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Slow Europe shows you how to find vacation rentals in Europe - villas, houses, cottages or apartments that you rent by the week.

What are Vacation Rentals?

Valle Nuova, vacation rentals and B&B in Le Marche

by Valerie Schneider and Pauline Kenny, May 2010

For this month's profile we talked to Giulia Savini whose family owns Valle Nuova, B&B and vacation rentals in Le Marche.

When I first met Giulia in person, after knowing her online for several years, I was surprised to hear her speak English with a perfect British accent! I kept asking her questions just to hear her talk. I love the enthusiasm Giulia has for her part of Italy and the work that she does.

Le Marche occupies an enviable position, kissed by the Adriatic Sea and cuddled up against three of Italy's most popular regions, Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. It enjoys the lovely landscapes and Renaissance splendor of its neighbors, but despite its central locale is still relatively unknown.

The low-key region has been quietly gaining a loyal following, attracted to its magnificent mountains, pastoral hills checkered with farms, friendly folks, and clean beaches. It was the combination of beauty, cultural life and rural atmosphere that lured the Savini family there in 1981.

Rural Allure

Giulia Savini, Valle Nuova

Giulia Savini

The Savini's had been living in Milan while also dabbling in farming on a small tract in the Piedmont. They started looking for a larger property where they could devote themselves to organic farming principles and raise cows. They found Valle Nuova and fell in love with the Urbino area, which boasted a lively cultural life and important university - a benefit for their growing daughter Giulia - and a region steeped in rural tradition. Dramatic mountains formed a beautiful backdrop to the farm. The small city and cultivated countryside were picture-perfect. They purchased the 185-acre property, eventually expanding the farming operations to include an agriturismo, a type of rural inn, in 1997.

That same beauty and the family's agriturismo business lured Giulia back to her rural roots full time after eight years of splitting her time between Madrid and Le Marche. "I went to Madrid for a Master's Degree in International Cooperation and I started spending my winters there and my summers at Valle Nuova. Le Marche is a beautiful region but I have to admit that winter in the countryside is for log fires at home, not for going out. I tend to hibernate during the winter with my cats, my doggy, books, internet friends and my cooking experiments," she told us.

Life in Spain offered lots of perks. "I enjoyed life there, with mild winters and a big town full of Spaniards who like walking, going out, and chatting - my favorite sports, though not necessarily in that order! My parents took care of everything back home while I handled the marketing and bookings. Four years ago I decided I needed to take on the responsibility of the whole thing and so I moved back here, though I still have a room in Madrid available to me."

Agri-Tourism

Locanda della Valle Nuova

Locanda della Valle Nuova

The sprawling farm at Valle Nuova is primarily devoted to growing grains and raising the rare and prized Marchigiana cows, a breed found only in that area. The meat is sold in local butcher shops. While beef and wheat are what Giulia calls the "serious farm produce," they also have a big kitchen garden, a small orchard and a vineyard planted with Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Bianchello grapes, all utilized in the Locanda's dining room. She says they also collect wild berries, nuts, flowers and herbs, and have chickens and a pig, as well. They mill their own flour to make bread and pasta, and produce jams, juices, and liqueurs from fruit and herbs.

La Locanda della Valle Nuova is an agriturismo, a farm-stay inn that is part of a government initiative to help preserve farming traditions and rural landscapes. Combining farming with tourism gives travelers a unique experience while helping area farmers succeed. Regulations vary by region, but Giulia says that farming must dominate the business activity. "That means no huge hotel with a small kitchen garden and two hens can claim to be an agriturismo."

Giulia says that the number of rooms, capacity of the restaurant, and opening periods allowed by the government depend on the size and the activities of the farm. There are other factors, too. "If meals are served they must use a high percentage of home-grown food with other produce coming from farms within the region. The idea not only ensures that guests are eating locally-grown foods, but also that the agriturismo business helps other area farmers by buying their produce, as well." She points out that this is also an eco-friendly measure, as less transport is involved.

Comfortable Country Accommodations

Breakfast Room, Valle Nuova

Breakfast Room, Valle Nuova

Giulia's dad, Augusto, is a retired architect who designed hotels, so his expertise was well-utilized in the designs and renovations of the Locanda. He laid out plans for an intimate country inn with an emphasis on comfort. There are six guest rooms, each with ensuite bathrooms, outfitted with comfortable furnishings and calming décor. They are acoustically and thermally insulated, ensuring a peaceful night's sleep, and have little sitting areas, televisions, screens on the windows, ceiling fans, and tea and coffee makers. The Locanda is completely non-smoking.

Each room has a different color motif and includes a farm-fresh breakfast each morning, prepared from the bounty of Valle Nuova. "We really enjoy sharing our life and experiences with others, and we think that more people should know more about how their food is produced and the importance of organic farming," Giulia told us.

More recently the Savini family added two independent apartments, available for weekly rental. They are newly-constructed with one bedroom and one bathroom each. Cozy open floor plans offer a living-dining room along with a gourmet-stocked kitchen with all the perks - including a percolator coffee pot. Each apartment has its own private terrace for sun worshipping and alfresco dining.

Apartment guests are greeted with a welcome basket of homemade jams, wine, juices, bread and organic free-range eggs. Sweet grapes are available for the picking right next to the apartments.

Giulia said that guests in the vacation rental apartments are generally more independent and usually have studied up about the area or have already visited previously. They sometimes have a specific focus, such as cycling, museums or gastronomy, and often don't request much assistance or information. She says renters tend to look for a deeper experience of the area, spending time shopping the weekly open-air markets and hanging out at a local piazza-side café. They tend to stay longer and return again. Giulia adds that her mom, Adriana, enjoys the company of guests in the B&B rooms because she can socialize with them more. "They spend more time at the Locanda, having breakfast, lounging by the swimming pool, and enjoying the sitting room, so she can chat with them."

Pool, Valle Nuova

Pool, Valle Nuova

Valle Nuova has a swimming pool surrounded by cooling lawn, and plenty of outdoor space for enjoying the views and relaxing with a glass of wine. Throughout the season they offer wool dyeing workshops, as well as basket weaving classes and cooking courses. There are stables with horses and a riding school onsite for country jaunts, along with a family of furry felines who are both working cats and spoiled pets, usually a hit with guests. Giulia's little dog, Chicca, helps her as the welcome committee. A neighbor offers truffle hunts with his dogs.

Between Giulia and her parents, five languages are spoken – Italian, Spanish, French, German and English. In fact, Giulia has a perfectly proper British accent. "When I was a teen my parents decided that learning proper English would be good for me, rather than the kind normally inflicted on Italian students by Italian teachers." But the real reason her accent is so perfect, she said, is "because I'm a parrot! Give me a summer filled with guests from New Zealand and get ready for the results!"

Giulia's dad is now 80-years old, though she says he still jumps on a tractor and cuts alfalfa if need be, and still helps with the farm, swimming pool and garden chores. Her mother cooks five or six times a week but would like to retire or reduce her kitchen time to once or twice a week. She still enjoys greeting the guests - and is able to do so in three languages. They also employ two farm workers and a local lady to help out at the inn. Neighbors pitch in to assist, too.

How Green the Valle

Valle Nuova is surrounded by natural beauty. There are orchards, vineyards, and woods. The countryside is carpeted with patches of wildflowers, sunflower fields, and billowing wheat, punctuated by ancient oaks. But this verdant valley is greener than ever because Valle Nuova has instituted a wide array of eco-friendly practices. "Northern Le Marche is one of the areas where organic farming started and where the first cooperatives began," said Giulia.

But the Savini's haven't stopped at organic farming. Giulia told us that when her dad started renovating the Locanda, which was built in the 1920s, he carefully researched green building practices and used traditional materials, such as brick and wood, and thermally insulated the walls and roof. He installed double-glazed windows, as well as solar collectors for hot water and heating along with a high output stove, "for cloudier months," said Giulia. "The wood we use for the stove comes from our 50 acres of forest, gathered when we clean the woods and prune trees."

Last year they installed solar panels (photovoltaic), which covers 100% of the Locanda and farm electrical needs. "Right now we are installing more photovoltaic panels to produce more electricity to sell. They will produce around 60,000 kW per year, approximately the annual consumption of seventeen households, and minus 33 tonnes of carbon per year in the environment," Giulia boasted. "We estimate that we will be carbon negative once the panels start producing electricity."

The house and apartments are outfitted with low consumption light bulbs and double-flush toilets for a low-flow option. All bed and bath linens are made from natural fibers. And they've shed excess packaging by shunning disposable items such as plastic cutlery and glasses, and by utilizing soap dispensers in the bathrooms. They forego packaged items in the breakfast room, such as individually-wrapped butter pats or small yogurt cups. Seventy percent of the food served is grown at Valle Nuova or is locally-sourced. The grounds are landscaped with local indigenous plants. At Valle Nuova, the Savini's live out their life philosophy to tread softly on the earth, and eagerly share their knowledge and tips with others.

Regional Ambassador

Torricini, Urbino, Le Marche

Torricini, Urbino, Le Marche

As much as Giulia shares her enthusiasm for the environment, she is just as ardent to publicize the appeal of Le Marche. She is quick to point out the area's sights and is always willing to provide loads of information and share her favorite spots with her guests. Urbino is the birthplace of Raphael, as well as home to the Palazzo Ducale, "the first palace, not castle, built after the Medieval period." Nearby is a monastery described by Dante in the Divine Comedy, as well as the Republic of San Marino, the oldest sovereign state in the world. One of Europe's largest caverns, Frasassi, is an underground wonder, while the nearby mountains provide excellent hiking. Sandy beaches and seaside villages are less than an hour away.

"From my point of view, Le Marche is simply as beautiful as the neighboring regions. If you're interested in the Renaissance, Urbino is just the place to visit. The landscapes are spectacular and very diverse from valley to valley. There is interesting pottery and majolica, wonderful hilltop towns with amazing fortresses, and important Roman ruins. From the traveler's point of view, I think the fact that it's still quite unknown makes it especially interesting since foreign visitors are very warmly welcomed. Locals still think that they are something unusual, and 'tourist hunting' is not a local sport (yet!), meaning that tourist traps are not the norm here. I think this is especially nice for slow travelers since they will have the possibility to experience the real thing."

Giulia's Best of Le Marche

Furlo Gorge (Gola del Furlo), Le Marche

Furlo Gorge (Gola del Furlo), Le Marche

Giulia's favorite spots provide a taste of that "real deal" Le Marche experience. She graciously agreed to share her "best of Le Marche" picks with Slow Europe.

One of my favorite restaurants in the area is Osteria del Cucco in Urbania. It is more than a restaurant, it is a gastronomic and human experience! Great owners and a mix of regulars, foreign tourists and students at the local Dante Alighieri Italian school. Homemade bread and pastas, both frequently made with local, organic and often unusual flours. They have amazing antipasti and unusual main dishes (not just the usual tagliata or grilled meats that are the local staples), and gorgeous desserts. They use the best ingredients and really enjoy telling guests about what is in each dish. They don't speak English but they manage to communicate!

Another favorite is Trattosteria in Fermignano (I don't mind a really good tagliata from time to time!). It is just five minutes drive from the Locanda. They have abundant antipasti with lots of savoury cakes, veggies, unusual cheeses and salamis, great pasta dishes and really, really yummy desserts. They also have a wide choice of local wines which can be purchased to take home. Both restaurants are good options for vegetarians.

My favorite caffe is in Urbania, the Caffe del Teatro. Really good pastries, tables in the theatre square for people watching and on a terrace for a quiet moment. They also make good gelato.

The Furlo Gorge (Gola del Furlo) and the nearby church of San Vincenzo al Furlo are my favorite attractions. The gorge is a beautiful spot along the Candigliano river with sheer cliffs and ancient tunnels, and the nearby Abbey of San Vincenzo is an 8th century Romanesque church with well-preserved vibrant frescoes.

Because she is a font of local wisdom, Giulia shares more of her area favorites along with recipes on her Valle Nuova blog.

Thank you Giulia for taking the time to tell us about Valle Nuova and your corner of Italy!

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