Casa Cantagallina: past, present, future
We bought the house at the end of 2000. It had been partially restored in the 1980s, coincidentally by Charles, who is our indispensable help and the main contact for our guests during their stay. But he had moved elsewhere and by 2000 it had been neglected and empty for some years; the ground floor had never been converted and still had dirt floors, but wonderful brick arches, more of which we uncovered when we dug out the floors to install damp-proofing. We made some changes to the layout of the rooms on the first and top floors and installed extra bathrooms.
We had in mind our own holidays with friends and young children and wanted to create a layout providing individual families with private space to accommodate different views about things like bedtime, waking up time and siestas.
We arranged the house so that it breaks down into three areas (in addition to the common ground floor living spaces), each with one double and one twin room, a sitting room and at least one bathroom. The house has continued to evolve over the subsequent years and now there are only two bedrooms that share a bathroom, otherwise all are ensuite.
We have also added a bedroom on the ground floor and made changes to the ground floor bathroom so that it is accessible to wheelchair users, though the gradient on the ramp is slightly steeper than is ideal for unaccompanied wheelchair users. It?s been useful for friends and relatives who find it difficult to use the stairs. This room is available for rental guests on discussion and is not included in the basic room/bed count.
The house is very spacious and flexible. The ground floor is quite open plan: the rooms all flow into each other through the original arches and openings. We hope you can get a sense of how it works through the floor plan and attached photos.
Because of the number of different sitting rooms it is possible for different people to be doing quite different things without anyone feeling a sense of intrusion. This summer two friends spent each morning working on a book in the first floor sitting rooms (where our two children revised for their exams in several earlier years), while another couple had a mini table tennis tournament, others swam, read or painted outside, and some cooked lunch, to musical accompaniment. There is wifi, which works reasonably well in most rooms and outside at the table under the pergola. This year we plan to improve the barbecue area and add a wood-fired pizza oven.
The garden didn’t really get going until 2003, after we had the well installed, possibly the deepest well in Umbria! We created the bank and planted the trees between the car park and the pool and added more planting on the far side of the pool and the bank that adjoins our neighbours’ property.
The rest of the grounds are as we found them. There are olive trees, an old pear (they cook well, but aren’t good raw), some plums and three fig trees. The best figs are from the tree at the end of the pool. If you’re there at the right time there is nothing better than rewarding a lap or two of swimming with a fig straight from the tree, still warm from the sunshine.
Our gardener is a conservative chap, who tends to plant a limited number of species, mainly rosemary and very spiky roses that make weeding nearly impossible. We’re gradually succeeding in broadening his palate, and the hibiscus and oleanders are now adding decent summer colour. Each spring we replant the tubs, usually with massively clashing geraniums. This year’s colour scheme had an Indian feel, in a good way (bright pink and orange with occasional red).
There is a herb bed with marjoram, oregano, mint, bay, chives, thyme. We replant the basil and parsley in the late spring.
A private pool 12×6 metres with a deep end with diving board and steps (not a ladder) in the shallow end.
Outside seating options
We opened up the wall of the area under the terrace to make a ‘portico’ that looks out at the garden. It remains shady even when the sun is shining directly at that wall of the house.
This is where we spend most time in the summer (usually all meals). Two tables are arranged into a large square, but can be moved about to squeeze in more people when necessary. The barbeque is around the corner, safely away from vegetation and the straw canopy. We plan to extend the paving to create a new seating area there by the summer of 2015.
Around the corner from the pergola is another paved seating area with a barbecue and wood-burning pizza oven.
By the swimming pool. Mosaic table that seats about 8. The pergola is covered by honeysuckle and passionfruit (edible, exotic). One year we brought down the two tables from Pergola 1 to cater for an enormous lunch for about 20.
Sun-loungers by the pool
Can be supplemented by deckchairs from the storage cupboard next to the portico.
Gets the evening sun.
First Floor Terrace
Table, four chairs (more wicker chairs can be brought out from the sitting room) and a double swinging chair (great for one person with a book). The perfect place for the evening pre-dinner drinks, looking out across the lake and the hills.
A few words from past guests
Over the years, people from across the world have travelled – whether by train, car or plane – to the heart of rural Italy, to spend time at Casa Cantagallina, and to experience the joy of calling it their home.
Because Casa Cantagallina is a home in the full sense of the word. You won’t find uniform hotel-white bedding throughout, or plastic flowers adorning the dining table. Everything about Casa Cantagallina is real.
For us, this homeliness is paramount. It’s what makes Casa Cantagallina such a special place to visit, and we believe it’s what has led our guests from across the globe to consistently love their time there. We’ve included a sample of our reviews below, but you can find more on TripAdvisor.
“a fabulous house for large groups to lose each other in…”
Thank you for a lovely stay. We had a very committed tourist guide in Ian driving us to a different village or two each day, including Cortona, after (of course) the compulsory early morning walk up to the village for coffee.
It is a fabulous house for large groups to lose each other in.
“the perfect place to chill and relax, or use as a base to explore Tuscany and Umbria…”
We stayed in Casa Cantagallina on the Umbria/Tuscany border this August 2014 as a first visit and we could not speak more highly of it. We thought the photographs and description did not do it justice. And the views were spectacular.
It was extremely spacious (huge!) and stylish but also very comfortable, with large and airy seating areas on all the floors so there was no problem finding a space to read quietly or take a siesta. The villa is extremely well equipped and had everything you could need for a large party – the ice-cream maker and bread maker were heavily utilised during our stay. The grounds are absolutely beautiful with outdoor terraces and pool, but we were too early for ripe figs, so had to ‘make do’ with fresh passion fruit from the trees.
The owners’ recommendations for eating, drinking and sightseeing/activities (or at least the ones we had time to sample), all received the thumbs up from our party. We will definitely be going back.
“lovely house, great pool and a brilliant jumping off point…”
We have stayed here every year since 2008 for at least one week, sometimes two. The house is very spacious and comfortable and can easily accommodate two families.
Lovely terrace with views over pool and garden (including bountiful fig trees) towards Lake Trasimeno. This is a very peaceful spot with the village of Villastrada 5 minutes away by car and supermarket facilities of Castiglione 20 minutes. The sights of Cortona, Montepulciano, Perugia and Orvieto are all reachable in one hour.
“I really hope to go back next summer…”
What I loved about Casa Cantagallina was that the tastefully decorated house is extremely spacious, with plenty of areas to sit and relax both indoors and out – so many in fact that it is hard to decide where to have the first drink of the evening and enjoy the views.
The large and welcoming dining space is great for lunches and dinners with a big group, but it is also possible to find a quiet corner to oneself. I found the shady terrace by the pool just right for an afternoon siesta after a morning out and about. There are nice places to walk from the house as well.
“thank you for the opportunity to spend time at your beautiful property…”
We had a terrific five weeks at your lovely property. As recommended, we used your cookbooks and travel hints, as well as lots of candles! We ate at home all but one night with all the keen cooks in a continual state of heaven thanks to the wonderfully fresh local produce. We participated in a cooking class at Orvieto and travelled to most of the places recommended in your notes. Plenty of memorable picnics, great moments at the “Crazy” cafe and three birthday celebrations.
Most mornings we enjoyed an early stroll to Villa Strada for starter coffees at the Sports Bar. In all, 25 of our friends and family shared Casa Cantagallina with us over the five weeks (in staggered groups not all at once!) and all had a marvellous time. Charles was most helpful and the property genuinely exceeded our expectations.
“no hesitation in recommending it…”
A fabulous house in a stunning setting. The multiple living areas make it perfect for a larger family or a group of close friends. Most mornings we would explore the surrounding towns and villages, then come ‘home’ for a dip in the pool before cooking up a banquet in the beautifully equipped kitchen, or venturing out again for dinner in one of the nearby towns.
We loved our time there.
Chris and Hayley.
“can’t wait to go back…”
Our memories of our Tuscan holiday are of the beautifully renovated Tuscan farmhouse set atop a hillside overlooking a valley with Lake Castigliano in the background. Visiting the local villages followed by evenings spent by the pool picking figs and cherries are reminiscent of scenes you see in movies.
We would highly recommend this villa.
Pam and Prue.
“we all had the most wonderful time…”
I am writing somewhat belatedly to thank you for renting your house to us for three weeks. Over the period, 22 people shared your home and without exception pronounced it the most perfect house for a house party: a table which seats 14+, a layout which guarantees space and privacy, and a kitchen that had every single thing we needed! Not to forget an ambiance which encouraged comfort and informality.
The maps, city guides and maps, guidebooks etc meant that there was a ready source of information available and the location itself was perfect for both hanging out in the house and for day trips to some of the most special cities and towns in Italy. I think it is fair to say that for us all, Casa Cantagallina provided us with a special memory of both time together and as tourists in Italy. I believe that the ease we felt in your home must have mirrored your own hospitality even though you weren’t there!
Jan 2004 and October 2005
“perfect for anyone who wants to get away in the Tuscan countryside…”
Our family had the opportunity of staying at Casa Cantagallina on two separate occasions. It is a lovely house on a large property in a quaint village setting in Tuscany. It is such a large house you could have many guests, although we did not use all the rooms. It is fully equipped with everything you want and the kitchen is fully stocked with every utility every budding chef would care to use.
A retreat in Umbria, heart of Italy
Situated in western Umbria, Cantagallina lies close to the Tuscan border between Castiglione del Lago, on a promontory in Lake Trasimeno, and Chiusi, the Etruscan centre known by the Romans as Clusium.
The Italians, or at least their tourist writers, call Umbria ‘the green heart of Italy’, and it is. It is somewhat less visited than Tuscany, but equally full of beautiful hill towns, large and small, Roman and Etruscan sites, wonderful examples of Renaissance art, great food and wine.
A brief history
There has been a settlement at Cantagallina since at least the 16th century (the village appears on one of the maps in the Vatican museum’s Gallery of Maps). The house overlooks Lake Trasimeno a few kilometres away, where Hannibal and at least one elephant fought and defeated the Romans in 217 BC. More recently, this area was one of the lines defended by the Germans in the Allied advance through the Italian peninsula in 1944. Not much of this is immediately apparent from the hamlet, but the perfectly straight roads from Chiusi towards Montepulciano and Fabro were probably first laid out by the Romans and a visit to La Foce (30 minutes away) will give a vivid idea of life in the area as the German army retreated.
The main north-south railway line and motorway (the A1) stop in Chiusi, where it is possible to hire a car. The nearest airport is Perugia (50 minutes), which has flights 5 days a week from Stansted, or Rome and Florence airports (around 2 hours away) with more frequent daily flights. From Fiumicino Airport there are trains to the central railway stations in Rome or from Ciampino in Rome or Florence airport there are taxis or buses to the train stations for reasonably frequent trains to Chiusi (about 1 hour 50 minutes). All airports have a range of car hire options, though Ciampino and Florence airports require a short airport bus ride from the terminal to the car hire offices.
The nearest village is Villastrada, walkable in about 20 minutes, with a small, very well-stocked supermarket and a caf’ that serves excellent pizzas in the evenings on a vine-covered terrace across the road.
There are two good circuits for runs or walks from the house through Cantagallina Alta then either through Villastrada or Caiaoncola and back to the house.
Within 30 minutes: Forts, lake-side beaches and frescos
Within 45 minutes: World-famous wine and spectacular cathedrals
Within 60 minutes: Major provincal towns packed with culture
Within 75 minutes: One of the world’s greatest public spaces
Further away: Rome? Florence? It’s up to you.
We are in the middle of farms, not woodland, so we don’t get things like wild boar, but there are many birds, including occasional Hoopoes and plentiful swifts and (very small, not scary) bats that swoop over the pool looking for insects in the evenings. One of the islands on Lake Trasimeno is a bird sanctuary.
We have fireflies in June, which is like having Tinkerbell flitting around the garden, and in the summer small lizards that are quite entertaining to watch. Some years we’ve had one or two toads and last year we had a family of hedgehogs living near the table where we spend most of our time in the summer.
We are reliably told that there are more species of butterflies around our house and nearby than in the whole of the south-east of England.. In early August there are shooting stars, as the Earth passes near the Perseid meteor shower (the Night of San Lorenzo, a saint who was martyred on a grid over an open fire).