Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 722: Owner, La Torre Dei Venti
apartment outside of Cortona, Tuscany East
October, 2003, one week
La Torre Dei Venti is just outside of Cortona. To get there from the town, you walk through the park, a short way on the winding road leading to the park, then down a long gravel private road.
It was pretty, with cypress trees lining the drive and a view over the valley, but we found out why it is called La Torre Dei Venti: it's windy. The valley funnels in all the wind and seems to focus it on this house. One morning, it blew a gale.
The house is just down the road from the Under the Tuscan Sun House, and occasionally a tourist looking for it blundered down our way. The bulding is pretty far away from others, so you feel secluded, but this is qualified (in our experience, a lot) by the owner living above you. You can hear her talk on the phone, walk, cook, run water, everything. Our first full day there she entertained and played Edith Piaf recordings and we heard all of the conversation. She left on the weekday mornings at around 8:30 and returned before we did.
We figured it was about a mile walk into town -- 20 to 25 minutes. The park is lit at night (except for the harrowing night of a storm when the power was out) but the drive is not lit, and you need a torch. Groceries and restaurants are in good supply in Cortona. Getting there would be easy in the summer, not so much in the dark.
One night on our way back, we were confronted by a wild boar. My husband barked at it, and it left. Yes, you need a torch.
It's an old stone cottage. I believe the part we stayed in, the ground floor, had been the barn at one time. The bedroom and bathroom were in good shape, and the living/kitchen/dining room okay, if furnished a bit haphazardly.
There's a tiny sitting room you have to enter separately, but we didn't use it since it was too cold and windy. The garden seemed like owner territory, and since it was autumn there wasn't much of a garden going on. It is much less groomed than it looks in the website photos, in need of some care.
The furnishings seemed "rental house"-y, assorted things that didn't quite mesh, and placed all around the perimeter of the main room. There were lots of chairs, too many for the room, in fact, and two sofas (one upon closer inspection turned out to be 3 chairs pushed together). We were asked to use a (provided) ugly plastic cloth on the table to avoid hurting the table.
The ad says there is a television, but none was in evidence (except our landlady's which we could hear, above us). There was a radio that I kept on to screen upstairs noise.
The bed was comfortable, and the bedroom was the nicest part of the apartment. I liked the way they had left part of the stone walls exposed, although it was a little cave-like for me. There were good reading lamps and a nice quilt on the bed, also lots of magazines and books. They advertise "sleeps 2-4" but I don't see how anyone could sleep on that 3-chair arrangement. The bathroom was fine -- it had a bidet and an actual bathTUB. It was so cold and windy I soaked there quite a bit.
The kitchen wasn't as advertised, and it wasn't very good. There was a new microwave, a frig, a 2-ring burner with the fuel tank underneath it, a sink, but not the advertised oven. Also not the advertised clothes washer. That, we found after asking, was the owner's, and although she let us use it, we had to share, and work our way around in her storage/workshed room to use it. It was so windy we couldn't put clothes on the clothesline. The dishes seemed adequate, but many were plastic. It's not a kitchen you could cook much in.
Problems or Bonuses
I want to call this part of the review "Under the Tuscan Cloud."
You could attribute part of our less than happy experience at this rental to the weather: if it wasn't raining it was blowing, and sometimes it did both. But there were other problems. The owner, who is French, speaks English, but her manner is more than a little off-putting. She repeatedly told us how busy she was, and I couldn't ask her questions because I couldn't get a word in. Total communication meltdown.
And she seemed determined to get every last penny from us she could extract. We had agreed that she would have dinner cooked for us upon our arrival, but once I had mailed off our deposit, I got no answer to any of my questions about the costs. I couldn't even get directions to the place. On the day we left for Italy, I got a cryptic note saying she would pick us up at the train station so not to worry about directions. When I called from the road, she said she would pick us up at the train station, but there would be a charge. Well, okay, seeing as we had no choice without directions!. She also said there were no cabs in Camucia for Cortona (not true!). Our train was late, and I called to leave messages, but she seemed irritated. On the drive up in her wheezing car, we asked innocently about where we could get groceries, and she nearly got hysterical about the dinner she had made. "It is all arranged!" I couldn't get a word in edgewise. I meant for the week, not that night. It went downhill from there.
The dinner was barely acceptable. We had duck (which I don't like much, alas), quiche that tasted like leftover to me, lettuce that had brown spots in the salad, 2 bottles of not good cheap wine, a few hunks of cheese, and a pretty good chocolate mousse. For which she charged us 130 Euros!!! And had the nerve to add on "15% service" even though I washed the plastic dishes and we heated up dishes ourselves in the microwave.
Next surprise: breakfast, to which I had not agreed, and that's another 30 Euros for rolls and coffee, and there seemed no way out of this. Another surprise: heat is advertised as included, and in the e-mail she had promised good heat, and now we find out she wants 15 euros a night for it. She said, "You're Americans, of course you will need heat." Phooey.
We turned OFF the heat, paid for the lousy meals, but I would not pay the "service" because I did not know what it was for, and if it was supposed to be a tip for her, I didn't want to give one to her. She'd already milked us nearly dry, and the service was lousy. For this refusal, I was given a note saying I must take a call from the owner's husband, who is British and lives in Rome. I did, and the best he could offer was that 15% tip was customary in restaurants. Phooey.
All Americans are not rich and stupid. I felt bullied. It was my birthday, and enough was enough.
We left 2 days early and stayed in a hotel in town. I left a note saying I would not pay the extra 20 Euros for the return trip to the train station, as we did not require a ride. We took a taxi. It was 6 euros to our hotel with tip. It couldn't have been much more to Camucia.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
Poor communication, hidden charges, amenities not as advertised.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
No, no, no.
Things to do in this area
Cortona's a nice town, but we ran out of indoor things to do in it in a few days, and couldn't do much hiking because of the nasty weather. On the one nicer day we had, we hiked up to see St. Margherita, and that was lovely (if strange, there she is, lying there, brown and shrunken). We hit just about every restaurant in Cortona, and had good solid hearty ribolettas and raviolis etc in all, but we liked La Grotta the best. My husband got a great haircut from the barber on the main drag. We took the bus to Arezzo two of our days and wished we'd stayed there.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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