There are a lot of villa rental opportunities in Italy and all of them are special in their own way. I’ve recently had the pleasure of meeting Katharina Allès Trauttmansdorff of Trust & Travel, an agency that was founded in 1995, a solid 20 years ago. We got talking and I found out that she rents La Foce estate, which belonged to the writer Iris Origo, as well as a number of amazing villas in Tuscany and the Veneto that are truly fodder for history buffs like me. You’re going to be amazed at how she “fell into” this business and how many properties she now rents that once housed Popes. In this interview, we talk about the importance of keeping historic properties alive through tourism combined with agricultural practice, and about how she hand-picks properties based on a special feeling she gets from the place and its owners.
Alexandra (AMK): How did you start out in the villa rental business?
Katharina (KAT): I was working at Castello di Brolio in the Chianti Classico area when the daughters of writer Iris Origo asked me whether I could organize the renting out of the farm houses and villas on the La Foce estate in the vicinity of Pienza. This was the first big estate I worked with and Trust & Travel was born right there in famous Val d’Orcia. Properties in other areas of Tuscany and the Veneto followed and today we rent selected villas in Umbria and Sardegna too.
AMK: Trust & Travel specializes in rentals on some of Italy’s finest historical estates. Can you tell us a bit more about your particular niche and approach to villa rentals in Italy?
KAT: The majority of villas and apartments in the Trust &Travel catalogue are located on historical estates, tenute in Italian. These estates are normally linked to a family who has been looking after the property for generations. This is an important but also complicated legacy, especially since the second half of the 20th century when farming became less profitable. As beautiful as they are, historic buildings – many of them class listed – require a lot of love and investments. Renting out the restored farmhouses and villas on the grounds is one way to keep these estates alive and in good shape. Trust & Travel supports them in this venture through a selective and respectful tourism.
AMK: Will people holidaying at one of the T&T villas notice this legacy?
KAT: Absolutely. The families who have lived on these estates for centuries are extremely rooted. They are not just in possession of a grand property but also of an array of stories and background information assembled through decades and centuries. But most importantly, these estates are not museums but living entities. Farming and wine making is as important as tourism for them. You’ll note this easily during the wine or olive harvest, but really at any time of the year there will be locals on the estate who work the land. This type of holiday gives villa guests access to the authentic Tuscan, Umbrian or Venetian countryside lifestyle that takes place behind the Renaissance façade.
AMK: Historic villas, class listed buildings, aristocratic families – sounds like an expensive holiday…
KAT: Not necessarily. No doubt, some of the Italian villas in the Trust & Travel portfolio are extremely luxurious and this has its price. But some of the historic estates we work with also rent apartments in the houses that make up the main hamlet at the heart of the whole farm. Free standing villas with private pools are normally more secluded and considered a higher level. Holiday apartments or B&B’s located in the main buildings of the farm may have a shared pool and garden and are hence less pricey. This is often a great option for families with a smaller budget or for couples who don’t want to rent too big a space, but still enjoy an exclusive atmosphere.
AMK: It started with la Foce, but you work with many more historical estates in Italy. How do you select the properties and villas to rent?
KAT: My husband always pulls my leg by saying that property owners need to have at least a pope in the family to be accepted in the Trust & Travel catalogue. That’s obviously not the case, but since many of the villa and palazzi are owned by Italy’s old aristocratic families, quite a few of them do have a pope popping up somewhere in their lineage.
AMK: Ha ha, popping popes! As an art historian I’m intrigued! Can you tell me a bit more about the estates linked to the families of the Renaissance church fathers?
KAT: Yes, let’s start chronologically with Pope Marcello II, who died only 22 days after his election. He was, however, an influential cardinal for a long time and spent his summers in Vivo d’Orcia, a hamlet in the shady woods of mount Amiata. A lesser known part of the UNESCO-heritage Val d’Orcia, this is a wonderful location in extremely hot summers like the one we just had. Pope Marcello died in 1555, but the Vivo d’Orcia estate has stayed in the hands of his family – the Conti Cervini – to this day.
The papacy of Pope Gregory XIII lasted longer (from 1572 to 1585) and was much more influential, since he reformed the civic calendar we still use and know today as the Gregorian calendar. More of his doings can be traced at the Fontanile estate right on the beautiful Maremma coast.
A few years later Clement VIII was Pope from 1592 to 1605. He left his legacy at the magnificent Castello di Celsa close to Siena (garden lovers will love this estate). Last but not least, there is Pope Clement XII who commissioned the Baroque Trevi Fountain in Rome during his papacy (1730 to 1740), and left his imprint at the Marsiliana estate in southern Tuscany. However, I’d like to assure your readers that they don’t need a special interest in ecclesiastical history to enjoy a holiday at any of these properties!
AMK: I’m relieved to hear. In the absence of a pope, what might convince people to rent one of your properties?
KAT: Italy has such a wealth of beautiful villas for rent that the choice doesn’t just lie in the property and its location. These may be outstanding, but I always look for a special characteristic that makes the property endearing to me. This doesn’t mean a villa has to be more luxurious than others. It’s more a question of personality. Our clients obviously ask for 21st century comforts, but the villas, castles and farm houses I choose need to have undergone careful restorations that don’t rob them of their soul. However, the final decision naturally also depends on the people who own the property and whether we get along. My agency is called Trust & Travel because I want my clients to feel looked after and pampered. I can guarantee this only if the villa owners are happy to go out of their way for their guest.