Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 742: Ventura Verde, Casa Caldelse
apartments in converted farm house near Umbertide, Umbria
Sept 20, 2003 - Oct 11, 2003, 3 weeks
The apartment is located in a converted farm house, which is set 2 km outside of Umbertide. It's on a hill, overlooking the surrounding hills and the town. It is a private location, and there are some neighboring houses, but you really are not aware of them, other than seeing them.
We did like the area. It was a nice setting. As to peace & quiet, unfortunately the dogs were out hunting nightly, and so they were barking and baying into the wee hours. Then the roosters start up. There was no "abnormal" noise, just the sounds of the countryside.
You must have a car for this property. Fortunately, you don't have to drive far. Umbertide is 2 km away - a 5 minute drive. There are 2 large grocery stores (COOP and Conad), many restaurants (see Ginda's Northern Umbria Restaurant list Link to Restaurant List), a rotisserie, and a wonderful pastry shop (across from the rotisserie, in the same block as Conad).
There are two more restaurants to recommend which Ginda hasn’t yet added to her web site:
Taverna Da Gildo (loc. Romeggio, 520/A, telephone (075) 941-5087) – a drive of less than 10 minutes brings you to this unassuming establishment. Inside, you’ll find a warm welcome and delicious food & wine. The house red wine was particularly good – a local wine (whose name I can’t remember) which is also sold in the COOP in town. Very informal place, very relaxed – we ate here 3 times.
Abbazia di Monte Corona (loc. Monte Corona, tel. (075) 941-1810) – a converted abbey, beautifully done over. The tables are all set with linen, china & silver, and the menu looked very good. We weren’t able to eat here, but have heard that it’s very good. It was a beautiful setting for dinner. A drive of less than 10 minutes from the property.
The building is a converted farm building, which now has 3 units. One unit is occupied by the owners, and the other two are rented out. The two rentals known as the “large apartment” and “small apartment”. The building (inside and outside) is in good condition. We rented the “large apartment”, which is on the ground floor. The “small apartment” is up a set of exterior stairs, and has a nice covered loggia at the top of the stairs by the front door.
There's a nice large terrace just outside the kitchen door of the large apartment, with two big fig trees. They were bearing fruit when we where there, and we were told that we could help ourselves (they were small but delicious!). This terrace is supposed to be shared by both apartments. There are chairs, a table and chaise lounges available as well. The terrace wraps around the corner of the house.
Down from the terrace is the owner’s vineyard, where they grow two different types of grapes: trebbiano and nebbiolo. They had harvested early due to the extreme summer heat. There’s also some fresh sage bushes growing, and two large laurel trees (bay leaves).
Across the driveway is another structure, which serves as the owner’s storage building. The chaise lounges and more chairs are kept here, and the owners will tell you where the key is stashed. You’re free to go in and bring out the furniture. Also in this building is the wood-fired oven (forno a legno), where the owner made delicious pizzas for us one night, when we were invited to their pizza party.
The furnishings were in good shape, and yes, it was comfortable. There were more than enough chairs for the two of us, but if there were 4 people in this apartment, there would also have been enough. The living room has 2 large armchairs and a large couch. There was a fireplace in the living room also, and lots of firewood stacked outside. The kitchen table had chairs for 8, and 8 could eat there comfortably. It gave us lots of space to put stuff during our visit!
Cleanliness - this was a different issue. We did not feel that the apartment had been well cleaned upon our arrival. The lessor told us that his cleaning lady had been in that day. If she worked for me, I'd fire her.
The beds were comfortable. The apartment had 2 bedrooms. One had a queen bed, the other a queen and a single. The rooms were good sized. Each bed had a nice comforter on it. There were extra blankets available in an armoire.
There were 2 bathrooms. The one upstairs was large, the one downstairs was not as big, but still good-sized for a rental. Bath/shower upstairs, shower stall downstairs. All facilities, all working great.
The kitchen was quite usable. There was a 4-burner gas stove, a wood stove (which we didn't light), a microwave oven and a small electric counter-top oven/toaster. There was also an American-style Braun coffee maker with a permanent filter – this allows you to make American-style coffee in the morning. The coffee (labeled “American-style Coffee”) can be found in the local COOP grocery store (if you like strong coffee, I’d advise you to bring your own ground coffee).
There were plenty of dishes & glasses, and there were enough pots & pans for our use. It was fine cooking in there, but I might want a few more utensils if I were going "all out". But, you could easily cook a full meal in the kitchen. It was very spacious, and you work in there without running into someone else.
The property lessor makes a big point of "Don't drink my wines...some of them are very expensive." Well, first of all, I wouldn't drink some else’s wine or liquor without permission. But, but he’s so concerned about this, then lock it all up and put it out of the way! There were many bottles of liquor, Campari, wine, etc. on top of one of the kitchen cabinets. Another problem was that some of his food was left over in the refrigerator – Brussels sprouts, spring onions, mozzarella, etc. This should have been cleaned out. He does say that we can go ahead and eat anything there, as long as we replace it. Quite honestly, given his “don’t drink my wine” attitude, we simply left all of his food in the refrigerator and didn’t touch it.
Problems or Bonuses
The biggest problem with this unit, and the reason that I cannot recommend it, is the lessor. He is president of a venture capital firm, and says that they "refurbish" old Italian villas to "modern American standards."
The lessor gives you the idea that this is his property, that he owns it. He continually refers to it as “my home.” During our stay, we found out that the truth is elsewhere. He apparently leases the two apartments in the building from the property owners. We also learned that Mario, the son, is the one who refurbished the property (he told us so). This was the first thing which rubbed me the wrong way - I don't like to be lied to.
You need to be aware of the words in his description of the property, where the lessor makes reference to the fact that this is "his home" in Italy. You should read that very carefully!! What this means for you, is that the drawers, armoires, and various cabinets are chocked full of his stuff. We had to move some of his clothes to make room for ours, as did some other folks who rented the smaller apartment upstairs.
In addition, there are other “personal” items left throughout the house – especially in the bathroom (shampoos, razors, etc.) that were left behind, including prophylactics.
In addition, the shelves in the living room, and the drawers in the desks, were filled with paperwork, computer items, and other things related to his business. These, too, should be put away.
This is, to say the least, a rather uncomfortable situation. The drawers, closets and bathrooms should be free and clear of personal effects. Eliminate them, or lock them up. He knew we were coming for a 3 week stay. This is not an acceptable situation. The same situation was encountered by folks who rented the small apartment upstairs, where it was apparently even worse. One couple was not even able to unpack their suitcases, as there was so much of his clothing in the drawers and armoires.
The lessor needs to decide whether he is going to live in the two apartments, or is going to rent them out. A rental unit should have sufficient space for the renters to put their clothes away, and they shouldn't have to deal with other people's clothing. We have rented units before where the owner's property was locked away in a separate room or closet - this is the way it should be. This was a major drawback to these apartments. Although everything worked in our unit, the same could not be said for the small apartment. For the duration of the 3 weeks we were there, the satellite TV didn't work in that apartment. The lessor seemed unconcerned about this, and in fact, left it to property owners to go into town and speak with the agency. Also in the small apartment, the washer broke. Again, the property owners had to call to get the repair folks out – the lessor did nothing.
The lessor apparently showed up one day when we were out. We suspect that he went into our apartment without notification, as when we came back, the door was no longer double locked. This, too, was disturbing to us. There are many stupid things which we could mention. He marks the light switch which controls the outside light “Do Not Touch”. Anyone who has rented a villa in a rural area knows that it gets very dark at night; why would you want to risk someone taking a spill because of inadequate lighting – this didn’t make sense to us. It would have been better if the lessor explained that it turns the light on and off, and in fact the light works on a light sensor, so that it turns itself off during the day. When the property owners happened to come into the apartment (invited) and noticed the switch, they turned it on so that we could see the front door when we came home at night! The lessor says in his information that this is "self catering", and says that you have to get things fixed yourself, and he will later reimburse you. I don't find this an acceptable arrangement. Self catering typically applies to the fact that you must supply your own food, etc. – this shouldn’t really apply to equipment as oftentimes the renter doesn’t have a clue as to where to begin (for instance, we don’t have a satellite connection at home – we wouldn’t have known what to do without asking the property owners!).
Agency and Representatives (and price)
The pictures on the website accurately show what the apartments look like. If you're 4 people, you'll need the large apartment, as the small apartment is really only for 2 people. We were two people in the large apartment, and it really felt like you could "stretch your elbows". The lessor asks you to fill out an "application form" to start the rental process (it's online on his website). From reading this, and from our experience, it's obvious that he's been badly burned before.
Property management is another issue. The lessor, in his notes to renters, asks you not to bother the property owners unless there's a serious issue, as they are "just friends, and not paid to help out." The property owners are very warm and wonderful people. Mario lives in the 3rd unit and his aunt Sylvia is there almost every day, helping out with various tasks. Her sister Paola is often there as well - not as often, as she has a day job in Perugia. Sylvia asked us why one couple didn't call her about the washing machine - it's because of what the lessor wrote! They could not have been more helpful to us, or any kinder. Sylvia & Paola made two “pizza party” dinners, which they cooked in the outdoor, wood-fired oven. We were invited to both (we could only make the 2nd one), and were made to feel part of the family. We were invited into their home many times, and spent many warm hours just chatting. I remember them quite fondly as I nibble the home-made fig jam Paola sent me home with (from the tree just outside the kitchen).
The lessor appears to be highly disorganized. About 10 days before I left, I received an email from him asking if I was still interested in renting the apartment, as he hadn’t received the final payment. I nearly had a heart attack! Fortunately, I kept every bit of correspondence from him, including his confirmation email that he had received the final payment some 7 weeks prior. I immediately forwarded this to him, and waited anxiously for the reply. He said that yes, he had received the payment, but that he had reorganized his computer, and put some items in the wrong directory. This is poor record keeping, pure and simple, and not something which lent confidence.
Lastly, we initially arrived at the apartment at about 1:00 PM. In his information, the lessor tells you that while the apartment won’t be ready for occupancy until 4:00 PM, you are welcome to just drop your bags off if you come early. We took him at his word, and showed up to do just this. He was very surprised when we opened the door (he did tell us where the key was located), and got a bit huffy about things, telling us that we couldn’t take occupancy until 4:00. We said that we just wanted to drop off the bags, and he did let us do that.
We went off to the grocery store to shop, and returned to the apartment around 4:15. We found him still working away on his laptop, apologizing for being late, and asking for more time to finish up his work. He did not leave the property until 1 hour later. Again, this points to his disorganization. He knew that we were arriving on that day and he is well aware of the time that the renters expect the place to be ready. All of the work that he needed to do should have been finished up well beforehand. If this is your business, you should make the property available at the time they are contracted for. We later found out from the occupants of the smaller unit, that he was unaware of their arrival and had not contracted to have the unit cleaned. The property owner knew that new occupants were coming; she got stuck cleaning the unit!
This lessor has a lot to learn about renting out properties. In my opinion, the lessor has to decide if he is going to (a) live in this property, or (b) rent it out. The situation which currently exists, whereby he lives there but rents it out when he’s not in town, is not one that vacation renters would want or should put themselves. He also has to become much more organized and deal with the situations/issues that arise, not let other people deal “with the problem”.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
In a word, NO.
I'm sorry to not be able to recommend this property, because we really liked the property itself, found it comfortable, enjoyed the location, and as a bonus, you have the property owners. But the lessor is the deal-breaker. I don't like to be lied to, and he needs to get his act together, and either move or put his personal items away in a storage area. To say that a property is "self catering" and then do nothing when things go awry, to not run the rental in a more professional manner, is not the way to run this type of enterprise.
To my fellow SlowTravelers: please beware!
Things to do in this area
Well, first of all, you have to understand that Umbertide (pronounced "um-ber-TEE-day") is kind of a backwater (the Italians view it this way also). There's not much going on, and very little to see. However, the apartment was a great location for exploring. We were easily able to travel north (Città di Castello, San Sepolcro, Anghiari & NE Tuscany), south (Perugia, Assisi, Spello, Spoleto, Norcia), west (Arezzo, central Tuscany) and east (Marche, San Marino). The apartment is a 5-10 minute drive from the E45 highway, a major north-south link. Arezzo is about 1 hour away (smaller roads) and San Marino is 1.5 - 2 hrs (depending on whether you go up to the A14 or through the Appenines). We were able to drive to everywhere we wanted to visit.
There is a train station in town, and the FCU (Central Umbrian Railway) runs the trains. While you’d be able to connect with the FS (State Railway) and get a train to Rome, Florence, etc. it would take a while. You’re on a spur line in Umbertide.
There is an internet point in Umbertide. It is not always open, so you have to check on their hours. However, the prices are very, very reasonable, and the connection was fine. The folks who run it were very helpful, although they spoke no English. A larger internet point is in Perugia – look for “Internet Train”, on a street which runs from behind the cathedral towards the University.
If you were planning on concentrating your travels on southern Umbria, this would not be a good choice. While it took about an hour to get to Spoleto, it would be a pain to make this drive every day. If you're looking for a base for Spoleto/Todi/Terni/Orvieto, this isn't a good location for you.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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