Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 670: La Bella Toscana, Apartment Viola
1bed/1bath in San Gimignano, Tuscany West
April 2003, 1 week
Apartment Viola is located in the heart of San Gimignano, directly off of the Piazza Cisterna. It's about a 2-3 minute walk from Porta San Giovanni, the entrance to the walled town of San Gimignano.
Although the apartment was centrally located, it is part of a larger house that is gated and quite quiet.
The nearest supermarket is the COOP located outside the city walls. It's about a 10 minute walk to the market, but it is fully stocked and you can find anything there. There are also numerous little shops around San Gimignano, where you can find wine (the famed vernaccia everywhere), cheese, meats, and of course lots of gelato and other desserts.
Restaurants are bountiful. San Gimignano is known as a tourist town, so there are lots of restaurants, though some are expensive -- perhaps overly so -- and they can get crowded. Outdoor cafe seating can be at a particular premium.
The building is historical and is part of a larger "compound." Apartment Viola is located on the ground level, and there is another rental apartment upstairs. The two sisters who own the property live in the main house, though I was told that they are not always there. However, they were present during my stay.
The apartment is in good shape, though not as clean or spacious as Le Antiche Mura, which is also managed by La Bella Toscana. For the price, I would choose Le Antiche Mura. However, we booked Apt. Viola on short notice (after deciding to stay in Tuscany for an additional week), and it was worth it.
There is a nice courtyard in front of the apartment. There are lots of potted plants as well as a trellis. The sisters do ask Apt. Viola residents to water the plants for them. This wasn't a problem for me -- I enjoyed the garden, particularly the fresh sage and rosemary to use at dinner!
Although the courtyard is private, it does lead to the entrance of the main house as well as the upstairs apartment. The upstairs apartment has an outdoor balcony that looks down on the courtyard, so it can feel as if people are looking down on you.
Nevertheless, spend time looking down at the view -- you can see the city walls from the garden. If you look up, you'll find that you're practically at the base of one of the medieval towers.
The furniture was fine -- a little dated, but well-kept. The living room was decorated with cute homemade crafts. There are two cushioned chairs in the living room, along with a bench and a china hutch that holds most of the pots and pans.
The apartment was clean, considering the owners had only two days' notice to prepare the apartment before we arrived.
The bed was comfortable. Apt. Viola is a self-catering apartment, so we made the bed up ourselves.
There is one bathroom in the apartment. It has an old-fashioned shower -- there is no divider between the shower and the rest of the bathroom tile, so the bathwater drains directly into the floor. There is a towel heater, which was great in the chilly mornings.
The kitchen was small but servicable. The pans showed signs of wear and tear (eg, the Teflon had worn off most of them) but they were still usable. There was also a stovetop espresso maker that we put to good use. The apartment has a gas stove. Unfortunately, the gas detector in the kitchen is *extremely* sensitive; sometimes it went off even when we weren't cooking, or when we weren't even in the kitchen! When the alarm goes off, the gas is automatically turned off and you must reset it by using a switch located outside in the courtyard. We reported this to the owners, who mentioned again that the alarm was sensitive and that candles or perfume could set it off. Eventually we grew tired of the alarm going off and limited our dinners mostly to pasta and antipasti.
Problems or Bonuses
The gas alarm (see above) was a bit of a problem, but the owners were very helpful in trying to resolve it.
The apartment is attached to another property by a door at the end of the main hallway. The owners are careful to tell you never to open this door.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
La Bella Toscana was extremely professional, friendly, and helpful. The owner is British, so speaks both English and Italian. The agency representative who met us was a resident of San Gimignano, so made recommendations about where to shop and dine. La Bella Toscana also includes maps, transportation information, and other tips in a folder that awaits you when you arrive at the property.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
For the price (I paid 334 Euro during Easter week), I would recommend staying at Apt. Viola. However, I would recommend that if you want to stay inside the city walls, try to reserve Le Antiche Mura first. For the money, you get a much bigger property and overall nicer accommodations.
We spent two full weeks in San Gimignano and used it as a jumping-off point to make day trips to Siena, Florence, and other areas. Although seasoned travelers may decry San Gimignano's touristy reputation, as a first-time visitor to Europe and as a traveler without the benefit of a rental car, San Gimignano was a great taste of Tuscany.
Things to do in this area
Chiribiri, a family-run trattoria located off the Piazza della Madonna, was our favorite restaurant. Their pumpkin ravioli was divine! The staff were very friendly, and quickly recognize your face if you return more than once.
We had great fun walking along the vineyards outside the city walls. The medieval fountain (follow the Porta delle Fonti) is an intriguing bit of history. The Piazzas are also fun to explore, as is the old Roman Road, where you are treated to a silhouetted view of San Gimignano's skyline.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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