Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 720: Castello di Proceno, Chiostrino
Apartments and suites in a castle in Proceno, Lazio
October 2003, one week
Proceno is a very small town perched on a hill. It's only barely in Lazio, right at the place where Umbria, the little toe of Tuscany, and Lazio meet. The closest larger town is Acquapendente. You can see Mount Amiata from the town. You can walk from one end of the town to the next in five minutes, and the view is breathtaking from all points. We didn't have a car, but wound up on driving excursions with our hostess to Orvieto, Montepulciano, Montalcino, Chiusi, Pienza, Sovana, Sorano, Ptigliano, Bolsena, Civita di Bagnoregio--easy driving distance to all.
We could roll down our flight of stairs leading from the main street to the bakery 2 doors down. After we did this twice, the woman there had our favorite rolls all ready for us the next day. One of the two small groceries in the town was a few steps in the other direction. If it wasn't open, you could holler up to the shopkeeper and he'd come down and let you in to buy things. The other grocery is also the news stand, and it was about a 2 minute walk. There's one bar for coffee, drinks and panini on the other end of town (5 minutes if you stroll very slowly). Other than that, Castello di Proceno has a great restaurant and entoca open Wed.-Sunday evenings. In the summer they also have a restaurant by the pool, but that was closed while we were there.
Historical, romantic, and full of so many lovely touches and textures - we loved our apartment. Obviously, the owners took great care in furnishing and decorating it with antiques and tasteful complements to them. Everything worked, and everything was spotlessly clean. Clean AND it had a soul. I want to stress how warm and comfy it was, since living in a castle fortress sounds cold and clammy. It was anything but that.
There are seven apartments in all, but they are rennovating more parts of the castle and should have another one or two open soon. Our apartment, Il Chiostrino, was in a part of the castle fortress where there are three other apartments that open on to the same courtyard, although the way it's laid out, you can be in the courtyard while somone else is there and not even know it. The other three apartments are around on the other side of the castle by the pool.
Two of the other apartments on our side were occupied while we were there, but unless we went looking for the occupants, we didn't hear them. Il Chiostrino was as peaceful as it was lovely.
The courtyard is well-landscaped so that although it is shared, there are nooks where one can sit quietly with a book. Il Chiostrino's loggia has been cleverly glassed in to make a kitchen and dining area full of light that looks onto the courtyard. The apartment above us had the same loggia but not glassed in, so they had a lovely private balcony. There were potted red geraniums everywhere, and a lemon tree next to the little table in the courtyard where I sat and read. There was also a cat who came to visit me there every morning. His name was Quatro Calzini. He shared the milk for my coffee.
The pool is a little walk away. We only went there once, just to see the rest of the estate. The restaurant next to it has indoor and outdoor seating in season. Both are surrounded by lush gardens, not manicured, but with big trees and lots of greenery. I noticed lots of flowers that one assumes would bloom in season.
Everything was in great shape, with lovely furnishings like old bureaus and a sideboard, a nice old table, etc. The living room had several big cushy chairs, places to put your feet up after a day of hilltown hiking, and a day bed. It also had a big corner cupboard holding all the dishes that the owner had painted herself. The fireplace is open to both the kitchen (handy for bruscetta!) and the living room. We were supplied with parrafin and firewood and could fetch more ourselves from a big bin tucked in the courtyard a few steps away.
Our bedroom was very pretty, very romantic, and quite comfy (although I still can't get used to the crack in the matrimoniale bed). A window looked out over the valley. There were reading lamps (important to us!). There were so many little personal and thoughtful touches, such as little rugs to step out of bed on, and a framed collage the owner had made herself from bits of things from her attic--lace, paper, ribbons, photos.
The bathroom was just fine. It had a shower stall, plenty of hot water, a bidet, and a hair blower.
The kitchen was fantastic, although we got lazy and had such great meals out that we didn't cook much. It had a 4-burner gas stove, a good double sink, good counter space, a small refrigerator. We had enough dishes to serve 12 if we'd wanted, nice quality. I think there were enough pans to do a full meal. Mostly we used the fireplace bruscetta maker and the espresso pot.
Problems or Bonuses
The best and nicest surprise was our hostess, Cecelia Bisoni ("Pucci"). The castle has been in her family since the Renaissance, and she knows and cares about its history and the history of the region. We booked directly through the website, but during our week there were 2 couples from Canada who had booked their week at Castello di Proceno as part of a package through an agent. Their package included cooking lessons in the late afternoons and daily excursions to hill towns. Pucci invited us to come on any of these excursions we chose, and thus we spent four of our days with her as an expert guide. We negotiated payment for this service separately, and it was very reasonable.
She took us to a tiny winery where they make Brunello, to a museum that was closed but she got us in, to wonderful restaurants, to sights and places she clearly loved. It was extraordinary. She introduced us to so many wonderful people and places. We would have been happy sitting still, but to have the graceful, warm, and wise Pucci as a guide turned out to be the best thing we did our whole month in Italy. She is a gifted storyteller as well as a good listener. She noticed that I was moved by Romanesque cathedrals, and we wound up going to more. She took us to visit a blacksmith for my husband, who is one himself.
On our last day, she invited us into her home in rooms in the castle, took us on a tour of the whole place, and got the key for the Proceno museum, which is also extraordinary - an old palazzo that was a stopping place for a pope, half rennovated, huge frescoed empty rooms, the lower floors with a collection of implements objects donated by the villagers that told us much about the history of everyday life in the area. My favorite was the room full of things women used and wore.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
I booked through the website and dealt directly with Signora Bisoni. She speaks English fluently, and her e-mails were prompt, courteous, and detailed. Her son, Carlo, operates the hunting lodge you can also rent through their site. He picked us up in Orvieto, and he also speaks English fluently.
The reality surpassed our expectations. It was hard to leave.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
Yes, without a moment's hesitation, and in fact we're planning to BRING our best friends when we return next year, with a car to explore more on our own, now that we had such a great orientation. Pucci got me interested in Iris Origo, whom I've been reading, and I'm thinking of combining a return to Proceno with a week at La Foce.
Things to do in this area
Don't miss the Proceno museum! Hill towns galore to explore, vehicle necessary, as the bus from Proceno only goes a couple of times a day to Acquapendente, and from there you have to make connections that seemed way too complicated. Hiking - there's a short trek to a fascinating cemetery below the town, also a trail head somewhere nearby (it rained the day we planned to do that, so we didn't). I was told there's good skiing on Mt. Amiata. There's a place that has horseback riding just down the road from Proceno. There's plenty of Etruscan tomb-crawling in the area too. See Mary Jane's site: www.elegantetruria.com
Restaurants: We went to so many good ones, but my favorite (besides the Castello's entoca) was Trattoria Il Tufo Allegro in Ptigliano, for the fennel tart and the tender gnudi in truffle sauce.
Also great: the restaurant in the Romantica Pucci hotel in Bagnoregio owned by another Pucci and her husband: http://www.hotelromanticapucci.it/
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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