Italian Vacation Villas, vacation rentals in Italy
For this month's profile we talked to Alice Tetelman and Martin Wenick, owners of Italian Vacation Villas. They provide a selection of vacation rentals in Tuscany, Umbria and other popular regions in Italy - from large to small - villas, farm houses, apartments on wine estates.
Alice and Martin have spent a lot of time in Italy. They can help you decide on the best vacation rental for your trip and offer great local travel advice. I have known Alice and Martin for many years and highly recommend them.
Martin Wenick found himself at home in Rome in the 1970s as a Foreign Service Officer assigned to the American Embassy, reporting on Italian political developments, including Italy's relationships with communist countries.
Nowadays, he uses his diplomatic and investigative skills in the tourism sector by hunting down, inspecting, and brokering some of the most interesting vacation rental properties available on the market. Martin and his wife Alice Tetelman, who also had a career in the political and policy arena, use their contacts, knowledge of the country, and fluency in the language to ensure that their offerings are top quality. They offer an assortment of sizes and price ranges and offer many larger villas that can comfortably accommodate groups or family parties.
From Avocation to Occupation
The couple started the Washington, DC-based Italian Vacation Villas in February, 1999 after traveling around Italy and staying in various vacation rentals for two months. "We had just retired from long professional careers and starting Italian Vacation Villas was a great way for us to turn an avocation into a business."
That business took root back in the old catalog days of vacation rental properties and has since grown into an agency that represents more than 450 villas, farmhouses and apartments. They work with a few select and highly reputable Italian agencies as well as carefully selected individual property owners and private estates. Italian Vacation Villas has grown steadily and received accolades in such publications as Budget Travel, Bon Appetit, Conde Nast Traveler, the Washington Post and USA Today.
"We travel to Italy twice a year to inspect properties, meet with our agency partners and people whose services we recommend, and to evaluate new properties to consider adding to our portfolio. In working with private owners, we first visit the property to ascertain that it would fit into our program and to ensure that the owners can provide the level of service that our clients expect," Martin told us. They will, on occasion, drop a property from their portfolio if it no longer maintains the standards that Martin and Alice require.
Having traveled extensively themselves, they strive to make sure that the standards and amenities offered by the properties are what they would expect when selecting a vacation rental for their own travels.
All Italy, All the Time
From the beginning, Martin and Alice zeroed in on Italy as their only focus. "There was no other choice," Martin said. "It is a country we know and love." That in-depth knowledge helps set them apart from the competition. They have not only personally inspected every property, they have years of accumulated contacts and travel advice.
They place heavy emphasis on personal service. "We are able to offer clients the type of specialized attention that larger agencies that focus on offering properties in multiple countries just cannot provide."
While there is abundant information on many of their offerings online, Martin and Alice consider the internet to be a mixed bag. "On one hand, it provides easy access to a wealth of information. On the other hand, this can lead to information overload and, at times, misleading information about properties," he said. They prefer to personally assist clients in selecting their vacation property to help them avoid being overwhelmed by choice. "We work hard at ensuring that clients are matched as closely as possible with the type of rental experience they tell us they are seeking. Upon their return, clients often tell us that we 'undersold' the property they rented."
Because they prefer to speak with clients directly their website does not offer online booking. They do, however, accept personal checks and credit cards for payments, a big plus for North Americans who find bank transfers costly and confusing.
It is this personal approach that has built their reputation. "Our method of careful selection of properties as well as our highly personalized service serves to minimize the number of complaints that arise. We have had only a minimal number of complaints over the years that we have been in business. The substantial number of testimonials and referrals we get from former clients attest to our success in meeting client expectations." Martin also reports that more than 50% of their business is from repeat and referral customers.
Value Added Services
Martin and Alice want to ensure the entire trip is a success, starting of course with the accommodations. They don't just book it and leave clients to fend for themselves, however. Martin told us, "We are always willing to provide travel assistance to our clients. At least six weeks prior to departure, we send them a rental packet with informative materials that includes a travel tips booklet and a 20-page list of restaurant recommendations, along with local tourist information."
They will offer up suggestions for reputable suppliers for rental cars and travel insurance, and mine their Rolodex to arrange in-villa cooks, local tour guides, and cooking classes. They can put clients in touch with the right people for winery visits or special occasion dinners, or even destination wedding services.
They can boast that they really know the country: "We know exactly how long it takes to get from Arezzo to Siena! We are always ready to provide travel ideas and sightseeing suggestions or restaurant recommendations through telephone conversations or email."
In addition, they insist that all the owners they work with have a local contact person available who speaks English, to be available for any problems that may arise during the rental period.
While it is important to have someone available who speaks English in case of a problem, Martin says that knowing Italian is not vital for a quality experience in Italy. "Italians are very patient with foreigners who try to speak their language. Alice has never had a formal Italian course. She speaks Italian which is not always grammatically correct, yet Italians are quick to tell her how well she speaks the language." He added that knowing just a little Italian goes a long way to fostering good will.
A Few Favorites Italian Things
We asked Martin and Alice to reveal a few of their favorites with us, the hidden treasures that keep them enthralled with the bel paese.
In Italy it is "all about the food," so their favorite Italian things include several restaurants:
- Martin's pick for favorite restaurant is Ristorante Da Fortunato near the Pantheon in Rome. "It is a traditional trattoria which I frequented while living in Rome. I return to it on every visit. I've been eating there for 33 years!"
- Another favorite restaurant is Buca di San Antonio in Lucca.
- For pizza lovers traveling in the area of Bibbona (south of Livorno), there is a fabulous pizza "joint," right in the center of the old town, called L'Orto Etrusco.
- In Chianti you get good pizza and a nice antipasto table at Pizzeria Il Fondaccio in Castellina in Chianti.
For people interested in purchasing ceramics they recommend La Gioconda in Deruta. "Claudia, who speaks excellent English, is very accommodating, and always willing to assist clients with their orders and shipping."
For travellers looking for a wonderful agriturismo (B&B) Martin and Alice recommend Locanda Rosati, near Orvieto. They offer home cooked dinners served family style each evening.
As for a scenic spot, Martin says that if he could only return to one place in Italy for the rest of his life, he would choose the southern Tuscany countryside for its natural beauty and peaceful nature. "It is also home to some excellent pecorino cheese and very fine wines like Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano," he adds.
A Sample of Their Vacation Rental Properties
As for vacation rentals, they provided us with a sampling of properties that offer something for every taste and budget.
Villas in the Tuscan Countryside
La Pietra is a well restored old farmhouse with lovely grounds and a swimming pool in a very private position near Cortona. It sleeps 6 people in 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. Alice and Martin rented this property for a family vacation several years ago and loved it.
Mid-season rates are $4200/week, high-season $4755/week. Sounds expensive? It works out to $113 per person, per night for your own slice of Tuscany with views and a swimming pool.
Certosina is a very nicely restored old farmhouse for eight people on a wine producing estate near Gaiole in Chianti. The farmhouse sleeps 8 in 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. Mid-season rates are $4520/week, high-season $5510/week. Sounds expensive? It works out to $98 per person, per night for your own slice of Tuscany with views and a swimming pool.
Small Independent Houses
Agresto is restored 13th century barn just south of Siena with views to Mt. Amiata and the valleys of southern Tuscany. It has a pool and sleeps 4 in 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.
Mid-season rates are $2095/week, high-season $2540.
Rosmarino is a small independent house south of Castellina in Chianti. It sleeps 4 in 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. Because there is no swimming pool, the weekly price comes in lower for high-season. Mid-season and high-season rates are $1,645/week.
Apartments on an Estate
Rocca 1 and 2: Two apartments on a farm near Castellina in Chianti. There is a pool and the owners (farmers) live in another part of the farmhouse.
Rocca 2 is the larger with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Mid-season rates are $1,440/week, high-season $1,655/week.
Rocca 1 sleeps 3 in 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms. Mid-season rates are $1,110/week, high-season $1,365/week.
Italian Vacation Villas also offers houses and apartments on the beautiful La Foce estate near Pienza in southern Tuscany.
The Best Thing About Italy?
To wrap it up, when asked what they think is the single, best part of Italy, Martin responded, "It is the Italians themselves, and the environment and culture that they have created."
The Italian Vacation Villas website offers plenty of good travel tips for Italy.
Thank you Alice and Martin for taking the time to tell us about Italian Vacation Villas!
More photos of Italian Vacation Villas rentals followed by some of the weekly markets in Tuscany and some restaurant food. Click any photo on this page to start a slideshow.