Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 5660: Sterling Properties Northwest Italy, Casa Giorgione (Castello di Strambino)
8bed/6bath castle in Strambino, Piemonte
August 2013, 2 weeks
The villa (castle) sits in, but a bit above, the town of Strambino, a medium-size town in the Canavese, 45 km by toll highway from Torino. Strambino is a lovely town with all needed amenities - food, shopping, great restaurants, a wonderful gelato store - and a train station with hourly regional service to Turin. A car is strongly recommended though if you want to tour the region.
We stayed here purposely as it was close to Candia, where my friends and I competed in the World Masters Games the second week of our stay. We loved the whole area - less than an hour's drive to Torino, to Aosta, to Langhe/Barolo and environs.
The villa and its lovely large grounds are behind a locked gate at the top of a narrow lane, but walking distance (2 minutes) from the center of town. We walked to a nearby high-end restaurant, for gelato, to the recycling bins. We drove 5 minutes to the nearest Coop grocery store, 8 minutes to our favorite pizzeria, 20 minutes to a nearby wine producer. With a car, the location couldn't be better. Traffic was very manageable on local roads as well as the toll road to Torino or the mountains.
In Strambino, do eat at C'era Una Volta (Once Upon a Time). The young chefs are magnificent at preparing local Piedmont specialties. Visit Il gelato in giardino daily - or twice a day - or as often as you like. La Favorita restaurant has great pizza and seafood and is a casual place for families when you don't want to cook.
But by all means, your first stop should be the Cantina Sociale della Serra in Piverone to stock up on fabulous €3 (yes, $5.00) bottles of exquisite local wine. This is a local cooperative winery which makes wine for all the local growers. It's less than 20 minutes from Strambino. Sure wish I'd stuck a case or six of that into my luggage. Can't get anything like it here.
The property was a former Savoy royal palace, used on the court's annual travels to collect taxes from its subjects. The habitable part of the villa is from the 17th century, built onto several earlier castles from the 14th and 11th centuries (lovely ruins, not accessible). The current owners live onsite and only rent the property once or twice per year. The rest of the time they keep it available for their three sons and families. The rent-able portion is renovated where needed (kitchens, baths, electricity, pool), original where possible, and absolutely exquisite throughout. Portraits of many dead Savoys, wall and ceiling murals everywhere, decorative painting on the external stucco walls, and many other original features made it lovely, but the "mod cons" made it comfortable.
Free WiFi worked best in the center of the house near the owners' router, as the stone walls were too thick for the signal to penetrate to the far reaches of the castle. But the owner went out and bought a MiFi device to make sure we had enough coverage.
We were a group of 12 - two families of four and two couples - and we each had separate bedroom and bath quarters far away from each other. Most of the suites had sitting rooms as well. There were two huge formal salons, two large indoor dining rooms, an internal courtyard where we ate all our at-home meals, a large kitchen. We had full use of a Miele washing machine and plenty of lines for hanging out clothes.
All the plumbing worked perfectly, there was always hot water, all kitchen appliances and the BBQ worked well. All electrical outlets worked. All bedrooms were supplied with the Vape mosquito plug-ins and refills, as well as fans (no air conditioning of course). We were encouraged to close the shutters during the days, but at night temps were still very warm for sleeping (for Canadians, anyway).
Each family was given a key and a gate fob so we could come and go independently.
You can view the property directly: Casa Giorgione.
There was an incredible large, well-maintained pool in the front walled garden with a pool house which had a kitchen, propane BBQ and full bath. Needless to say, at 38C temps, we all spent a lot of time there. There was a large vegetable garden and fruit trees, grape and kiwi arbors. The front drive was long and winding, arriving at a gorgeous large lawn with ample parking near the side entrance (which goes through the original 17th century kitchen with its man-high fireplace). There is a well-maintained grass tennis court as well, which we didn't use. In addition to the pool area, there were outdoor patio spaces with more tables and chairs for comfortable lounging. La vita doesn't get more dolce than this!
All the furniture was in good shape, much of it obviously antique but well-maintained. All rooms and baths were very clean. How they maintained that, I have no idea, but there was no dust, no crumbling plaster, no cobwebs, clean windows - everything was perfect. The courtyard where we ate was also swept and clean, with numerous tables and chairs for comfortable al fresco dining (and a Foosball table for the kids). There would have been plenty of room for us all to eat indoors around a big dining table, but the weather was too nice for that.
The giant salons were filled with family memorabilia, tastefully displayed, not cluttered. We were encouraged to look around at everything. There were also smaller rooms - libraries and a play room, as well as private sitting rooms near the bedrooms - so there was lots of space to spread out for privacy. The libraries had many books in many languages, and a stack of original Life magazines (European edition) from 1945 on. It was fascinating to see the post-war photographs.
The beds got mostly good reviews - harder than we were used to but not saggy. Pillows were also hard but adequate. Linens were clean and nice, but not over the top luxurious. There were six full baths and one half bath in the house, plus a full bath in the pool house, all of which were clean, spacious and fully functional with an assortment of tubs, including a claw-footed one, sinks, showers, toilets and bidets. Plenty of towels were provided, and the owners gave us free access to their linen cupboard if we needed anything else.
The kitchen had a 48" six-burner commercial stove/oven with hood, a dishwasher, a decent-sized fridge, a microwave, a pantry, dishes and cutlery for at least 24, all the pots and pans we could use. There was adequate surface space for food prep. The only thing missing was a decent chef's knife or two, but that's usual in a rental, as I'm sure better ones walk off. There were cooking knives, just not good sharp ones. We cooked often for 12 or 15 of us (we had jealous friends staying elsewhere who dropped by for meals as often as they could). Everyone competed to turn out great meals with the fantastic ingredients.
Problems or Bonuses
This wonderful place surpassed all our expectations, though I had read all the descriptions and scoured the web for additional photos. The most wonderful surprise was the friendliness and generosity of our hosts. The night we arrived, they invited us for wine on the patio, answered all our questions, seemed very interested in us and our competition, showed us all around the property. They made us feel very welcome. Other days, they joined us in the pool or asked how our days had gone. One day, they made a lunch for all of us plus the agency owner and another friend and served it in the courtyard. I was completely overwhelmed by their hospitality. It was also wonderful to meet the agency owner, who is a friend of theirs.
Since I had organized this for my family and my rowing friends, I have to admit I was hugely relieved it all worked out so well. I don't know how I could ever exceed the success of this venture!
And one other bonus - the gelato store owner in Strambino is an American formerly from Brooklyn. As we stumbled through our first order in Italian, she spoke up in a broad Brooklyn accent and asked what we would have. Then laughed and said "bet you weren't expecting that here, were you?" We became friends, she gave us lots of local tips.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
Sterling Properties is a wonderful small agency, owned by an American (Anne Sterling) who has lived in Turin for many years. Piedmont is harder to find villa rentals in than Tuscany, so I was delighted to find her advertisement here on SlowTrav. She only list properties where she knows the owners personally. Anne also loves to help her customers with any services they might need. She helped me organize a group meal at a high-end restaurant in Strambino (the chef spoke no English). While we were in Italy, she also organized small bus tours for other groups. She can provide or hunt down most any service you might need (personal chef, spa services, etc.) Thanks to our hostess, I was able to enjoy a meal with Anne and she even tried to come watch some of our races, though the timing didn't work out.
The property description on her website was 100% accurate, she was very professional, responded immediately to all my emails. I felt secure sending her our advance payments (we paid 50% on booking and 50% three months in advance.) We did not have to pay a separate damage deposit in this case, I'm not sure that's always true.
I recommend her agency and her services very very highly. Everything was handled just right. Thanks to her, we had possibly the very best vacation of our lives to date. I intend to return to Piedmont as soon as I can and will definitely do business with Sterling Properties again.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
I wish the owners would adopt me so I would never have to leave. I would go back tomorrow. In fact, if I could, I wouldn't vacation anywhere else the rest of my life. It was that good.
Sadly, folks, it's already booked for next summer by a group of Australians. I booked it for my group 18 months in advance. Since they only rent it once per year, it could be hard to get into ... but I trust Anne to find me something comparable next time I go.
Things to do in this area
Torino - we didn't spend enough time here as we were busy with our racing. But we did visit four times for part of a day. It was an easy drive. Did some shopping, had a good meal, great gelato, and walked around enough to know we have to come back soon. We also went to Eataly, which is highly recommended if you like great Italian food, both as ingredients and ready-made.
Candia - was the town nearest our race venue. They had a street festival one night, with local food suppliers, wineries, honey and liqueur purveyors, restaurant stands, music, skits and dancing. We enjoyed that town.
Langhe tour - we did a day-long driving tour of Cherasco, Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba and Neive. Easy drive, lots of time to stop and eat or drink. Cherasco was our favorite stop of the day , and La Rosa Rossa is a top restaurant pick there. We had a wonderful lunch there on a very quiet Sunday.
We spent lots of time just relaxing at the villa and making the easy drive to and from the lake for our rowing regatta. That was the best part of the trip. After our two weeks, we drove out to France via Aosta, stayed one night near Chamonix, then flew out of Geneva after boosting our geek cred with a visit to CERN. That was also an easy drive (four hours over two days), and a nice slow way to end our Slow Travel style vacation.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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