When you have young children the last thing you do on holiday is actually relaxing… Sure you’re in a nice location, you have great views, good food and hot weather to enjoy but more often than not, you come back from a trip more exhausted than when you first went away. And, unless you want to stick your offspring into a Kids’ Club all day – or get a holiday nanny (wishful thinking), then who entertains them? You do, of course!
So I’m going to let you in on a little secret… There’s this delightful property called Villa Pia nestled in the breathtaking hills of a little village called Lippiano, just on the borders of Tuscany and Umbria in Italy. IItsmain aim is to not only make sure every member of the family has an enjoyable holiday, but for parents to unwind.
Not possible I hear you cry!
Well, when I tell you I managed to read a whole book as did hubby, go for an afternoon siesta on a hammock on several occasions and come back from my week away feeling refreshed and a little too overfed, perhaps then you’ll believe me?
Villa Pia Italy’s set up is one I’ve never come across before. Part commune, part hotel, part self-catering, there’s a real sense of community amongst all the guests who stay there.
Once the residence of a Florentine family, Villa Pia Italy is a lovingly restored 15-century country manor house which, alongside the converted barn and stables, has been welcoming families on holidays for over a decade and their formula hasn’t changed much. The friendly staff who all live locally or onsite such as managers Paola and Anneka, run the house with precision and experience.
And even though I’d written about all its fantastic attributes in a previous post – seeing really is believing…
There really is something for everyone. The adults get to indulge in delicious gastronomic Italian fare, help themselves to a cold glass of wine or a bottle of beer at any time of the day and relax in serene surroundings by the pool or the shady nooks, while the children have several areas to lose themselves in from the playground to the soft play room and plenty of open space to go wild. I kid you not it was something reminiscent of a scene from The Lord of the Flies when I found Monkey and his gang of pals naked by the trampoline with sticks, screaming at the top of their lungs!
But that’s the magic of Villa Pia Italy. When we drove down to the main house after a long drive from Bologna Airport, several of the guests who were lounging in the courtyard got up to introduce themselves and offer us a drink.
If you’re lucky enough to have a great bunch of people during your stay (and I’m sure you will) they will become an extended family of sorts. We all looked out for each other’s children, went for village walks to the ice cream shop with other families’ kids, fetched drinks for one another, that sort of camaraderie you don’t really expect on holiday.
We didn’t stay in the main house of Villa Pia Italy, which has 17 rooms, some set up as family and adjoining to accommodate larger groups. Instead, we had the pleasure of experiencing Palazzo Regina, Villa Pia’s sister house a three-minute walk up into the village.
When we were first told that we wouldn’t be staying at Villa Pia itself, my heart sank – my first thought, feeling like a child not being picked for a school team.
But when we drove up to the fully restored house and saw not only the size of our living space – we had two huge bedrooms connected via a long hallway and bathroom – we were blown away after we flung open the bedroom shutters and gasped at the view of the beautiful Italian landscape that we would be waking up to each morning.
We were more impressed when we were led downstairs to the kitchen, which has all the same help-yourself-policy as the main house – fresh fruit and yoghurt on tap, breakfast items such as cereals and toast, a coffee machine and soft and alcoholic drinks in the fridge. Monkey quickly discovered the playroom filled with mountains of toys, while we made our way onto the outside terrace.
During the week, it was truly wonderful enjoying the Italian vista with a cup of coffee with the hum of the tractors on the fields in the distance – and we pretty much had the house to ourselves. The Palazzo Regina only accommodates four families, and even though you do have to walk to Villa Pia which can be annoying if you’ve left something in the room – it was actually a blessing to be able to have some space and privacy away from the main hub.
Meanwhile, it’s for this reason a babysitter is provided every night so that parents can go and enjoy dinner without having to worry about their children. Special mention goes to Gabriella who has a wonderful rapport with the kids.
Monkey actually accompanied us to dinner most nights. While we happily munched our way through four courses, he was happily playing with his friends. But on the two occasions, we did leave him behind, we were amazed to find him tucked up in bed fast asleep courtesy of the child-whispering powers of Gabriella.
And so I come on to the subject of food. Let me warn you, a stay at Villa Pia Italy will leave you a few pounds heavier.
Breakfast is a simple affair. Because Monkey got up fairly early, we opted to have breakfast at Palazzo Regina – before heading to Villa Pia Italy. At the main house, breakfast is served until 11.00am with the extra options of croissants, fresh bread and cold meats and cheeses.
We learned pretty quickly not to overfill ourselves in the morning because once the bell rings signalling lunch at 1.00pm you’ll need the room to devour the feast laid out before you. Freshly cooked on the premises, there are over 20 different options daily – we didn’t have the same dish twice during our week. From pastas, to salads, to grilled meats and fish. The hard part is fitting it all on your plate in one sitting!
And before you know it, another lazy afternoon has passed by and the bell is ringing again, this time for the kids to choose their dinner at 5.00pm. Monkey was in heaven. He adores pasta as well as the plentiful juicy watermelon for afters – and the children’s selection was very much catered to younger palettes including fresh pizzas, Italian sausages and even fish fingers one evening!
Dinner for the adults a few hours later is a more sumptuous affair. The large long communal table in the courtyard is laid with a table-cloth, cutlery, wine and water. Most guests enjoy an aperitif before sitting down – made from the vast spirits on offer. As well as the little snacks and nibbles. When dinner is served no one stands on ceremony, you sit where you like and enjoy a four-course meal. And boy are you in for a treat! We ate the likes of fresh bresaola, risotto and tagliatelle, roast beef and lamb as well as tiramisu and pear tart. You will not go hungry.
Lippiano itself is a tiny village which consists if a church, a castle – which the owners allowed us to look around, and a small bar which sells snack foods, ice cream and penny toys. You do need a car otherwise you will find yourself feeling stranded and unable to get out and explore.
One of our fellow guests couldn’t drive and the taxi prices she was quoted were extortionate. In the end, she had to rely on lifts from other people and it meant that on a Thursday, which is Villa Pia Italy’s day off, and when the kitchens close down, she was left to fend for herself, while all the other guests went off on day trips.
But this doesn’t by any mean there is nothing to do at Villa Pia Italy – well, not for the kids anyway. Monkey had an absolute blast. He was lucky because there were several other boys his age who were all into scrabbling up the tunnel slide, climbing on top of the castle, pushing each other on the tyre swing, dressing up in the outfits from the toy chest and best of all, causing chaos down in the pool area which has a shallow kids pool, perfect for little ‘uns. The older children proved to be nurturing, too, always on hand to look out for their younger friends and entertain. It was truly heartening to see.
Villa Pia isn’t for everyone. If you’re not open to mingling with other people and prefer to keep yourselves to yourselves, then I would advise against going. There is a lot of interaction with the other families and, although there is space to go off and get some peace such as the library and gardens, meal times are extremely social.
Children will also gain the most benefit from playing with their peers if they are old enough to walk/talk/mingle by themselves. Villa Pia is safe, and even though at the beginning of our stay we were anxious about Monkey’s whereabouts by the last few days it wasn’t uncommon for him to have disappeared for an hour or so. He always knew where we’d be, and we were always reassured that other parents were on the lookout, too.
Villa Pia Italy isn’t like a big resort with all the mod cons such as air con (they do provide fans in rooms), kids clubs and daily entertainment shows. And yes, the pool area could be a little shadier – it’s a real sun trap especially in 40-degree heat.
But what they do offer is something far more rustic and self-fulfilling. Art classes for the children (which Monkey adored) as well as cookery classes (which we adored). An on-site beauty room where the talented Maria Giovanni gave me the most relaxing massage, while other guests raved about her pedicures. And if you’re feeling a little sporty, bikes for hire and the table tennis room – where we spent several evenings challenging each other to matches. Be warned, groundsman Alejandro is an expert and he loves to practise his ping-pong moves.
Good, hearty Italian food, excellent company and the most spectacular, idyllic location to enjoy it all in. That is what you get when you holiday at Villa Pia Italy. Add to this the no TV or wi-fi policy on each room (there is wifi in the communal areas of the main Villa), means that you are forced to take a step back and de-stress.
Not only did we make some new friends, some of who we will definitely be staying in touch with, as a family we learned how to relax and be still. Reading my book, swinging in the hammock under the wisteria was my favourite pastime, plus indulging in all that delicious food. Monkey got to play all day long – he was so exhausted by the end of the holiday he actually asked for a siesta!
Would we do it all again? Absolutely, and we’re not the only ones… We met several families who have returned time and time again.
That’s the pull of Villa Pia Italy – affordable luxury and an-all inclusive break which, for the first time since we’ve had our boy, we returned home feeling like we had a proper holiday. That, my friends, is priceless…
* We were invited to stay at Villa Pia Italy for a week, but as always my opinions are my own. All extras and our flights were paid for by ourselves.