Ville et Village - European Vacation Rentals

     A Newsletter by Carolyn Grote and the rest of the staff
Spring 2015
In This Issue:
Local Properties
Here are some of the houses we have near these 3 towns:
Read our Blog which has lots of interesting news. It is located on our home page and updated regularly. Some recent posts include “Matisse in the South of France”, “the Picasso Museum Re-Opening in Paris”, Reading: The Little Saint by Hannah Green”. Be sure to sign up to get notifications when there are new posts! Just complete the “VetV Blog updates".
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Kir Royale
For a more special French Kir use 4 parts Champagne with 1 part Crème de Cassis. Also be adventurous and try adding different liqueurs to the champagne-the French do. Chambord, a raspberry-based drink is a good alternative.
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THREE TOWNS IN NORTHERN TUSCANY: Carrara, Camaiore, & Pietrasanta

Via Francigena I just came back from hiking a portion of the Via Francigena in Italy, a medieval trail that originally went from Canterbury in England to Rome. Over 11 days, my friends and I hiked from Fidenza (near Parma) to Lucca (in northern Tuscany), a route that took us from the regions of Emilia Romagna to Tuscany, briefly into Liguria and then back through Tuscany. One benefit of hiking is that you encounter things you might well miss if you are driving. And for me, I discovered some hidden jewels of northern Tuscany.

Readers of my newsletter and blog know that I’ve often been in northern Tuscany and once even spent an entire week in Lucca. But every visit unveils new delights, and this time I fell in love with 3 beautiful northern Tuscan towns, Carrara, Pietrasanta and Camiore. Tuscany has so many attractions–some very famous--that these are towns travelers might miss if not specifically directed toward them. So allow me to introduce you to my new loves.

Carrara DuomoCarrara: On a sunny May Sunday morning, my fellow pilgrims and I were dropped off by Dino, the friendly owner of our previous night’s accommodation, in the center of this beautiful town nestled below the spectacular Apuan mountain quarries producing its famous white marble. Carrara wasn’t on our route, but Dino insisted it was worth a detour. When we arrived, all the shops were closed making our entry a very peaceful one. Strolling around, we soon gravitated to the magnificent Piazza ………. and settled in shade at tables of a lovely café. Over our cappuccini and pastries we spent a wonderful hour just absorbing the quiet pace of folks strolling, enjoying the beautiful architecture and marveling at the the stunning Apuan mountains above. As beautiful as the square and its church were, this was not the Duomo. So when we eventually paid our bill and moved on, we wound through narrow streets to discover the Duomo, an impressive marble sided structure with a huge separate campanile, whose bells rang the hour as we arrived, a magical experience. When I return, and I will, I will definitely visit both the quarries and the marble museum-- as should you. Dino had assured us that a jeep tour up into the quarries to see the men working at this arduous task was definitely worth our limited time. But on a Sunday, this was not possible. Turismo Massa-Carrara

Carolyn at CamioreCamiore: I represent houses near this town, and once on a tour of those properties I even drove through the town, but it is not the same as arriving on foot at the charming Piazza XXIX. It was a long sunny hike from Massa, when at 4:00pm we finally turned the corner into this charming small commercial entry to the town. Buses come through here, men chat over their beers at one of two cafés, parents and children line up for a gelato. We checked into our little hotel, went out to the patio and ordered our beer. Cooling off in the shade, we watched the locals return home after a day at work and school. It felt wonderful to be in the heart of a living town. After a rest and a shower, we explored. We turned around the corner to the pedestrian-only street lined with local shops selling food and the necessities of life—no tourist shops here. Extending from one end of the town to the other, it has a lovely piazza in the middle with a fountain and an ancient arch with a fresco. It was such a pretty sight, that we hikers all took pictures of each other framed against this backdrop. We all fell in love with this pleasant town.

Pietrasanta: The next day, we had a hot morning’s hike from Camiore to Pietrasanta. Our typical lunches were picnics with food we’d purchased in the morning: focaccia with local mortadella, cheese, tomatoes and peaches, often taken in the shade of a tiny church or on a mountain ridge with view. The food was always delicious; the setting terrific. But this day, as we would pass through the village lunchtime, we could lunch in a café. We arrived at the outskirts of Pietrasanta greeted by a huge Botero sculpture whose inscription noted it had been donated to the town by the famous artist, himself, a resident. This was our first indication, that Pietrasanta is a special town. PietrasantaWe walked down the main street in search (as always) for a café in full shade. Then we turned the corner in the main square and saw this truly spectacular piazza which is beautifully landscaped with potted plants and dotted with several massive modern sculptures. Heavenly! We settled into tables outside a small café at the lower end of this piazza and gazed up at the artwork, the churches and the stunning Apuan Mountains beyond. Here, for the first time on our 11 day pilgrimage, we saw folks holding shopping bags with famous brand names on them. We were no longer in the simple hamlets and towns of the Apennines and Apuans, but had enters a spectacular and stylish small city! Many artists live and work here and because it is also a short drive to the sea and broad sandy beaches, Pietrasanta attracts not only hikers and bikers like us, but also the stylish, elegant set. It is worth a visit, if only to lunch in an outdoor café on this piazza, enjoying the fabulous art, architecture and mountains.

6th ARRONDISSEMENT The Place to Be in Paris by Dayva

Are you dreaming of sipping café au lait at a charming café, meandering down picturesque narrow streets, frequenting local shops or even high end designer stores on your next trip to Paris? You may not even know it, but what you are dreaming of is the 6th arrondissement.

Cafe-de-Flore About 80% of our clients request apartments in the 6th arrondissement, partially due to its rich history. You can take a break from sight seeing and have a drink at historic cafés where the existentialist movement got its start, having been frequented by the likes of Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, like Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots. To this day important thinkers sit, sip and muse at these legendary cafés. Even author Gertrude Stein loved the 6th arrondissement, having lived and housed her well-known art collection on Rue du Fleurus just down the street from our lovely apartment PA064. Going back a bit further in history will take you to the Luxembourg Gardens, which doubles as a park and outdoor sculpture museum, with its extravagant Luxembourg Palace, both of which were built for Marie de Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France starting in 1612.

Saint-Sulpice The 6th arrondissement has entertainment to offer as well. The Théatre de L’Odéon is one of 6 French National Theaters that are dedicated to performing European theater, showing European movies and dance performances, all in their original language. At Eglise Saint-Sulpice, the “Cathedral of the Rive Gauche,” you can gaze upon beautiful frescoes and hear music from one of the world’s largest organs.

For travelers looking to add some Parisian elements to their wardrobe or décor, the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area, where a former abbey of the same name was located, offers a great area for exploring narrow alleys and unique finds in antique stores, art shops and book stores.Prada boutiqueElsewhere in the 6th, travelers desiring a taste of fine fashion can visit the Prada boutique, on Rue de Grenelle, just a few doors down from two of our 6th arr. apartments: PA063 and PA067. Other designer stores to visit include Sonia Rykiel, and Mephisto, on the corner of Rue des Saints Pères, where another great 6th arr. apartment, PA061 is located.

However, daily life in the 6th arrondissement is what makes it truly special. Those who stay in the 6th are looking for a real Parisian neighborhood experience, and are certain to find that there.


Many of you will be heading out to Provence, the Riviera and Tuscany shortly. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your hot weather stay.

  • Keep the shutters of your house closed when the sun is high. Houses are usually made of stone which retains the evening coolness. Open the shutters at night to let in the cool breezes. Air conditioning is rare.

  • Shop for food in the early morning and return home by noon or 12:30. Stores will close then anyway. Even the outdoor markets start at 8am and close down by 1pm. Getting there early means a closer parking space and more time to enjoy the event.

    the shady side of the street
  • Spend the hottest part of the day relaxing over a quiet lunch either in your own house or at a restaurant. Most stores will be closed 12-2:00pm or 1-3pm although times can vary slightly. Even the beach empties out over these hours.

  • Settle into a charming restaurant or café over lunch. Choose your outdoor café carefully. Even if a café has umbrellas, it is always cooler on the shady side of the street. You’ll notice that the busiest cafes are those … yes…on the shady side of the street.

  • Do your touring during the early morning or late afternoon hours. Visits to castles, ruins and vineyards are much more fun when it’s cool.

  • Take advantage of swimming when touring. Keep a towel and bathing suit in the car. You may find out there is swimming possible when you’re out and about. For example, visit the Pont du Gard (the famous Roman aqueduct) and swim in the river below.

  • Plan only one touring activity a day and use the rest of the day for a quiet lunch and maybe a swim. For example along the Cote d’Azur, visit the Musée Picasso in Antibes in the morning, then have a long cool lunch in a restaurant and swim at the beach in the afternoon.

  • Partake in the local early evening rituals: In Italy-- The Passagiata—the quiet stroll along a seaside or up and down a shopping street. Spritz aperitivo Café Shakerato -espresso iced and shaken then poured foaming into a martini glass. The Spritz-3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Aperol, 1 part sparking water served over ice in a large glass. In France—Apéros: before dinner appetizers and low alcohol drinks: marinated olives served with—chilled white wine, a chilled rosé, a kir (white wine with a small amount of cassis liqueur).

SUMMER READING: Commissario Guido Brunetto Mysteries by Donna Leon

If you love travel fiction, then I highly recommend any of the masterful books by Donna Leon in the Guido Brunetti series. Set in Venice at the current time, Brunetti is a Venetian and a police commissioner dealing with local crime. By Its CoverHe is married with a family. His wife is the wonderful Paola whose wealthy family allows the reader to learn all about the “nobility” in Venice. With Brunetti you share a morning espresso, have a panino over lunch and enjoy a Spritz when the weather is hot. You walk through the streets of Venice, take the vaporetto from place to place and remark on how Venice has changed over the decades. Leon is a great storyteller. Faithful readers take imaginary trips to Venice simply by opening her books. I’ve just read her 23rd book By Its Cover , a mystery about the theft of ancient books, and #24 Falling in Love has recently been published. It doesn’t really matter if the books are read in order, but I’d recommend starting with Death at La Fenice since it takes place at the famous opera house. Donna Leon has even been profiled on PBS.


Over the 25 years I’ve been in business, I always try to prepare folks for their rental experience in a France or Italy and I include in their travel information a sheet on What to Expect. Over 90% of our clients say their trips were “perfect”. Nonetheless, occasionally some folks being used to renting in the US, don’t realize that renting in the French and Italian countryside, can be different. Much as the world feels small nowadays, there are still cultural differences. So here’s a primer on a few things to expect when you rent in France or Italy especially in the countryside:

  • It is common courtesy to arrive on time. Your travel voucher lists the time you told us you would arrive, and that is the time we told the owner. If you arrive early or late, it is courteous to telephone first.

  • The house will be filled with certain “basic” household supplies. The standard is a minimum of one roll of toilet paper in each bathroom. Traditionally no hand soap was supplied, but now with liquid soap, many(not all) owners do put a jar in each bathroom. Kitchen and bathroom cleaning supplies are usually there, but this can vary. As all clients are requested to replace what they use, supplies can depend on how cooperative the previous client was. I always recommend going into the house, checking to see what is there, and then immediately going out and shopping. I usually need to buy tissues, paper towels, and bar soap… sometimes even saran wrap (for wrapping leftovers).

  • It is nice to find olive oil, vinegar and basic spices in the house, but this isn’t always the case. Some owners nicely provide a bottle of local wine for and some fruit for the arrival. But this isn’t the standard. So be prepared to make your shopping list and go out and buy what you need for your stay including sparkling water, coffee, milk, butter, jam, etc. Even if you arrive in the evening, groceries are typically open until 8 and there is always one store (at least) open Sunday morning. Your keyholder can tell you what shops are open.

  • If there is a problem, PLEASE tell the keyholder or owner while you are at the property. Owners get frustrated if a complaint comes in after a client leaves and they haven’t had the opportunity to assist during your stay. And if a keyholder doesn’t respond as you wish to solve your problem, do call the owner. Sometimes folks tell us they didn’t want to “disturb” the owner. But owners prefer to be called with a problem, than have a complaint submitted after.

  • Electrical appliances in Europe are definitely different than those in the US. Consequently figuring out how they work, can be a challenge. Often owners leave the instruction manual for appliances, but sometimes(unlike in the US), this is in the local language only. This is not unusual. What to do? If you need help, call the keyholder. Please tidy up

  • You should leave the property neat and tidy. Empty your garbage, wash your own dishes, throw out your empty bags from expensive purchases you’ve made. Housekeepers are insulted to have to clean up personal debris that clients may have left behind.

  • Be friendly to keyholders and owners. Even if you don’t speak the language, learn a few phrases before you go, take a phrase book with you (or use an app), or simply try sign language. A friendly and warm interaction with the folks who manage your property, is always appreciated, even when dealing with a problem.

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