Summer 2020 is going to be, let’s say, “unique” for everyone. As soon as the first rumours of “being let out” were circulating, my thoughts turned to the summer holidays. How could we have a safe summer holiday as a family? We’re based in Florence, and my brother and sister in law and their kids are in Milan. The three weeks in August that they come down to Tuscany and stay near the beach is the one time each year that we get to know our niece and nephew better, as weekend visits don’t really give us enough time to bond. At three and a half and almost seven years old, they’re becoming quite charming and my stony heart has melted at receiving a nickname, Zia Xa (Xa would be aleXandra you see, hard to pronounce for an Italian kid), and at little Greta’s obvious pleasure in seeing me. The kids have been cooped up for an extra long lockdown, being in the first area to be hit, so both they and their parents deserve a nice holiday.
So, I set out to find the perfect place to hole up alone with the family. Like many, I searched for the perfect private villa with pool, with plenty of space to lounge around (or for the kids to run around and scream, far away from me…) and just drink in a great view. It could be anywhere in Central Italy since we don’t plan to leave the house (usually a priority for me would be visiting towns or museums I’ve never seen, but not this time). Having already stayed at a fabulous villa by Special Umbria a few years ago, they were my first choice for this summer. I’ve secured our family’s getaway for a week in August, and spent ages just drooling over their selection of perfectly decorated villas in Umbria and beyond. To not let that go to waste, I’m sharing twelve of their tempting private villas with pools in Umbria here.
I got to know Rob and Jeroen some years ago when an international PR contacted me about their superbly decorated villas. The Dutch partners fell in love with Italy and chose the area of Umbria, near Lake Trasimeno, to build their home. The experience led them to offering property development and management services to others, and they built up a portfolio of clients whose second homes in Italy are let on the platform Special Umbria. Their style takes the best of the Central-Italian country style in terms of materials, views and spaces, and combines it with the unique tastes of the (usually Nordic) owners. The result is a portfolio of rentals that is much better appointed than any I have seen elsewhere – I just love their style that is essential and modern, yet warm and comfortable. We worked together to create an article about decorating a farmhouse and I still love the look of the places we picked for that article back in 2016. The following year, my parents were visiting from Canada in the Fall and we went to explore the small towns of Umbria, using Special Umbria’s Casa Refogliano as our home base. We absolutely loved the villa’s huge common room with multiple seating spaces, a huge kitchen and long table. It was too cold to sit outdoors or take advantage of the pool, though I recall enjoying a barbecue anyway. Now I’m already picturing myself by the pool at the villa we chose for our family’s holiday, and Tommaso is planning all-day breakfasts and frequent grilled meat fests.
Let’s look at a few dreamy villas in Umbria, shall we? Rob tells me these have availability this summer, so if you’re already in Italy and feel safest with a private villa to stay in, I highly recommend this company.
Just for two: Castellaccio Suite
Most of the time we travel as a couple without kids and without an extended family, and I have never seen a private villa for just two people. I love, love love everything about Castellaccio Suite, a villa just for two, with a narrow swimming pool and cool décor that seems to take the blue of the sky and pool and bring it indoors. This villa rents by the night rather than by the week, so it’s like a private hotel. It’s on my list for a future stay for sure.
The architect’s house near Perugia
Ponte Rio is a home belonging to two architects from Perugia and it’s located quite close to the city, ideal if you want to access the restaurants or cultural offering of Perugia during your stay. I love the exposed stone walls that have been painted ecru, leaving the texture but making the space brighter and more modern. The rough walls contrast with the choice of a modern, industrial-style smooth floor. There’s a to-die for pergola under which to dine, and modern art is a fil-rouge in this attractive home.
Casa Collina has the best of the traditional Umbrian (or Tuscan, for that matter) farm homes: a ton of light and an incredible view. Collina means “hill” in Italian and this one’s perched on a hill from which you can see the town of Piegaro only 2km away (which means you could technically walk to the mini-market to pick up milk). One thing I look for in a rental home is comfortable chairs at the dining table because our family enjoys a good, long meal, and this one has nice padded ones in the kitchen. They also have very tasteful linens.
The world traveler
Casa Masce was one of my top choices for my family’s holiday. Located near Todi, a km off the main road in an isolated position, I love the modern shape of this building and the owners’ eclectic style with some Asian-inspired touches. I am also really temped by the two sleigh beds in what would be a kids’ room, and by the hammock strung out front. This villa has four bathrooms as well as four bedrooms, which is another rare element. The only downside I can spot in the photos is that it doesn’t seem to have much shade around the pool, and as an almost-transparent-skinned person, I do need my shade.
The one we chose
I drooled over all the homes in the Special Umbria portfolio, but in the end I chose Casa Ghiandaia. I’m not such a traditionalist and don’t feel like I need a typical Umbrian farm house for my holiday, but I don’t want something that looks too modern either. This is a newly built structure, which has the advantage of having some amazingly large windows (rare in a traditional building in this country), but the architects have done a great job of giving it a calming, timeless quality. Turns out this is SU’s photographer’s home, so I guess I have a similar eye, or at least taste! For me the kicker here is the solid roofed structure by the pool, for full shade, as well as the well-padded lounge chairs, because if this arthritic body is going to spend a week lounging by the pool reading books, those had better be good little mattresses!
The best living room
Casa Refogliano is where my family and I stayed for a Fall weekend in 2017 and we found it extremely well appointed. Our favourite thing about this villa was the huge open living room with a large kitchen and island at one end, a super long table, and two seating areas. This makes it convivial for the person or people cooking, and having multiple seating areas is perfect if you have a large family doing different activities in the main space. Another really cool thing is the “kids’ room” with a gorgeous built-in bunk bed for four along one wall.
Together, but not too much
Gazza is a combination of two units in a villa, so it’s ideal if you’re two families, maybe with kids, who want to spend time together but also have a little privacy. It’s got a super terrace with big long padded benches that look perfect for parents to down bottles of local wine on long summers’ nights while the kids are up to no good elsewhere.
The big family
This one’s mostly booked up for the summer months, but Villa Falco has old-world appeal and sleeps 12. I’m thinking it would be great in early September, where you’d enjoy the saline pool but also the gym, trampoline and ping-pong table.
The one with a pool in a cave
This is truly unique. Casa Reggio is a portion of a 14th century ‘Palazzo’ that sits on an underground system of caves, Etruscan tombs and a Roman water cistern. And yes, what better place for a pool? The lower levels of this stunning Medieval home on the edge of “the dying city” Civita di Bagnoreggio look like they have been carved straight out of tufa stone to create a unique pool, wine cellar and garden kitchen. The décor of essential and colourful design pieces enhances the natural structure of the home. This one usually books up more than a year in advance, but due to the bans on international travel, it could be yours this Summer if you’re already in Italy or the EU!
So there you have it. Special Umbria has plenty more – not just in Umbria in fact, but now also in Tuscany, Puglia and Sicily. Will you be spending your summer vacation in a villa in Umbria like I will?