As first time visitors to Italy, my husband & I wanted to enjoy a unique experience. We found exactly what we were looking for at Castello di Colognole, perched high atop a hill in the quaint village of Greve in Chianti, approximately 45 minutes south of Florence
The castle, which dates back to the 12th century, is owned and operated by sisters Rosita & Rita Ricci. Two apartments are available for weekly rental: the first floor Bacco (two bedrooms, two baths) and the three-story Quartessi, also 2 bdrm/2 bath but with an additional loft room that contains a large sitting area and extra bedroom, which we booked with our friends. Each apartment has direct access to a sprawling garden overlooking vast fields of vineyards - a glorious site to awaken to each morning!
The rental runs from Sunday to Sunday (although Rosita is sometimes able to be flexible but only as availability allows) so we arrived in Italy on Saturday, having taken a direct flight from Phoenix to London on British Airways with a connection in Heathrow. We had less than two hours between flights but had plenty of time in making the connection. We arrived at Milan Malpensa and took the shuttle provided by the Novotel hotel I located online and reserved for a very reasonable 78 euros. We again took the shuttle the next day back to the airport in order to take the bus to Milan Central train station to board a Eurostar train to Florence, where Rosita had arranged to pick us up, again for a reasonable fee.
Our friends, who had rented a car, met us at the castle that afternoon and were as delighted as we were with the accommodations. The grounds are breathtaking, the apartment spacious (one bathroom is on the small side but adequate) and comfortable. Our hosts could not have been kinder.
We took advantage of Rosita's home cooking Sunday night - she prepared a feast for 25 euros per person (this includes a bottle of their vineyards wine), which she spread out on the picnic table in the garden. Simply delightful and delicious!
The village of Greve is about 2 miles from the castle; due to the steep hills walking would be difficult for most people. In fact, the drive up is challenging in itself - I would definitely advise an automatic shift vehicle for those not accustomed to stick shifts which presented some difficulty even to our friends who have had experience with such cars. In any event, we made the drive to town on several occasions as we enjoyed walking about, attending festivals held in the piazza, eating in the assorted restaurants and shopping in the assorted stores - both the piazza itself as well as along side streets. One of our best finds was a leather outlet store just off the main road to the village.
Historic Tuscan cities, such as Sienna and San Gimignano, are within an hour's drive; each provided a wonderful afternoon's activity with plenty of sites to be seen, more shopping to be done, and delicious food to be eaten. Florence is easily accessible either by car (though parking can be hard to come by) or bus.
Although the rental ran for one week, my husband and I decided to make the most of our limited stay and left two nights early so we could spend some time in breathtakingly beautiful Lake Como before heading back to the Novotel the night prior to our departure back to the States. To do so, we took the train from Florence back to Milan, and from Milan to Verena. I had been most concerned about the trains prior to embarking on our trip but found them to be fairly easy to manage once there (though we should have booked ahead of time due to the busy time of year we scheduled; we were lucky to get seats at the day and time we arrived for travel).
I was surprised to see upon our return that I'd taken nearly 300 photographs during our stay (I will attempt to post some, if possible, at a later time) but each one is so magnificent and helps preserve the memories of truly one of our most memorable vacations ever.