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Liguria

Keep the kids entertained in family-friendly Italy

At Cottages to Castles we don’t believe in putting a premium on those few cherished early and late season weeks when the whole family can come together and create wonderful, lifelong memories. That’s why our UK half-term holidays (in May and October) are guaranteed at the same prices as those lower season getaways.

But that’s not the only reason why our loyal guests return to Italy with their families in tow time and time again. From glorious Tuscany to the sheer wonders of the northern lakes and more treasures between, the many temptations of La Dolce Vita really do get under your skin. Whether you’re planning a May half-term break or a two-week summer escape, here are some of our best suggestions for an Italy holiday the whole family will adore.

Tuscany

1. Most Tuscan towns have a thermal bath – natural hot springs to relax in on a cooler evening. It’s a great, safe place for teenagers to hang out with all their new holiday friends.

2. Tuscany in summer is alive with the buzz of street parties. Whole villages come together with dancing and delicious food, and visitors are welcomed with open arms.

3. Your little monkeys will love swinging through the trees at Parco Avventura Il Gigante, an adventure park located in Vaglia, 15km north of Florence.

4. From Florence, you can take a train to Venice in under two hours. On this lovely daytrip, little ones will experience the fascination of a city on water, and of course take a gondola trip and an ice cream on St Mark’s Square.

Activities-Tuscany

Where to stay: Explore our extensive collection of Tuscan villas.

Umbria

5. A day spent boating on Lake Trasimeno is a must for holidaymakers in Umbria. There’s plenty going on offshore too, from sandy lakeside beaches to a myriad of little medieval villages to explore in the hills.

6. Perugia’s annual chocolate festival (14-23 October 2016) takes place over ten days and is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth.

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Where to stay: Discover our Umbria collection.

Liguria

7. Submerse yourself in the Italian life with the Cinque Terre, Italy’s ‘famous five’ – a quintet of colourful medieval villages you can visit by train in one day.

Activities-Liguria

Where to stay: Casa Dei Limoni is ideally located for exploring Liguria’s coastline.

Lazio

8. Swim in lovely clean waters or try your hand at fishing, or windsurfing! You can do all three on Lazio’s wonderful volcanic lakes Bolsena, Vico and Bracciano.

Activities-Lazio

Where to stay: Browse all our Lazio cottages and villas.

Basilicata

9. For the ultimate adrenaline rush, take the Volo dell’Angelo (flight of the angel), a cross-valley zip wire connecting two mountainside villages.

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Where to stay: Casa Dei Ricordi has beautiful mountain views.

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Italy experts: An introduction to Jonathan and Daniela Magoni

Son and daughter of Cottages to Castles’ founder, Jonathan and Daniela Magoni continue their father’s legacy of introducing international holidaymakers to La Dolce Vita. Jonathan manages relations with an extensive network of property owners out of the Italian office, while Daniela is the UK’s ‘voice on the phone’. Here she reflects on the legacy of her family’s business, and shares exciting new changes…

Daniella-photo“January is a time for new beginnings, and as we kick-start 2016, it’s certainly all change at Cottages to Castles. We’ve a brand new partnership with Simpson Travel, a specialist tour operator whose values of warm service and specialised local knowledge, mirror our own.

A new year is also time to pause and reflect. In many ways, our business today is unrecognisable from the one my father started in 1983 with a vision of running holidays for painters. This was six years before the movie Field Of Dreams, but ‘Build it and they will come’ may well have been his motto! Since then the World Wide Web has enabled pilgrims far and wide to experience La Dolce Vita courtesy of our unrivalled collection of authentic holiday properties.

Amid so much change, some things remain reassuringly permanent. Since I took over reservations and customer relations, I’ve committed to ensuring each and every client discovers the right holiday for their personal circumstances, needs and desires. It’s enormously heartening to receive emails from couples and families thanking me for saving them money, finding them the perfect child-friendly villa, or, in some cases, pushing them to think outside the box!

It’s lovely to see so many guests return again and again, though equally delightful when Tuscany and Amalfi Coast diehards can be tempted further afield, providing themselves and their loved ones with wonderful new learning experiences in the process.

But location isn’t everything; the relationships we’ve fostered – some lasting over 20 years – is another important part of what makes us truly unique. We never tire of hearing guests gush about the wonderful home-grown herbs left on their doorstep by their villa’s owner. It’s these little extras, combined with our deep knowledge, that make all the difference.”

For a chance to discover your own piece of Italy, visit our collection or for a personal recommendation, contact Daniela on 01622 775 217.

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Giro d’Italia 2016: Your front-row view

Its glorious rolling hills and classic Tuscan charms have long made Chianti a hit with discerning travellers worldwide. And on Sunday 15 May 2016, they’ll have an added reason to visit – one of the most decisive stages of the 99th annual Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) will race through the region’s vineyards.

We’ve been tailor-making holidays to coincide with this Lycra-clad spectacle for as long as we’ve been in business. Each year we utilise our local contacts to ensure we can offer our guests the kind of front row experience they won’t get anywhere else – and 2016 is no exception.

This year we’re delighted to offer four very special properties, which, along with that authentic Italian holiday experience our guests have come to expect from us, will put you up close and personal with the elite athletes as they navigate the winding tracks of this luscious part of the country. Call us today to find out how the eager-to-please owners of these wonderful Tuscan hideaways are going the extra mile to ensure you witness this colourful display at its most intimate.

BEST PLACES TO STAY…

Cottage Malafrasca (Siena; sleeps 2)

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This beautiful barn conversion offers a beautiful spot to mix a little city bustle with a little country peace. Stay for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis for £500.

Antico Pastificio (Greve; sleeps 2)

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An oasis of calm for couples, this former pasta factory sits snugly in the centre of a bustling little Tuscan town. Stay for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis for £470.

Apartment Torre 1 (Castellina; sleeps 4)

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A ruined 16th-century farmstead, imaginatively and sympathetically given new life for small families. Stay for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis for £680.

Casa Angelica (Tavarnelle Val di Pesa; sleeps 4)

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This character apartment full of historic touches, just 25km from Florence, is the perfect base for exploration. Stay for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis for £470.

Call Daniela today to discover which of our Giro d’Italia properties is the perfect choice for you.

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Choose your own adventure: holidays with date flexibility in mind

Changeover days have become so synonymous with both package and tailor-made breaks that travellers are used to having to arrange their precious holidays around the calendars of the providers.

We know that sometimes you need a little more flexibility in your schedule, whether it’s a midweek arrival to coincide with a special occasion or time off work, tweaking your start and end dates to ensure you get the very best flight deals, or squeezing an extra few days out of your weeklong stay. That’s why we’ve been busy negotiating with owners to bring you a unique collection of properties that give you just that bit more room for manoeuvre.

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ARRIVAL DAY AT…

Cottage Romino (Chianti; sleeps 3)

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15th-century cottage located within a family-run vineyard estate in the Tuscan countryside. Prices range between £580 and £870 for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis.

Cottage Talluria (Chianti; sleeps 5)

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The perfect family base, this rustic retreat lies a short drive from the lovely hilltop village of Castellina. Prices range between £690 and £970 for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis.

Apartment Torre 2 (Chianti; sleeps 4)

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This ruined 16th-century farmstead has been lovingly restored to its characterful present condition in the Chianti slopes. Prices range between £680 and £1,050 for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis.

San Rocco 21 (Lombardy; sleeps 4)

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This former Franciscan monastery perches hilltop, overlooking the beautiful blue waters of Lake Garda. Prices range between £490 and £740 for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis.

CHOOSE YOUR OWN DURATION AT…

Villa Passione (Tuscany; sleeps 6)

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Stretch out your week with a 9-night stay at this classically beautiful villa from 25 August, at just £2,970.

Villa Maddalena (Lazio; sleeps 9)

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Can’t stretch to a fortnight? Enjoy a 13-night break from 28 August at this luxurious country villa for £4,950.

Cottage Talluria (Lazio; sleeps 5)

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An 11-night stay at this family Chianti cottage comes in at just £1,527 from 23 July.

As always, our goal is to create an authentic Italian experience that matches your exacting needs. Call Daniela today for more information on any of the above holidays or a personal recommendation.

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News from Fattoria Le Fonti, Panzano in Chianti, Italy

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At the end of September, we started with the Merlot harvest. Sadly we had a few rainy days in October, which interrupted the picking twice. Some of the Sangiovese vineyards suffered and lost up to 15% of the grapes.  Sangiovese grapes are such prima-donnas that they suffer quite easily from mold, taste earthy when picked too early or unripe and throw a tantrum if aged in the wrong type of oak barrel by tasting like tobacco or giving off bitter notes.  So with rain during harvest season, the tight bunched Sangiovese grape often loses out.  Only a very rigorous harvest team can then ensure that only the healthy and best grapes are selected.

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We had a wonderful team of 18 pickers this year. Most have been with us during the past years and it was alot of fun chatting and working between the rows in the vineyard. Even some importers, like Gerry from Sweden, came to lend a hand. Great thanks goes out to the great team and their fantastic help!

The 2013 wines have just finished going through their secondary fermentation and they are looking good.  Next week we will start making the blends and then they go into the oak barrels for 12 to 24 months. It is a very classic vintage with beautiful fruit and pleasant alcohol like we had in the past few years. The vintage of 2013 is definitely a year to look out for!

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Fattoria Le Fonti is located just below the village of Panzano in Chianti halfway between Florence and Siena. It is a small boutique style farm producing about 40,000 bottles or 3300 cases a year. They welcome visits for wine tasting or a cellar visit but for larger groups (more than 10 people), please contact them to make an appointment http://www.fattorialefonti.it/.

 

 

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Visit Tuscany: Stay at Villa La Verina

We are sure that you would have noticed by now that Tuscany really is one of our favourite places in the World. When either of us at Cottages to Castles visit Tuscany, deciding where to stay always becomes a hard task, as we have access to so many amazing villas in the most delightful locations. However, today we bring you a villa that makes it to our list of “best places to stay in Tuscany” each and every time: Villa La Verina. With Siena less than 50 km away, and Florence only around 70 km, this magnificent property charms the hearts of everyone who visits it.

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The peaceful location where Villa La Verina is set is only one of the many assets this villa has to offer. The property is surrounded by large oak and olive trees which bring a special atmosphere to the whole place. The views from these property are awe-inspiring to say the least, and as far as the eye can reach you can see nature, olive groves, rolling hills… a calming view that will make it difficult for more than one of you to even think of the stresses back home! San Gimignano, the closest town, is famous because it rises 334 metres above sea level, allowing you to take in some of the most amazing sights of the Tuscan hills you will ever be able to see!

This villa can sleep up to 8 people, with a further 3 in a separate cottage, making it a perfect location to stay with friends or extended family. The classic Tuscan architecture means that the villa’s many windows and vaulted ceilings allow the breeze to flow through the villa, creating a cool atmosphere perfect for the summer afternoon naps!

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And, after the nap, what plan sounds better than a dip in the pool… Just looking at that view makes us want to go back!

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Memorial Day in Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany

Image: Solociccia

Image: Solociccia

You may already have heard of Dario Cecchini, the famous butcher of Panzano-in-Chianti.  A favourite of Prince Charles, Elton John & Jamie Oliver, Dario is as famous as his steak houses!  On 20th July 2014, Dario will be hosting a Memorial Day; a day of remembrance and celebration for an event that took place 70 years ago.

Idyllic as it is now, it is hard to imagine Chianti was once under the occupation of the German army during WWII.  In 1944 forces from New Zealand, Australia and the Maori units, marched through Panzano and liberated the town, then continued on their march to freedom.  The event is set to be a celebration and a day of thanks for those who lost their lives in the war and for all those who liberated Italy.

Dario says “It is a tangible way to give witness to friendship, gratitude and strength of memory.  It is never too late to say thanks when thanks is never enough.”

If you would like further information and wish to celebrate with Dario and stay in this historical little town of Panzano, take a look here and choose from one of our beautiful homes:

Casa Conca d’Oro

Girasole del Chianti

Capannina dei Ramoli

Cottage Pineta

Villa dei Famosi

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Christmas in Italy: Epiphany and La Befana

Opening the presents that Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) brings on Christmas day is becoming more popular during Christmas in Italy, but still the main day for giving presents is January 6th, when, according to Catholic beliefs, the Three Wise Men visited Baby Jesus to honour him with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In Italy, though, it’s not the Three Wise Men who bring the presents but La Befana, a good witch who flies on her broomstick in the night and gets to people’s houses in order to ensure no good child is left without a gift on Epiphany day!

*Image: Wikipedia

*Image: Wikipedia

Where did the story of La Befana come from? There is a legend that says that, on their way to visit Jesus, the Three Wise Men stopped at the house of an old woman to ask for some directions and invited her to go with them and honour the newborn. However, the old woman refused because “she was too busy”. Later on, when she saw the great star on the sky, she decided to go on a trip and find Jesus to give him some items that had belonged to her child, who had sadly died. There is no happy ending to the story, as the legend says that the old lady got lost and never found the manger.

Now, she flies on her broomstick bringing gifts to all Italian children on the night of January 5th, but only to those children who haven’t been naughty!

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Christmas in Italy: Panettone

During the next few weeks, and as everyone is starting to get excited about Christmas, Cottages to Castles will be bringing you inspiration, information and ideas about what is like to spend Christmas in Italy. We are real Christmas enthusiasts and love all things festive, so what better way to get into the spirit of the season than sharing with our lovely readers some of our beloved Italian Christmas traditions?

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You might have spotted it in the supermarket already; Panettone is one of the most popular Italian sweets that you can get your hands on in shops around the World. But did you know that Panettone is original from Milan, and one of the symbols of this city? It is so popular, that you can find it in different shapes and sizes, although the traditional cupola shape of 12 to 15 cm height is still the most widely spread around the World.

This fluffy cake contains candied orange and lemon zest as well as raisins, all of which give it the fruity taste that’s so characteristic. Other varieties, such as plain, or with chocolate chips, are also available.

We are sure that, by now, you will really be craving some delicious Panettone (we sure are!). And if you fancy eating it as a true Italian, we recommend serving it with a hot drink, or sweet wine if you are feeling a bit naughtier! Cut it vertically, in slices, and make some crema di mascarpone by mixing mascarpone, eggs, candie fruits and some amaretto. Enjoy!

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Visit Puglia: Stay at Villa Tonia

Villa Tonia is set just 4km from the historical centre of the city of Fasano and only 7km from the coast at Savelletri, in the region of Puglia.  Fasano is home to the world-famous white washed trulli homes. This area of Puglia is also famous for Fasanolandia, which is Italy’s largest zoo-safari; the fishing hamlets of Savelletri and healing springs of Torre Canne are also close by.  The coastline is home to beautiful sandy coves and superbly clear water. The San Domenico golf course is also nearby, for those who enjoy a game.  Fasano has ancient chiese (churches), and the archaeological dig at Egnatia is superb. Villa Tonia is only 3.5km from the railway station, allowing you to fully explore Puglia.

Villa Tonia 1

You will feel like a celebrity when you arrive at the Villa Tonia, due to the fact that it is placed behind imposing and statuesque Italian wrought iron gates. Moving beyond the gates, you will most definitely feel like an A-lister when you see the sweeping drive and glorious gardens which are richly packed with plants, including camellias and palms set in stone urns. Beyond that, you will spy the glistening of the sun on the private swimming pool. The villa sleeps 8 comfortably in 4 bedrooms, (including one complete with jacuzzi bath) and has 1 bathroom and 3 shower rooms. There is a superbly equipped kitchen, a luxurious sitting room with open fire and a roof terrace where you can enjoy the views as you sip a glass of chilled Prosecco.

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The swimming pool is open from 15th May to 30th September, so you can fully enjoy the facilities during the summer months and when you would appreciate a rest inside away from the sun, you will be pleased to find that there is air conditioning in every room apart from the kitchen and bathrooms, and every bedroom is equipped with a fridge, so you will always have cool drinks to hand. The option to visit Puglia has never been so inviting!

 

 

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