Our trip was FABULOUS!!!!! Villa Empoli was, by far, the most gorgeous place I have ever stayed! Claudia and Varo were perfect hosts. Varo was exceptionally nice! He allowed me to practice my broken, almost non-existent Italian on him while he practiced his much more fluent English on me! They gave us a bottle of local wine, taught us how to use the laundry, made sure we didn't miss the beautiful town of San Gimignano, and were just lovely people! The apartment was spacious and so quiet. The grounds were breathtaking and lucky for us, they patched all the ruts in the white road on our second day there. The property that Villa Empoli sits on contains a grove of olive trees and overlooks this gorgeous view of a Italian vineyard that everyone pictures in their heads when they think 'Tuscany'. Going to the Coop in Empoli to get more bread turned out to be a daily occurrence! The bread there is FANTASTIC!!! I still miss it! :o) I just can't say enough about Villa Empoli....it was fabulous and I would live there if I could! Loved it.
Driving in Italy was nowhere close to the nightmare that I thought it'd be! Perhaps that is because I live in DC and am used to crazy drivers but I felt right at home behind the wheel. Armed with a good GPS, you can drive anywhere! There was one trouble spot, however! It's actually our funny story from the trip. There is a road (and I can't remember which one it was for the life of me!) somewhere between Lucca and Florence that is a toll road. The only problem is that the entrance to the toll road that the GPS takes you on is a Telepass access only!! We didn't have a telepass. I backed up traffic trying to get out of the telepass lane (because of course there were 30 people behind me who did have telepasses!) and promptly did a U-turn into oncoming traffic coming through the other side of the toll booth....all right in front of a polizia!!! :o) The polizia couldn't have been nicer though. They must have seen the terrified looks on our faces and decided to let us crazy Americans go without a ticket! They even gave us directions on how to get away from Lucca on a route that didn't require a telepass! :o)
We did a lot of traveling and met a ton of people in our 11 days there and I have to tell you, Italians are some of the nicest people in the world! They were always willing to forgive our horrible lack of language skills, meeting us rather with smiles and attempts to communicate any way they could. You just don't find that here in the States. It definitely changed my opinion on the whole "learn our language or get out of our country" line of thinking! When I couldn't figure out how to use one of their automatic gas pumps, three people lined up to teach me! Here's a hint about those too....put the money in and THEN hit the button that corresponds to your pump. If you do it the other way around (button, then money), it takes your euros and gives you no gas!! I learned that one the hard way...a few times! :o)
The best gelato in Italy? Hands down (and believe me, we sampled A LOT of gelato!)..."Il Re Gelato" on Viale Strozzi near the Fortezza da Basso in Florence! The best pizza can be found in San Gimignano! The best drive? Go to Lucca, set your GPS to avoid toll roads and then have it map out the drive to Vinci from there....some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen anywhere! Best day trip? Rome! Park the car, strap on some comfy tennis shoes and just walk the city! Stuff to see around each and every corner!
We signed up for the pizza, cake and ice cream cooking class in Florence and LOVED IT! Roberto, the chef, and Alessandro, the assistant chef, were fabulous and the food was beyond description! My youngest daughter wants to become a chef and Roberto spent a lot of time talking to her about what the life of a chef truly entails. He complimented her again and again on her cooking technique and she was just glowing from the acknowledgment of her gifts by a "real life Italian chef!" (her words). They gave us each a copy of the recipes that we had just made to take home. The night was the perfect ending to our time in Tuscany.
I've been home for almost a week and I'd leave tomorrow to go back! I cannot thank InItaly.com enough for all the help in planning our trip, telling us what to expect (Kristin, you were SO right about the jet lag on that second day!), pointing out what to see, and just generally telling us how to get the most out of our trip! You guys were great and I will recommend your site to anyone and everyone who is planning a trip to Italy!
Thanks again for everything!!!!!! :o)
Thank you for your website. Having never been to Italy or, for that matter out of the country, my family had their doubts about me planning our trip to Italy. In Italy made it easy. Our accommodations were excellent. We stayed at Villa Empoli. Villa Empoli was beautiful. Being centrally located in the Tuscan countryside allowed us the freedom to get to know Tuscany in a way that may not have been possible staying at a hotel. Thanks to our very gracious hosts, Claudia, Varo, Francesco and Simone, going out of their way to get us tickets, we were able to attend the Empoli vs Parma soccer match, a highlight of our trip! We took several day trips to Pisa, Lucca, Florence, Siena and San Gimignano, San Gimignano perhaps being my favorite, and wineries. We found a couple of local restaurants that were fantastic, La Lanterna, an In Italy recommendation, was excellent, try the wild boar and I Palmenti was good food but the owner's attitude left a little to be desired. When we go back to Italy, we will return to Villa Empoli.
All in all we had a fantastic time and can't wait to go back and when we do we will return to "In Italy". Thanks again for all your help.
We wanted to tell you how much we enjoyed our stay at Villa Empoli. The apartment was beautiful. We are not sure when we will come back to Italy, but when we do, we hope to be able to stay with you again. Everyone was so helpful and pleasant you made us feel right at home. The Empoli match was a highlight of our trip!! Thanks Varo!! (I hope I spelled your name correctly). I see that Empoli won this week and Parma lost, hope this keeps them out of relegation!!! Go Empoli!!! Please be sure to thank Claudia for her hospitality and for the use of her computer to check my e-mail. I hope it wasn't too much of an inconvenience for her. Thanks again, we hope to see you soon.
Art, Angela, Michael and Gabrielle N.
We had a wonderful time in Italy, especially during the week that we spent at Villa Empoli. I am always a bit skeptical about photographs, thinking that they can be taken in such a way as to make something look better than reality. However, Villa Empoli looks better than the pictures posted on the web site. The house is furnished tastefully and the whole property is well-maintained. The flowers were outstanding. We had a fresh bouquet of roses and a bottle of wine waiting for us as a welcoming gift. Francesco is a charming, helpful host who arranged a visit to a nearby vineyard and who made a special trip into Montelupo to help us find a restaurant where he had made reservations for us.
We were a party of eight women friends traveling together. We enjoyed our time at the villa so much that we shortened some of our projected day trips in order to have more time at the villa. The large kitchen and covered patio were the scenes of great meals that we cooperatively prepared. The food seemed to taste better in the tranquil atmosphere, interrupted only by our sudden realization that it was time for a Tuscan sunset that we needed to capture on film. Some of the appliances remained a mystery to us (such as Italian washers and dryers which don't work quite the same as their US counterparts), but those were small matters.
As for the nearby attractions, I would like to recommend that people staying at the villa make an excursion to Vinci part of their vacation plans. If we had paid attention only to the guidebooks, we would have missed an excellent day trip because the guidebooks stated that Vinci has little to recommend it. We went with Francesco's recommendation as well as that of another couple staying in one of the apartments on the property. Vinci has a great museum with models constructed from Leonardo's drawings with full explanations of the scientific principles involved. I just wish that I were smart enough to thoroughly understand it all, but the whole display was amazing to see. We combined our trip to Vinci with a visit to Montelupo which has a ceramics museum and plenty of shops selling the product. Both of these towns are a short distance from the villa and could be overlooked when visitors are thinking of only the more well-publicized cities to visit.
I think that I can speak for our entire group that we would love to return to Villa Empoli in the future, perhaps to see Tuscany at another time of year. We thought that it was a great bargain--wonderful value for our money as well as being just a lovely setting. When I travel, I usually don't care much about the appearance of the hotel--only that it have a comfortable bed, be clean, and have a good shower/bathroom because I don't plan to spend much time in the hotel room. Villa Empoli, on the other hand, was so attractive and pleasant that I could easily spend most of my vacation time there and reduce the amount of time spent sightseeing. I would definitely recommend it to other people (at the risk of making it so popular that it would be hard for me to book for a future visit).
This commentary is perhaps too long; however, we were quite enthusiastic about our stay at Villa Empoli. We spent 15 days on our trip to Italy; the week at Villa Empoli was the highlight of the vacation for me.
Marilyn Jane L.
Villa Empoli, Francesco and his entire family were outstanding and a high point of our month in Italy. A quick story to illustrate. One afternoon, a thunderstorm unexpectedly formed and quickly blew in over the area. 50 mph winds, lightning, hail, pouring rain, and 30 minutes later it was gone. Unfortunately, it caused a lot of damage at Villa Empoli including all the umbrellas destroyed, lots of water in the villa from open windows, a fallen tree and debris everywhere! I returned after the storm hit from a wine tasting drive and found Francesco mopping up inches of water saying, "Cameron...it is a disaster!" But he, his brothers and some friends all showed up and started cleaning. Our private garden was clean, the fountain sparkled and everything was ship shape within hours. He really cared about making things right.
A cooking class I had scheduled was goofed up and after I told Francesco that my plans to learn some Tuscan recipes were fouled up, he called a friend of his who owns a great restaurant in Empoli. He arranged for me to go in and work with the chef in the kitchen for an evening. Francesco joined my family for a dinner of Siena Pork, the best Mozzarella I have ever tasted, Tuscan Bean soup and so on. A great evening and I learned a great deal.
The Villa itself is very nice and perfectly located. We took the train from Empoli (5 minutes) to visit Florence (less hassle than driving and parking) and drove to various towns and wineries in the area. We would all go back in a heartbeat. It is tough to find, of course you have to expect to get lost over and over in Italy, but worth the search.
The villa couldn't have been more awesome, especially our wonderful host, Francesco. The kids would have rather stayed at the villa than do anything else (except eat gelato, of course!!!). We very much enjoyed sitting on the back deck and enjoying the courtyard. There was more than enough room in the villa for the two families (10 total) to wander. Francesco visited each night and took us to a local winery and offered all kinds of good advice. We thoroughly enjoyed his company and will miss him.
Ps don't forget to go into empoli, that quiet little town that springs to life on thursdays in the summer!!!
Many thanks for your note. We had a terrific time at Villa Empoli; the owners are wonderful people who were very helpful and friendly. I was also happy to be able to tell them how helpful your website and people were! The house is very comfortable and well-appointed. The location is very good, although I think it may be thought to be a bit off the beaten track; in fact, I think that for people looking to see the highlights of Tuscany, including Florence, Pisa, Siena, various of the hill towns, etc., the location can't be beat. Empoli itself was a wonderful discovery; a manageable town with all the amenities and facilities one could need.
Just to let you know that we really enjoyed our stay at Villa Empoli. The house and gardens were lovely. We really loved the marble kitchen with the indoor grill! The baby bed was perfect and they did provide sheets for it. They also managed to find a baby high chair, which was really nice. The only negative point was that unfortunately Francesco was unable to find us a babysitter. He told us that we were the first guests who asked for this. So maybe for the next request he will be more prepared.
Here are my tips for your site, if you think they are worth posting.
1) There are lots of mosquitoes, which love babies. If you have a mosquito net for a crib, bring it with you. Otherwise, we found them for sale at the Brico store in Empoli.
2) Italy in August is fine, but not if you are in the mood for trying all of the fine restaurants in Tuscany! At least 50% of all shops and restaurants are closed, particularly all the most famous restaurants.
3) I found one really EXCELLENT restaurant called Osteria di Rendola in Montevarchi (AR), located off the A1, about 50 minutes drive from Empoli, and 20 minutes from Florence. Tel: 055 9707491, Fax: 055 970 7490. If you are going to the Prada outlet located in Montevarchi, then by all means go for lunch at this lovely renovated farmhouse. To find it, simply go to the center of the town where you will find signs for the restaurant, which will lead you into the hills ten minutes outside the city. We had a wonderful feast; scallop carpaccio with greens and an orange sauce, a breathtaking chicken salad with balsamic vineagar, onion risotto, pasta with porcini, and finally, roasted duck. All for Euro 39 per person, not including wine. Despite the fancy menu, the restaurant is very relaxed and friendly.
4) The supermarket in Montelupo is closer than the ones in Empoli and just as good (which I unfortunately realized only on my last day there!)
5) If you like outdoor food markets and would like to buy fresh fish, there is a huge market in the center of Livorno. Just follow the signs to the center of town and watch for all the old ladies with their shopping bags! We thought it was better than the one in Florence (although that is very nice) because it was not catering for tourists at all.
6) Taking the train from the center of Empoli into Florence was very convenient. The trains leave at least once an hour. The trip takes about half an hour and costs around Euro 5, round trip.
Good day to all of you,
We have just returned from our trip to Italy. Villa Empoli is actually better than your write up. Congratulations for being conservative in the way you describe available rentals. Makes your organization very believable. What made our trip perfect was Varro, Marco and Francesco. These folks took us in like family. They are wonderful friends to have.
Location is also very good. Quiet yet close to the train station. The supermarket in Montelupo is far better than the one in Empoli. Just though you would want to know. Even has a cash ATM.
Your service was really good. If you need recommendations contact us.
Thanks for the follow-up. Villa Empoli was excellent and we were 100% pleased with it.
You recommended that customers purchase a map from you, but I would still provide a map of the local area, showing where to buy things like groceries. If you want to tour around the area then a map would be useful, but if you just want to go food shopping then you can help a lot with this info. We drove to Empoli on Sunday AM to look for a supermarket and got pretty well lost because Empoli has a lot of one-ways and it's a confusing town to drive around. Luckily there were "Supermercato" signs otherwise it would have been impossible. So a map with just the Co-Op supermarket, the train station for Florence, as well as a few restaurants in the area would be perfect. I would also tell visitors how to take the train ("There is an hourly parking lot several hundred meters past the Empoli train station. You can buy a ticket for the number of hours you expect to be in Florence. Do not park in the spots opposite the train station because they have a very short maximum time limit. Return train tickets can be purchased for around 10 euros per adult and at a reduced rate for children between the ages of x and y. Look at the posted schedule which lists all trains departing Firenze for various locations around Italy, and locate the ones which go to Pisa-Livorno and which stop in Empoli. The stops are all listed, and Empoli will be the 3rd or 4th stop from Firenze. The departure platform number in the Empoli and Firenze stations are also indicated on the schedule. For example, trains going to Firenze from Empoli leave from platform 1, which will help you find this on the schedule, which is in Italian. Make sure to stamp your ticket as you leave the station and enter the platform area.")
Having said all this, we were very pleased with the whole setup, and Francesco and family have done a great job renovating the place. I would definitely return/recommend.
Thanks a lot for your service.
First off let me thank you for inquiring on how our stay was. I appreciate your concern for my visit as well as using this as a means to improve the travel of others.
Villa Empoli was our third villa in three weeks and it was good. We were greeted upon our arrival by Francesco and he could not have been nicer. He had a bottle of local wine waiting for us upon our arrival.
The house has a room at the top with windows looking out in four directions. This was a great room for the kids to hold their meetings, however, it was always hot. The people who looked after the place were pleasant and overall we enjoyed it.
In short we had a pleasant stay.
I spent two wonderful weeks at the Villa Empoli. We all absolutely loved our stay and I for one would return in a minute.
However, we did have one recurring problem: getting to the villa. Not a single one of us neglected to get terribly lost, even after being there several days. It was almost comical in a way, but also extremely frustrating especially when arriving after a long day of travel. We think your future guests would greatly appreciate better driving directions, and I'd be happy to help (although I don't think I traveled the same route twice).
Again, thanks for finding us such a wonderful villa, perhaps you'll hear from one of us again in the future.
Villa Empoli was great! We were really surprised by the things we found, very large and nice rooms, the well-equipped kitchen, a pool, the children loved it! On top of everything are the friendly people as Francesco and Marco are. I wish we could spend more time there but one trip to Italy every year is impossible for us. So we will keep our great memories from Villa Empoli. Thanks for helping us with all the communication.
Just wanted to let you know what a great place the Villa was. It was truly magnificent! The hosts were sooo friendly and helped us immensely through a rough time at the end of the trip when we heard about the Trade Center/Pentagon attacks. They loaned us their cell phones to call home, brought us pastries to cheer us up and took us out a few times to show us some great sights in Italy. And when we thought we might get stuck in Italy because we could not a get a flight, they made arrangements for us to stay in another Villa on the property! They really went "above and beyond," in many instances.
We could not have asked for a better place to stay. If you could, please let Marco, Francesco & Simona know how much we appreciated their help. They made a really rough time more bearable for our whole group!
Please also let them know, I left them a present in the Master bedroom on the fireplace -- a little pottery vase. I hope they like. Well that's the scoop! Thanks, Kristen!
Our trip to Italy was marvelous. The Villa was more beautiful, comfortable and better equipped than I expected. Plenty of room for 10 -12 and we never felt crowded. Because there were 10 of us, we ate most of our evening meals at the villa. The location is perfect and I made many trips to the train station in Empoli (10 Mins.) and the airport in Florence (30 Mins.) as we had people coming and going frequently.
Our 5 children and spouses are adults (30+) so I don't have much to add about kids. We did have 2 grand children (4 & 8) there and they loved riding bikes in Lucca and the beaches. I will have to ask my daughter the names of the beaches that they really enjoyed. They were not the usual ones advertised. Also she could add more about kid things. We really got into the Italian lifestyle living in the small town and learned quickly the hours that business were open. - We are spoiled living here (CA) and having things open almost any hour.
Day trips were easily made from this area.
The pool at the villa is now opened and we had 2 days to enjoy that. The hosts were friendly and very accommodating. For future trips to Italy we are thinking maybe of something in the north perhaps near Lake Como. Especially with the idea of going to other countries. However it is too soon to think about that now!!! You will hear from us I am sure.
We have just returned to the U.S. from our 3-week stay at the Villa Empoli. It was a very pleasant experience. Not only was the villa beyond our expectations = the people who own the villa were beyond gracious and very helpful and pleasant.
The panorama of the countryside is breathtaking. Food wonderful everywhere, and the climate was perfect. Being centrally located was an asset, easy to visit all the famous cities within 1/2 hour to an hour.
We (our family) still wish we were there. Miss Tuscany! Needless to say - we had a wonderful time. Sure to return one day - week or month. Thank you again for this recommendation. Also I thank the people at the Villa Empoli for making our stay so pleasant.
Dorothy and Frank D.
Thank you for your note. We all had a fantastic time in Italy. Villa Empoli was more than we expected, we enjoyed the area as well as the villa itself. We did arrive OK because our daughter saw the house on top of the hill and recognized it from the pictures.
The owners of the villa were extremely accommodating and very nice. We were able to visit with them a couple of times and they helped us find many local treasures, restaurants, ceramics, and the local markets, we felt very welcome and were extremely thankful for their help. I can't mention this enough!!! We do want to mention 2 local spots which we found, the first is a delightful restaurant in the center square of Empoli called Osteria "I" Canto Ghibellino. We developed a quick friendship with the owners and really enjoyed their hospitality and their cooking (also very family friendly). The other is a ceramic studio on the way to Montelupo called Ceramica Lupo, we found nice pieces at a fraction of the cost of most of the shops in town, they were easy to deal with although not much English!
We found Tuscany to be a truly friendly and welcoming area and most certainly plan to go back at our first opportunity. We have already mentioned your service to many friends and can't tell you how pleased we are with the way everything worked out. Please drop us a note if you have any further questions and we would like to know if you use anything we have written on your site. Also if you need a family to try out any other spots we would be more than happy to offer our services and slight knowledge of the area and the language!!! Again, thank you very much!
Jay, Julie, Maggie, Scott, and Ryan E.