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Can you help me find a small, not so expensive, independent house in Tuscany?

David Ronis (with comments from Pauline Kenny - in italic)

All the agencies will tell you that it is difficult to find small, independent houses to rent in Tuscany. David has proved them wrong. In the spring of 2001, he set out to find a nice, independent and not expensive house to rent for his group of three. He did a lot of work searching out these listings, and has put together his notes for the rest of us. Why is it so hard to find small houses? Gaynor Powell from La Bella Toscana explains it this way:

"As you have already found out small houses in the Tuscan countryside are hard to come by. This is because the traditional Tuscan farmhouse was always very big in order to cater to the large extended family; it was common to have families of 20 persons living together and working the land around the house. The family lived on the top (first floor) of the house and the animals were kept on the ground floor. You will find that all the old farmhouses have an external staircase leading to the first floor."
Gaynor Powell from La Bella Toscana

Gaynor goes on to explain that most small houses in Tuscany are converted from the original barns or other outbuildings.

David's List of Small Houses in the Chianti and Lucca Regions

I recently did a lot of research looking for suitable rentals for my party of 3 people. We plan to spend two weeks in Tuscany in the summer of 2001 - one week in the Chianti area and one near Lucca.

Our requirements: We wanted a 2-bedroom place that was a freestanding building in an isolated location. We didn't want to have other vacationers and/or owners in close proximity, but didn't care whether or not we had a pool. We wanted a place that had nice views of the countryside and was under $2000 per week. So in view of that, I've listed the results of my research here with appropriate comments.

Note: We weren't looking at apartments at all. So if you're considering an apartment, this research won't do you much good. Hopefully it will help if you want a place that's isolated.

Chianti Region

Italian Vacation Villas

www.villasitalia.com

www.tuscanenterprise.it

Martin Wenick, who runs Italian Vacation Villas, represents Tuscan Enterprises properties in the US (to view listings go to the Tuscan Enterprises web site).

Pauline's note: Rental prices are the same if you book through Martin or through the Italian agency, so you are best to book with Martin who has seen most of the places and can give you some good advice.

  • Il Fiocco - near Lecchi and Gaiole in Chianti - sleeps 4 - listing is contradictory in that overall listing it says that the property has one bathroom and in the detailed description there are 2. We've booked it for this summer so I'll let you know, but I think it probably has 2 baths. One bedroom is up a steep flight of stairs and there is no doorway at the top. Very reasonably priced.

  • Il Casale - near Vagliagli and Siena - 2 BR, 2 bath - a new listing for Tuscan Enterprises. Sounds very nice although Martin had yet to visit this property and give his opinion. The photo does not make it look very attractive but I have a feeling that it may well be very good. Architect/owner's renovation sounds very nice with interesting spaces created out of old barn.

  • Casa Grande - near Siena - 3 BR, 1 bath, sleeps 5 - quite inexpensive and I'm not sure why. Perhaps the furnishings are rustic? I don't know but it might be worthwhile looking into.

  • Casa Serena - near Radda - 2 BR, 1 bath - also inexpensive but also sounds nice. I'm wondering if there are other properties close by.

  • Rosmarino - near Castellina - 2 BR, 1 bath - a very popular rental. Martin told me that this is a beautiful, comfortable house in a lovely location. I would have booked it if it were available my dates. Alas it wasn't. Good photos on the web page.

  • Polda - near Siena - 2 BR, 1 bath - sounds nice but I didn't inquire about specifics.

Rentvillas

www.rentvillas.com

  • Podere - near Mercatale - 2 BR, 2 bath with foldout couch - no photos available on website.

La Bella Toscana

www.labellatoscana.it

  • Il Terrazzo - near Ulignano, San Gimignano (not exactly in the middle of Chianti Classico, but I did consider it) - 2 BR, 1bath - the owners of this cottage live next door but it is very well priced and sounds nice.

Pauline's note: I contacted Gaynor Powell who runs La Bella Toscana in Italy and asked her for a list of her places that she considered "special". She included this house in her list. This is what she says about it: "This is a small house in the countryside. Il Terrazzo was recently made into a house from a small barn next to the main farmhouse where the owner lives. ...  just about any small house that you find in the countryside here has evolved in the same way."
This is a very central location. You are just on the edge of the Chianti region and close to the superstrada linking Siena and Florence.

Eurocasa

www.eurocasa.com

  • La Terrazza - near Cavriglia - 2BR, 1 bath - very little info given so I have some questions: Is it isolated? Is it only part of a house? The photo looks like a larger house than is described - very inexpensive - price quoted is in Euros. Sounds too cheap to be fabulous, but who knows?

  • Tribolina - near Cavriglia - 2BR, 2bath - again not much info given and it's pretty inexpensive - I'd need more info before renting it. Photos look nice.

Italian View

www.italianview.com

  • La Capanna - near San Casciano Val di Pesa - 2BR (one with bunk beds), 1bath - within private estate, owners live 70m away so no complete isolation here. Not cheap but looks nice. Pool.

  • Montalbuccio - near Siena - sleeps 4, 1bath - it sounds as if the master sleeping area is not an enclosed room but rather a balcony. Other bedroom has a door. Basic furnishings. Not expensive.

  • Il Poggiolo - near Florence - 2BR, bath is described as "garden bathroom" - does that mean it's outside? Looks lovely from the photos. Pool, so that makes it more expensive.

  • Casa Pennano - near Radicondoli (not in Chianti - way out in the country - probably a good hour or more? west of Siena) - 2BR, 1 bath - looks beautifully and comfortable. Pool. I wouldn't rent this one unless you were certain that you'd like to be in this remote an area.

Pauline's notes: Radicondoli is an interesting area, but as David says, is a little remote. The small towns are very spread out here and the roads are narrow and winding. It is about 20 minutes of winding road from Sovicille, which is not a remote area.

The Parker Company

www.parkervillas.com

  • Tuopina - 4 small houses offered in tiny hamlet near Castellina - Case Fragrante, Elena, Didi, Delizia - all look very nice with varying sleeping capacities and prices. These didn't suit us, but might be a nice for people who might consider living in a small hamlet. They all share a pool but don't have a lot of private outdoor space.

  • Casa Tucci - near Regello (not in Chianti rather on the eastern side of the Val d'Arno SE of Florence, near the Pratomagno - this is an area that is not as heavily touristed and quite beautiful) 2BR, 1 bath - not cheap but looks quite nice. However, description talks about "small house behind".

Note: The Parker Company offers various comments along the right side of each property web page. Particularly telling are the comments listed under "minuses". (They also list "pluses".) This is a good feature. I wish other websites would incorporate it.

And the winner is: Il Fiocco - near Lecchi and Gaiole in Chianti - from Martin at Italian Vacation Villas!

Near Lucca

Finding small isolated farmhouses or cottages in this area proved difficult. However, if one is willing to rent an apartment or a property that is part of an estate, there is a lot available for reasonable prices. Most of the independent, isolated houses are larger and thus, more expensive. Domani-USA had a few places north of Lucca in the mountains that were attractive and a bit less expensive but the locations seemed more remote than some of the more expensive ones. If you were interested, I bet that Kathy at Domani would be very helpful in further describing the options that they offer.

Domani-USA

www.domani-usa.com

  • La Bicchieraia - in the Lunigiana, I'm guessing 1 1/2 hours or so north of Lucca in the mountains - 4BR, 3 baths. Very nice, larger property - within our price range. Furnishings are basic. Photos of wisteria loggia et al look nice.

  • Casa Dante - not isolated - in a tiny town 3BR, 2 baths. Also not cheap - furnishings look nicer than La Bicchieraia. But also way up in the Lunigiana, not particularly close to Lucca - closer to La Spezia, Cinque Terre.

  • Casa nella Selva - sleeps 8 - near Lucca - 4 BR, 2 baths. This looked like just what we wanted, even if it was a bit large (maybe we'd invite some more friends?). Isolated, beautiful views, not too far from Lucca. It was a bit expensive but looked great - unfortunately it wasn't available for our dates.

  • Gatto Rosso - near Lucca - 2BR, 1 bath. Part of an estate, so not totally isolated. Looks good. Not too expensive.

Other small cottages offered by Domani near Lucca look good if isolation is not your top priority.

Rentvillas

www.rentvillas.com

  • Al Tinaro - Near Lucca - 3 BR, 2 baths - This looked like just the place we needed, only it was already booked. Panoramic views, very nice furnishings, peace and quiet, not expensive at all.

Gridlink Italian Villa Rentals

www.tuscany-rentals.co.uk

If you're interested in staying in the Lucca area and have more of a budget and/or have a larger party, there are many good offerings. I'd suggest you look at Gridlink. They have a number of nice looking (albeit larger and more than we wanted to spend) properties to offer - Case Elena, Nicoletta, a Corte, Rosa and Fatima are all a little less expensive.

Oh - what did we end up renting for the Lucca week? We decided to rent an isolated house called Ciricea through Martin at Italian Vacation Villas (we booked the Chianti house with him). It is 9 km north of Pistoia. It can be seen at www.tuscanenterprise.it. It's quite inexpensive and not close to Lucca, but we decided we'd rather save the money and spend more time driving to Lucca and Pisa as well as exploring the areas near Pistoia.

Good luck!

 

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David Ronis is a classical singer, actor and translator living in New York City. www.davidronis.com

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