*The accommodation, Casa Sant’Elia, in this post was gifted. They did not ask for a review but I was so genuinely blown away by the place I wanted to share our experience.
We recently enjoyed our first holiday (abroad) as a family of four, alongside some very good friends of ours and their two children.
We had been abroad a few times with Arthur right from when he was a tiny baby, and although that wasn’t always easy. With one very memorable nappy explosion in the back of a taxi in Greece and trying to apologise to the taxi driver, who barely spoke a word of English about the smell and assuring him it was contained! We have some good memories. So we thought adding an extra mini human to the mix would be fine. You see all these other families doing it, and I like to think we’re pretty laid back, so off we went…
Destination: Le Marche, Italy. Staying at Casa Sant’Elia.
Le Marche is a pretty untouched part of Italy, with very few tourists and some incredible open countryside… so no one can hear me telling my children off!
The flight to Italy was an early one – 6.25am from Stanstead (that’s about a three hour drive from where we live). So we thought we’d stay over at a nearby airport hotel and book a family room so the children could get a full nights sleep. Sounds like the perfect plan doesn’t it?
Well here’s the reality. The plan was to set off early on the Friday so we could get down in time to go out for tea somewhere and get everyone into bed early. It didn’t work out like that. Friday morning I woke up and realised I had completely forgotten that I was going on holiday with my family and forgotten to sort anything for myself, including clothes, toiletries and the rest of the kitchen sink you may need when exiting your front door. Some people are light travellers, unfortunately no matter how hard I try, I’m just not one of those. Although I’ve got to say I have got so much better!
I also needed one last gym blast before we left so like a mum with wannabe serious multi tasking skills, and a mastery of doing a million and one things in the space of a few hours I dropped Arthur off at nursery, took Wilf to his nursery (conveniently located at completely opposite ends of the city we live in), and went to my spin class. I spent the entire time stressing over how much I was going to have to do before we left and wondering why I was in a spin class and not doing all the things I needed to do. My friend who was going with us, her husband and two children, then Whatsapped me mid class to say ‘on a scale of 1-10, how stressed are you?’ I basically laughed out loud and thought that was my Que to do the unthinkable, cut my spin class short and get myself over to my nail appointment (another essential before going away right?!) But before I can leave the gym I must visit their shop because I just may need some extra gym bras and tops so grab some vests and a gym bra (that I really don’t need by the way!) don’t try them on and leave. Made it to my nail appointment, giving me more time sitting still, thinking about the other 5 million and one things I should be doing.
Then it’s time to hit the shops for some panic buying! You know, for all those things you think you might need if going to stay in the outer Hebrides. Except we were travelling to Italy, one of the best places in the world to go shopping. I bought a lot of things that morning that I didn’t need, including some silver Birkenstock’s in the wrong size. Luckily I never wore and since returned (alongside every other item I bought that day!)
I arrived home to a mass Amazon delivery (more panic purchases the day before) 8 Trunki’s, 2 children’s swim floats, and 2 packets of dive floats. I only have 2 children, one wouldn’t be able to balance on the Trunki and neither can swim, the floats will be useful but they are only up to age 24 months so no good for Arthur. Good job Amazon have such an easy returns process!
Now it’s action stations to get showered and ready, Luke brings both boys home and we’ve got to go. Already a few hours later than we originally planned.
Fast forward to airport hotel, it was pretty late by the time we got there so just decided to get everyone to bed. But this didn’t quite go according to plan. I think it was about 1am when Wilf decided to go to sleep (well it was more a slump on our bed in exhaustion after the battle from hell to settle him), and then the alarm went at 2.45am. I think the entire floor on our hotel heard Wilf that night.
Checking in time, and guess what? Our bags are way over weight which resulted in a £130 payment to Ryan Air.
When it was time to board, we went to gate 38 (final call) but when we got there we found out this was the wrong gate, it was for Alicante. We were flying to Ancona. Still, they both begin with the letter A.
Panic. Ancona was also final call but that was gate 98. We had to get a shuttle over to this gate as the airport was so enormous! They told us to ring someone using one of the white phones, then this guy ran over and said there wasn’t anyone available to help us we’d have to make our own way there – about a 15 minute run away (complete with four children?!) The Guy sounded like Buzz Lightyear on his quest to help us get to Gate 98, giving us directions, and said he’d let us out a special door. So off we go only to realise we’d lost Arthur!! I just ran back to the gate shouting him and then he appeared crying his eyes out with a lovely lady who he’d told he was going to Italy and that he was just looking at the planes. That moment was up there with one of my all time worse parenting moments, from the feeling of panic to complete and utter guilt that we didn’t notice he wasn’t with us!
This man grabbed us again and instructed us to ‘just run, it’s a long way, and… good luck’.
So with all children with us this time, somehow we made the flight! Thanks to Buzz Lightyear and his directions!
Are you ready for the next instalment? Flight was about as bad as they go with four children who don’t enjoy sitting still and over tired but won’t go to sleep until the last 10 minutes of the flight. Then you wake them to put your seat belts on and they just scream the plane down.
We hired a van (the fun bus), as there were so many of us and thought it’d be easier than our friends following us in convoy to Casa Sant’Elia. At the hire car place Arthur decided to smack his teeth on the metal desk. The noise was horrific, then I saw blood and at that point I was convinced he’d lost all his front teeth. We were rushed into the airport first aid room… luckily an ice pack and lots of mummy cuddles, my very brave little boy and his teeth were all fine. And I’m just hoping at this point we all make it ‘alive’ to the Italy house.
I’m pleased to say we did, and once there we were all pretty speechless. I have seen the photos and the videos of Sant’Elia, but there’s nothing like seeing the real deal.
The accommodation, Casa Sant’Elia, (very kindly gifted-by the owners Irené & Jerry Avis), who restored the property from a derelict farmhouse to its current glory as a stunning five bed (sleeps ten), was just like a home away from home. You’re surrounded by incredible countryside and rolling hills for miles. The owners were there to meet us when we arrived and were so hospitable. They really went above and beyond in welcoming us from the moment we arrived, to the moment we left. The place really is pretty mind blowing. I’d seen pictures and a few videos of the place before we went but I don’t think they do it justice. It’s one of those places that has to be seen!
It oozes style, and it’s one of those places you just want to steal all the furniture from. Irené clearly has an eye for interiors. The main staircase, which were restored stones form an old monastery lead up to the bedrooms with walls covered in family photographs, it really feels like a house that’s been filled with love and lots of happy memories, making it feel like a real home away from home.
I can honestly say it’s way up there with one of the best places we’ve ever stayed. So all the drama to get there were already a distant memory.
Casa Sant’Elia has its own private swimming pool too which obviously went down very well with the children (and adults!) The men went out to get some essentials and did the quintessentially British thing, showering the pool in copious amounts of blow up floats (apparently for the children) but they were the first ones on them.
The gardens are equally incredible and absolutely immaculate. Flower beds surround the property, it looks as if it’s been lifted from somewhere and placed in the middle of rolling hills and fields. Sant’Elia is hidden at the end of a winding white road and not at all what you expect to find and the owners are also now opening up Casa Sant’Elia to weddings, and I can’t think of a more perfect venue to have an intimate wedding with friends and family.
It’s such a great place for couples, a group of friends or families. There’s something for everyone, not just at Casa Sant’Elia (that you could easily just stay at your entire stay), but in and around the area too.
If you enjoy running or walking you’re also in for a treat with all the stunning scenery and hills surrounding the house to get your heart rate up. My friend and I did go on a couple of runs whilst we stayed there and they were very hilly but the views worth it. We also found ourselves eyeing up all the derict properties wondering if we could replicate what Irené and Jerry had done at Casa Sant’Elia. I think it’d be pretty tough though, the work they have put into the place is incredible. From planting the copious rows of vines, to growing and nurturing the 500 plus olive trees. Then there’s the renovation itself.
Just a 5-10 minute drive from the house is a patisserie, Il Biroccio
, that sells breads, pastries, coffee and alcohol. The owners popped us in a pastry breakfast on our first day, so we had to go and visit the place for ourselves where we picked up some pizza slices for tea.
About a 15 minute drive from the house is a proper traditional Italian town, Filottrano, which the owners took me and my friend to for our own little guided tour on all the best places to visit and pick up some fresh fruit and veg. It was a very different experience to the fruit and veg aisle in Sainsbury’s and we even got to sample some of it before we bought it. We went back a few days later and had some ice cream and pizza and took a walk around. Nobody really speaks English there, and I don’t think they see many tourists, but . Walking round we stood out as tourists, but I love places like this, as you know you’re seeing and experiencing the real country your visiting. Often hard to find these days.
Literally a five minute drive from Casa Sant’Elia is Ca’ Vecchia Beerstrot, a restaurant that (bear with me on this one as I know you’ll probably be expecting traditional Italian cuisine). They specialise in burgers and beers, but if you like burgers, you love Beerstrot! Their beer is bigger than their food menu. The restaurant is all outside surrounding by corn fields, but as the weather is always so amazing there, it doesn’t affect them. Plenty of space for the children to safely run around too. When you arrive and sit down at your table, you can see why it’s all outside – the views speak for themselves! They’re breathtaking!
There are also plenty of beaches to choose from within about a 30 minute drive. One beach we went to was amazing for families, with baskets filled with toys on each of the parasols, completely free to use! This was a great opportunity for the grown ups to sunbathe whilst the children dug for their lives in the sand. We visited two other beaches during our stay, both totally different, with one sandy beach which had the most incredible mountain backdrops and some really funky cafes and bars. One of the toilets I also took a photo in as it was named after my mom, Linda! (I’m sure wouldn’t be too happy about being named after a toilet, but it made me smile!)
Another beach we visited was a pebbled beach which had lots of incredible seafood restaurants. We went to one of the restaurants for lunch and it didn’t disappoint.
The owners are always working around the property as the vines and olive trees always need tending to, and Jerry has his very own tractor, named Ruby to manage the fields. Which of course Arthur spotted immediately! Arthur and our friends two girls (Wilfy watched as he’d be trying to drive the tractor!) were lucky enough to enjoy a ride in the back of the trailer whilst we were there, luckily on the last day (otherwise I think Jerry would have been booked up all week giving them rides everyday!) Both Irene and Jerry are clearly very busy people, but always seemed to have time for us no matter what, and helped to make an unforgettable holiday, even more unforgettable.
Irene and Jerry also recommended we take the children to a nearby waterpark, which also required everyone to wear swimming hats. We weren’t expecting much from as it was such a quiet, non touristy area. But it was a proper waterpark and I totally surprised myself (from what I had imagined would be my idea of a nightmare) turned out to be a really fun day. Arthur also really enjoyed the water and by the end of the day was really confident enjoying some of the water slides, including the biggest slide there (where he sat on his dads lap! But ended up having several go’s).
Unfortunately Wilf had a very unsettled week, decided not to sleep most of the time we were there and would only be settled by his daddy. Which was pretty tough on Luke, but we put this down to new surroundings, a possible development leap or the heat.
Besides the lack of sleep, our week at Casa Sant’Elia flew by and to be honest didn’t feel long enough. We felt like we’d only touched the surface seeing all the things there were to see and we would definitely love to go back and explore more of this beautiful country!
As you can probably guess the drama continued for our journey home… Ancona airport is a small airport so we didn’t have any problems finding the right gate this time, however on the plane, Wilfy didn’t take too well to being confined to our laps, and whilst I took Arthur to the toilet on the plane a passenger behind decided to ask Luke to ‘control his child’. Wilf had been crying on and off since take off. But this was not the best thing to say to a (very) sleep deprived parent! Luke suggested going out onto the wing of the plane. The passenger didn’t see the funny side of this and then told Luke he wasn’t doing a very good job?! Luckily as I arrived back at the seat, I managed to calm everyone down (complete with the whole plane watching us), two stewards getting involved and poor Luke trying to assure me it was nothing to do with him (which it wasn’t!) Despite this and all the dramas on our journey over, it was an incredible week and we all feel pretty lucky to have had the opportunity to visit such a stunning place.
Casa Sant’Elia really is a hidden gem which I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone looking for luxury accommodation, planning a special event or an intimate destination wedding in Italy.
You can find out more about Casa Sant’Elia here: santelialifestyle.co.uk