Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 635: TuscanHouse, Benincasa
1bed/1bath apartment in Montepulciano, Tuscany South
May 2003, 1 week
Benincasa is on the third floor of the Palazzo Benincasa, on the ridgetop in Montepulciano. The location was gorgeous - with windows on three sides, there are views across the rooftops of Montepulciano as far as Lake Trasimeno in the east (when weather permits), to the west down to San Biagio church and the Tuscan countryside to the west, across the Piazza San Francesco and - with a bit of a lean - across to Montefollonico to the north. Being in town, other buildings are close by but walls are very thick and we heard nothing from other dwellings. Although Benincasa is on a main street at the top of Montepulciano, being largely car-free, noise was not an issue.
Being somewhat oriented to the wine tasting and tourist trade, Montepulciano is extremely well-equipped with cantine for buying wine (including on on the first floor, beneath Benincasa) and has the usual assortment of bars for coffee. For groceries, there are a at least a couple of alimentari within walking distance as well as large modern grocery store just into the new part of town, to the south. It is walkable as well but as it entails ascending back to Benincasa with purchases, probably best done in a car. There are many choice for restaurants.
Benincasa is located in the third floor of a 16th century palazzo. The ground floor is occupied by a cantina; the rest of the building divided into perhaps half a dozen apartments. The building is in excellent condition. The Benincasa apartment itself is really a work of art - featured in several Italian architecture magazines (we were told), you have the traditional Tuscan floor of terra-cotta pavers and, being on the top floor, very high ceilings that are the underside of a medieval roof built with huge hand-hewn timbers and terra-cotta tile. The owners obviously had a decorator's touch - the furnishings more Danish than Italian, bits of bright color livening things up, bits of art or antiques scattered about, even the kitchen appliances artfully concealed behind panels.
There was no outside sitting area but there is a sitting area inside, well situated for watching life go by below.
The furniture was mostly in good shape - there was one dining chair we were warned away from, I can't remember why. But since there were only two of us and the place was built to accomodate at least six for meals, that wasn't an issue. Benincasa is large (over 800 square feet) and fully furnished with sofas and chairs for lounging in, as well as the dining table and chairs. I would say cleanliness was not quite up to squeaky-clean hotel standards but more than adequate. The living area is equipped with stereo and TV with VCR, even CDs and tapes to put in them - although it helps to appreciate The Simpsons in Italian ;^)
The single bedroom is equipped with a very comfortable queen sized bed with down comforter. The bathroom was well done, too, with up-to-date fixtures and a shower (no bath).
The kitchen was completely usable (and we did) with refrigerator, oven and gas cooktop. It was fully equipped with decent pots and pans and plenty of dishes. Appliances were small as they often are in Europe but completely serviceable (except for one burner on the cooktop that had to be lit with a match - broken igniter). Another useful feature located with the other appliances in the kitchen: a clothes washer. No dryer but with the cross breezes on the third floor, clothes were dry overnight anyway, hung on the supplied drying racks.
Problems or Bonuses
Benincasa looked perfect for us on the Internet and it was. Probably not good for kids being in town, no pool, on the third floor without an elevator. But for a couple looking for a good homebase in south central Tuscany, perfect - especially for those who love the wine that is so abundantly available in Montepulciano. Our only real complaint (and it wasn't a big problem) was mentioned before: the hot water. As is customary in European residences, Benincasa as an on-demand hot water heater rather than a big tank. That can result in uneven shower temperatures and in our case the device broke altogether during our visit. The owner was very helpful though (as he was throughout our visit) and someone was there to fix it within the hour, despite it being late evening.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
Zak from TuscanHouse was excellent. The package of literature he provided was very comprehensive, including some appreciated small touches like a phone card to contact the owner the day of our arrival. His list of suggested Tuscan restaurants (available at the website) pointed us in the direction of several excellent meals. The owner spoke excellent English and was more than helpful in all respects, even helping us find our car when we became confused navigating Montepulciano's maze of streets on our arrival.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
I would recommend that anyone looking for a home base in south-central Tuscany consider Montepulciano in general and Benincasa in particular - again, really only appropriate for a couple, although the cooking and dining facilities would certainly support entertaining others staying nearby.
Things to do in this area
As a single base for exploring south and central Tuscany and west Umbria, Montepulciano is well located for making day trips. San Gimignano and Siena to the north, Spello and Assisi to the east, in Umbria and Orvieto to the south are all within an hour and half's drive or so; Lake Trasimeno and Perugia, Pienza and Montalcino, the towns and countryside of Chianti and the rest of central Tuscany are even closer. For a rustic/authentic Tuscan dining experience in Montepulciano itself, we particularly enjoyed one of Zak's recommendations, Acquacheta, just downhill from the Piazza Grande. One of our best dining experiences and certainly best bargains also came from Zak's list, I Poggioli in Buonconvento - fine dining at ordinary prices. Buonconvento is not at the top of many tourist lists although it has a pretty main street. I Poggioli by itself makes it worth a stop, though.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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