Was cool and humid, and around me lay,
Toss'd like the billows of some mighty bay,
Etruria's Apennines, range over range,
Swelling in long and wave-like interchange.

Baillie, 'Sonnet On The Apennines'

Casa Cantagallina: past, present, future

We bought the house at the end of 2000. It had been partially restored in the 1980s, coincidentally by Charles, who is our indispensable help and the main contact for our guests during their stay. But he had moved elsewhere and by 2000 it had been neglected and empty for some years; the ground floor had never been converted and still had dirt floors, but wonderful brick arches, more of which we uncovered when we dug out the floors to install damp-proofing. We made some changes to the layout of the rooms on the first and top floors and installed extra bathrooms. We had in mind our own holidays with friends and young children and wanted to create a layout providing individual families with private space to accommodate different views about things like bedtime, waking up time and siestas.

We arranged the house so that it breaks down into three areas (in addition to the common ground floor living spaces), each with one double and one twin room, a sitting room and at least one bathroom. The house has continued to evolve over the subsequent years and now there are only two bedrooms that share a bathroom, otherwise all are ensuite.

We have also added a bedroom on the ground floor and made changes to the ground floor bathroom so that it is accessible to wheelchair users, though the gradient on the ramp is slightly steeper than is ideal for unaccompanied wheelchair users. It’s been useful for friends and relatives who find it difficult to use the stairs. This room is available for rental guests on discussion and is not included in the basic room/bed count.

The house is very spacious and flexible. The ground floor is quite open plan: the rooms all flow into each other through the original arches and openings. We hope you can get a sense of how it works through the floor plan and attached photos.

Because of the number of different sitting rooms it is possible for different people to be doing quite different things without anyone feeling a sense of intrusion. This summer two friends spent each morning working on a book in the first floor sitting rooms (where our two children revised for their exams in several earlier years), while another couple had a mini table tennis tournament, others swam, read or painted outside, and some cooked lunch, to musical accompaniment. There is wifi, which works reasonably well in most rooms and outside at the table under the pergola. This year we plan to improve the barbecue area and add a wood-fired pizza oven.

Garden

The garden didn’t really get going until 2003, after we had the well installed, possibly the deepest well in Umbria! We created the bank and planted the trees between the car park and the pool and added more planting on the far side of the pool and the bank that adjoins our neighbours’ property. The rest of the grounds are as we found them. There are olive trees, an old pear (they cook well, but aren’t good raw), some plums and three fig trees. The best figs are from the tree at the end of the pool. If you’re there at the right time there is nothing better than rewarding a lap or two of swimming with a fig straight from the tree, still warm from the sunshine.

Our gardener is a conservative chap, who tends to plant a limited number of species, mainly rosemary and very spiky roses that make weeding nearly impossible. We’re gradually succeeding in broadening his palate, and the hibiscus and oleanders are now adding decent summer colour. Each spring we replant the tubs, usually with massively clashing geraniums. This year’s colour scheme had an Indian feel, in a good way (bright pink and orange with occasional red).

There is a herb bed with marjoram, oregano, mint, bay, chives, thyme. We replant the basil and parsley in the late spring.

The pool

A private pool 12x6 metres with a deep end with diving board and steps (not a ladder) in the shallow end.

Outside seating options

Portico

We opened up the wall of the area under the terrace to make a ‘portico’ that looks out at the garden. It remains shady even when the sun is shining directly at that wall of the house.

Pergola 1

This is where we spend most time in the summer (usually all meals). Two tables are arranged into a large square, but can be moved about to squeeze in more people when necessary. The barbeque is around the corner, safely away from vegetation and the straw canopy. We plan to extend the paving to create a new seating area there by the summer of 2015.

Around the corner from the pergola is another paved seating area with a barbecue and wood-burning pizza oven.

Pergola 2

By the swimming pool. Mosaic table that seats about 8. The pergola is covered by honeysuckle and passionfruit (edible, exotic). One year we brought down the two tables from Pergola 1 to cater for an enormous lunch for about 20.

Sun-loungers by the pool

Can be supplemented by deckchairs from the storage cupboard next to the portico.

Smokers’ Table

Gets the evening sun.

First Floor Terrace

Table, four chairs (more wicker chairs can be brought out from the sitting room) and a double swinging chair (great for one person with a book). The perfect place for the evening pre-dinner drinks, looking out across the lake and the hills.