than there were, but there were enough. The reviews from guests on their Rentvillas website were very helpful and worth reading, both to reassure ourselves that we made the right choice and to get info on the area.
We paid $4334 for eight nights for six people for the three bedroom, 2 1/2 bath, private terrace apartment, approximately 1100-1200 square feet, during the end of high season (the end of September). We had a much cheaper apartment picked out on Anguillara, one street over, but we really, really wanted access to a terrace. The quality of this apartment and that terrace was worth every penny.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
Honestly, we all told each other through out our whole stay, "Isn't this incredible; aren't we lucky to have chosen this place; we did good; this place was worth it." Any of us would recommend this to any of our friends or family.
On this trip we also spent two nights at a B&B right on Piazza della Signoria that we also absolutely loved (we were so lucky in our lodging choices) but staying on a busy piazza has its drawbacks, as well as pluses. This apartment was great. We would all stay there again, and if this same group of people get together and do another trip to Florence, I'm sure we would all choose this apartment again, if it was available, if we could still afford it.
Regarding the elevator: the stairs were numerous and some were quite steep and beyond the abilities of two people in our group. The elevator was a blessing. The rest of us were too claustrophobic to use the elevator and told ourselves that taking the stairs would allow us that extra gelato or glass of wine. But we did send our luggage, and groceries up and down the elevator. It was a reliable asset to staying on the top floor of the apartment.
Things to do in this area
The Billa grocery (wow was it busy!) was just around the corner off Ghibellina and we went there several times. The wine costs were wonderful. We were having DOCG sparking wines for €6 and splurged on a red wine, also DOCG, for €13 and they were great. At restaurant meals we were spending €28per bottle of similar quality.
We had a cooking class with Mariangela (www.lestanzedisantacroce.com) that was unforgettable. She is so instructive, about the market, the origin of the foods and the actual cooking of the meal, that it is a good thing we had Uffizi reservations, or she would never had gotten rid of us! If you can, we all highly recommend doing her cooking class. She is great and so good with all the different personalities of our group. You meet at Sant'Ambrogio market and then walk to her kitchen at her B&B (which is just north of the Santa Croce Church: when you step out of her establishment, you see the side entrance of the church so it is very close to the Giorgione apartment).
As far as a restaurant experience that you will not forget, try Sostanza-Troia. It is actually in the Ognissanti/Santa Maria Novella neighborhood on Porcellana. We chose it because we wanted an 'authentic' bistecca fiorentina, which was delicious, but it was upstaged by the Chicken in Butter (...something, something...pollo con burro... on the menu). Read the reviews on Chowhound. Thank you Chowhound and SlowTrav and Trip Advisor. We will never eat chicken again without pining for Sostanza's pollo con burro ... oh, my...
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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